Column on cleanliness reveals some dirty truths about bathroom behavior

Columnist July 21, 2013

A warning: This column is going to be disgusting. If descriptions of bodily functions make you squeamish, turn to the weather page now.

This is a follow-up to my column from last week about how obsessed Americans have become with antiseptic cleanliness. This is most noticeable — to me, anyway — in how so many people refuse to touch the exit door of a public restroom, choosing instead to grab it with a paper towel (which more often than not they then toss on the floor as they scuttle out).

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

I wrote that I found such behavior a little overblown.

Well you would have thought I’d confessed to eating my meals off taxicab floors and combing my hair with a greasy fish skeleton. Many readers thought I was gross, a veritable Typhoid Johnny, waltzing through life with fecal — yes, that’s the word they used — fecal-encrusted hands.

George M. Gold of Falls Church feared my column would be thrown in the faces of parents whose kids don’t want to wash their hands. “Bottom line, if you want to take chances, just keep it to yourself instead of broadcasting this drivel to wider audiences who can well do without your cutesy shtick,” he wrote.

Some readers said we need to be especially vigilant in our area, as we have many immigrants and foreign visitors who may bear all sorts of infectious nasties. That strikes me as a bit xenophobic.

Nearly as one, readers shouted: I wash my hands, but no one else does. What’s more, the fairer sex is apparently fouler.

As Washington’s Carole Woodward put it: “Since you do not frequent rest rooms for women, you no doubt are not aware that many women, alas, do not wash their hands after visiting the facilities. Sad, but true.”

Helen Gibson of Clinton wrote: “I don’t know if you know this but there are some women who don’t wash their hands before they leave the ladies room. I have seen some women come in the ladies room, do whatever, and walk out. That’s why I use the hand towel to open the door, if there’s a handle. If no handle, I use my hip to push the door open.”

I started to see a theme, actually, and the theme was this: Women are disgusting.

Arlington’s Pen Suritz offered a historical perspective: “Women of my age will remember our mothers’ ability to lower (oh dear, how can one say this delicately) their bottoms toward the toilet seat but never touch it. . . . Marvelous thigh muscles! One simply did not sit on a public toilet. Today, paper seat covers are provided in many rest rooms, but if not, two strips of toilet paper still get put down (hence, little flutters of paper on the floor around the toilet if they fall out, instead of in).”

My Lovely Wife corroborated Pen’s observations. She is disgusted by how many women hover over toilets, with predictably tragic results.

There is a sign common in certain men’s rooms: “We aim to please. You aim too, please.” Apparently, female engineering makes this difficult. Thus women’s room floors become awash in . . . no, I dare not even type it. And then women use their dainty little, Louboutin-shod feet to flush the toilet, thereby spreading all manner of filth. And to think that some girls are taught by their mothers to do this, as opposed to not do this.

I asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for their opinion. This is the statement they sent me: “CDC does not have data to show that using a paper towel to open the rest room door has an impact on illness transmission.”

Still, I know when I’m beat. It’s too much to ask that people wash their hands after using the bathroom and again before eating. Let’s wrap ourselves in paper, like some modern Howard Hughes.

Or we could just remove the doors from public restrooms. Problem solved!

Straw men

Restrooms might be getting dirtier, but one place is getting cleaner: the Grand Canyon. Last Earth Day, the concessionaire that runs the park and lodges, Xanterra, stopped offering plastic drinking straws. They signed on to something called the Be Straw Free campaign, which aims to reduce drinking straw refuse that ends up in landfills.

The BSF folks claim that 500 million drinking straws are used every day. Frankly, that sounds impossible to me. But even so, I think I can learn to sip rather than suck.

Send a kid to camp

We have just two weeks left in this summer’s campaign for Camp Moss Hollow. We stand at $160,280.65, which means we need to pick up the pace if we want to reach our $500,000 goal. This will help: A donor will match all gifts made between now and the campaign’s end, up to a total of $100,000.

Also, Clyde’s restaurant group is offering another incentive: If you donate between $150 and $249 from now to the end of the campaign, you will receive a $25 gift certificate for Clyde’s. Donate $250 or more and Clyde’s will give you one for $50. (Certificates will be sent in September.)

To donate, simply go to washingtonpost.com/camp and click where it says “Give Now.” Or send a check, made payable to “Send a Kid to Camp,” to Send a Kid to Camp, Family Matters of Greater Washington, P.O. Box 200045, Pittsburgh, PA 15251-0045.

john.kelly@washpost.com

For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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