Previous issue's column | January/February
Contents | Gazette Home
Bathroom readers unite! By matt keesan
I have a confession to make: I like to
read on the toilet. I used to think that I was one of a mere handful of
bathroom literature aficionados, a society so secret that its most fanatical
members could not identify one another and would not identify themselves.
However, since my arrival at Penn in September, I have discovered that
I am not alone.
It all began my first night in the dorm. Move-in day had gone well; my
family had provided a fairly pleasant mix of nostalgia, helpfulness and
annoyance. I went into my floors co-ed bathroom to begin my nightly
grooming process. I chose a stall, and settled in for the usual. At first,
I felt only a slight, nagging sensation that something was amiss, but
it grew into a horrifying realization: The stall walls were as smooth
and clean and happily sparkling as a ward for the criminally insane. No
graffiti. No labels. Not even a company logo on the toilet-paper dispenser.
Back home I always had plenty
of personal products around to read (I can still tell you that a canister
of Gillette Shaving Gel Aloe Vera Enhanced lists palmitic acid as its
second ingredient, after water), and I could always just take a book or
a newspaper into the bathroom. But the stalls here just dont lend
themselves to perusing real literature, because theyre cramped and
not very well litnot to mention poorly ventilated.
Not being one to abandon
a passion without a struggle, I decided that something must be done, and
since the Society of Defecation Literature Lovers was still a secret onethat
is, no one on my floor volunteered the information that they missed reading
in the bathroom, tooI decided it was up to me. And so I retired
to my room, searched the Internet for a few hours, opened obscure books
to random locations and produced a bathroom magazine of my owna
two-page compendium of useless information that I called phlush,
in honor of the Perspectives in Humanities Floor, or Phloor, which
is where I live. I printed enough copies to grace the inside of every
stall door on my floor.
This, I thought, was the
true essence of collegeto express oneself in any way possible, in
an attempt to define a soul in a time of overwhelming flux. I dont
claim to have discovered myself in two pieces of paper (or even at all).
But I do believe we all need a creative outlet for our energy to be truly
healthy, and I didnt fully understand this until I came to Penn.
This part of my education is just as important as my linguistics class;
not because putting together this bathroom reader I have learned what
mellifluous and analemma mean, or what the bird with
the longest toe is called (the jacana bird, as I recall), but because
Ive actually learned something about myself.
But I digress.
Reactions to phlush
in. I received many comments from people on how much improved their bathroom
trips had becomelike, "I stay in the stall longer just to read it,"
and "Going to the bathroom has never been this much fun!"and thats
when I knew that bathroom reading truly was a nearly universal habit.
I started getting submissions. People from other floors began stealing
copies. And then my printers black ink began to run low.
I spoke to my program manager,
who offered to have the humanities living-learning program support my
evacuation-oriented endeavor. Having access to the Kings Court/English
House photocopier, I decided to take the plunge and make enough copies
of phlush for every stall in my house. On Oct. 5, 1999, a friend
of mine and I spent an hour and a half taping it up in every stall. At
first, response was slow. I would receive a word of encouragement or a
submission every few days. But now at least one piece of phlush-related
e-mail arrives every day.
In my opinion, public response
to a personal project is the best feeling in the world. People who didnt
even really know me were willing to take a few minutes of their day to
say that they liked this little thing of mine. So it was only a matter
of time before I e-mailed the other college houses and asked if their
residents bathroom experiences were lacking a certain special something.
And, in many cases, they said "Yes." I now can touch the bathroom lives
of students across the campus, and, with luck, bring a few minds closer
But none of this really gets
to the point: True, I have created a bathroom reader. Others have filled
sketchbooks, created entire photo albums, or found their true passion
in a sport. And I believe that in doing any of these, we all realized
something. Its one thing to be told, "Take responsibility for your
own education," in the Franklin tradition that is our legacy. However,
its quite another thing indeed to believe it with your heart as
well as your head. Perhaps this is hard to take seriously in these buzz-worded
times. Perhaps it sounds insignificant. But I believe that its a
truth that transcends age and place: Everything youd ever desire
is out there and within reachall you have to do is get up off the
toilet seat and go get it.
matt keesan has somehow arrived at the University of Pennsylvania
after 18 years of stumbling around Rochester, N.Y., where he was notorious
for his mastery of the art of procrastination. Hes currently trying
to figure out why he is here and what time he should wake up. phlush
is published twice a week, each Wednesday and Sunday.
Previous issue's column
| January/February Contents | Gazette
2000 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 12/22/99