Robert Frost wrote a poem, “Mending Wall,” about forces that combine to degrade walls between one thing and another. Frozen groundswells. Hunters. Who knows what? The neighbors on each side of the wall would repair it for a time, but there are eternal enemies of walls.
I have noticed something similar indoors. Bathroom walls bring out poets and artists in idle hands and relatively unoccupied minds. The verse is usually very simple. The artwork is primitive. Usually grossly out of human proportion. Advertising is often involved. “For a good time, call…” Something also does not love a bathroom wall.
I can’t speak for the walls of women’s facilities. I suspect, human nature being what it is, that they also inspire verse and pictures. Proportions are probably also exaggerated. Probably opposite the drawings in men’s facilities. Something about bathroom walls inspires artists and poets in mammals with opposable thumbs and magic markers.
The first decade of my career was in the Homestead works of U.S.Steel. Those bathrooms were veritable museums of art and poetry curated and populated by the blue-collar population there. Also a virtual “Yellow Pages” of opportunities to be enjoyed with a call. Today it would be called NSFW. (Not Safe for Work)
It is not all bathrooms. I worked for Mellon Bank and those facility walls did not seem to generate the same inspiration, though I heard tell of a manager, several levels above me, in the Station Square offices of my next employer, another bank, posting a formal memorandum on the wall above the urinals proscribing the application of boogers while using the urinals. You know what they say about idle hands. I wish I was making that up. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. I suspect this was not a problem in the women’s restroom.
Herschel Walker sought to refute the theory of evolution with the argument that, if it were true, there would no longer be apes. This is not the position taken by most actual scientists. Or grown-ups. The fact that apes and evolution co-exist is similar to the situation with men’s rooms. The presence of sanitary, pristine men’s room walls in some facilities did not doom the art collections, verse, and words of wit in other bathroom venues. These will exist as long as there are 11-year-old (mentally) males and writing instruments.
There has been an evolution in the abuse of walls during biological functions going back at least as far as the bible.
Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, and will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as a man taketh away dung, till it be all gone. (1 Kings 14:10, KJV)
Early (unofficial) urinals. There are multiple such mentions in the bible.
I had a friend whose name I cannot remember from back in the late 1950s. Old school pre-school. We played outside my grandfather’s Vandergrift building where I lived. My friend taught me the joy of this biblical-referenced wall-based activity. That is my only memory of him. My dad did not teach me this. I don’t think my mom could have. It was my first friend. Instinct might have gotten me there eventually on my own.
Today we have modern plumbing and fixtures to bring the practice indoors in a sanitary way. In the mill, these were crude communal troughs. Evolutionary step up from an obscure outside building wall. I still suspect instinct on some level. I had a forest contractor do my driveway and some sidewalks. He had a large crew and, though the offer was open to use my basement bathroom when needed, they chose to use the area behind my shed. I don’t even want to know if they used the back wall of the shed.
When I got to my white-collar office job, I discovered an actual etiquette for the men’s room urinal use. There are a LOT of clever articles about this available on the Internet. Much of this is common sense. For women, this information is only of general interest. Much like when I ask the Amish how they identify their buggy when there are 50 or 60 in the same location. The information does nothing but satisfy curiosity about a foreign culture.
Guys still have an 11-year-old deep in our evolutionary makeup struggling to showcase drawing or word skills, prowess, or physical maturity through the use of blank spaces on bathroom walls. Territory marking. It is the forbidden nature of it.
I’ve never seen a particularly weighty statement or thought recorded on a bathroom wall. I’ve never seen one that changed any of my core values or even an opinion. I’ve never seen a drawing and thought, “Gee, I’d sure like to meet her”. I’ve never been tempted to call for a promise of a good time. I have to admit, I have seen some that were funny. Some Sharpie scholar wrote, on a Sheetz restroom hand dryer, “Press silver button for a brief message from Donald J. Trump.” That still makes me laugh. It could have been any politician. It would still be funny. And ring at least a little true.
I’m sure in the future archaeologists will publish volumes on the meanings and origins of our sacred bathroom wall writings. It makes me wonder about cave drawings. I have learned some proper etiquette for actions and urinal selection that either affirmed things I intuitively knew or set me straight on unspoken social norms. Things Dad never taught me. Things mom never could. Things for which there is no “Talk”. Some have been useful when encountering difficult things, such as even numbers of urinals, for example. There has never been a Dear Abby man who could consult for this kind of social guidance. Thank goodness for the Internet.