It was easy to empathize with Andy Dufresne and the other prisoners in The Shawshank Redemption as they suffered in their prison cells, I suffered while watching the movie. It was not because I disliked the film far from it. But while the prisoners in the movie were serving their sentences in Shawshank Prison, I served my own three hour sentence for drinking five cups of fruit punch before entering the theatre. When the credits finally began to scroll, I strode quickly to the men's room, opened the door and found, to my dismay, that all seven urinals were already occupied.
Well, not exactly. There were only four people using the urinals a person at every other one. Although there was a considerable line of guys eagerly awaiting the opportunity to relieve themselves, the three odd urinals remained unused. I did not dare to use one of the unoccupied urinals. Instead, I waited my turn along with the two dozen other men ahead of me. I reached the urinal a scant few seconds before losing control.
Why is it that the middle urinals in men's restrooms remain tacitly forbidden? Whether a set of urinals is in an executive washroom or in the train station's public washroom, no man dares to use a urinal located next to a urinal in use. There seems to be no rational explanation for this, and it bothers me that this issue is given so little attention. Some men claim they "just want a bit of privacy." An understandable reason, to be sure, but it lacks substantiation. In the men's restroom of a particular gym close to my home, there are 3 urinals. As one might expect, the middle urinal remains unused. If privacy is the reason for this, why do the men at the gym shower together? There are no barriers whatsoever in the showers, nor are the urinals separated from the shower room. On busy days, all shower heads are used, and these same men who shower together refuse to relieve themselves while standing next to one another. So much for the "privacy" excuse.
The issue is even more confounding when one learns that this is an international phenomenon. The every-other-one rule is not limited to developed countries where public restrooms are common; my father grew up in a tiny village in India and told me that Indian men relieve themselves at every other tree, even though there is plenty of distance between adjacent trees. The whole situation becomes even more ludicrous when it is learned these same men bathe together in the river!
Granted, there is a high degree of levity in an issue such as this. But when one considers how many people suffer on a daily basis, we move from amusement to acute discomfort. Undoubtedly, men can empathize with each other, for we all know the feeling of squeezing our legs together and hopping from foot to foot while waiting for an isolated urinal to become available. Women must surely understand the agony of waiting there are always ridiculously long lines in front of women's restrooms.
This issue is not one I alone deem important; it has probably crossed the mind of nearly every person who has ever had to wait. The primary reason for its importance to me can be stated simply: waiting for facilities is decidedly uncomfortable. It is absurd that I, as well as nearly every male who has ever used a public facility, must suffer from holding it in when there is an unused urinal in the restroom; I would make a brazen attempt to use this urinal, but I fear the incredulous looks my bathroom comrades would give me.
The every-other-one rule piques my curiosity not only because of its lack of substantiation, but because it is an excellent reflection of humanity's other quirks. Why is it that we lock our car doors while keeping the windows rolled down? Why do we push the "up" button on the elevator control pad immediately after seeing someone else push it? If I can find out why it is socially unacceptable to stand next to another man while in the rest room, maybe the elusive answers to the rest of these imponderable questions will also become apparent. Until then, I will only watch movies with generous intermissions.