I’m not sure what happened to me as a child that had something to do with a filthy public restroom, but whatever that repressed memory is it must be a doozy. As far back as I can recall I’ve had nightmares about dirty public restrooms. I don’t know, maybe they’re more anxiety dreams than nightmares. I don’t wake up screaming from these dreams. I’m not freaking out in the dream. I’m just more or less trying to find a place to relieve myself but can’t find a toilet clean enough to do so. And it’s such a recurring kind of dream that I know there must be some sort of phobia attached to this weirdness. A cross between Agoraphobia(fear of public places) and wet, dirty, dingy, and overall filthy restrooms.
These dreams that I have are usually quite elaborate. I end up in a public restroom that turns into this labyrinthine structure that would be more suited for the catacombs of Paris than Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. These toilets almost always have dingy white tile covering the floors and walls. They resemble more of a 1950s Midwestern locker room in some nameless high school. A cross between a haunted gym class and a Bio-dome. The air is heavy, dank, and humid. I can’t smell anything(Praise Jebus), but my overactive imagination is enough to fuel some serious sense memory and give the illusion of a sense of smell. That broken toilet that sits in the darkened and grey stall overflowing with human refuse needs no ‘scratch ‘n sniff’ sticker for my REM-laden mind to “smell” it. It’s there, believe me. And the layout of these “anxiety shitters” can be likened to an M.C. Escher drawing. There are toilets and showers strewn throughout these Purgatory-esque bathrooms. Holes in the ground; toilets formed in circle patterns with no stall doors separating them; shower stalls where it looks as if a drunk with irritable bowel syndrome squatted and sprayed for days; sinks used as bidets; and there is always dirty, wet towels everywhere. Paper towels, cloth towels, dish towels laid out on the floor as if to soak up the the overflowing toilet brine. Is Freddy Krueger in this restroom trying to clean up? There must be a boiler room nearby causing all the humidity inside this hellhole of a restroom. And of course the toilets you do find that aren’t cracked or displayed out in the open for everyone to see you doing your business look as if they haven’t been flushed in months. “Satan’s soft-serve” rising above the toilet lid like some sick, twisted joke. Of course, the fact that I really have to go in these anxiety-ridden dreams makes them all the worse. Searching throughout this maze of ceramic and marble covered in human waste there is nary a dry, dark corner to hide in and relieve my bladder so I can return to whatever family fun awaits me outside those heavy, wooden bathroom doors. These dreams only start as I enter the bowels of Hell to empty my own bowels.
I’ve had several instances of these situations in my waking life. As a kid going to a ball game in Chicago and having to go to the bathroom only to be mortified and the “pee trough” that awaited me at Comisky Park. Those rest stop toilets on the way to nowhere special that awaited you on Interstate 90, they always had some sort of dark surprise waiting for you. Maybe in the form of an broken urinal, no paper towel to dry your hands, or perhaps the creepy dude that just stands just outside the restroom staring at brochures for “Ohio’s Biggest Bait ‘N Tackle Outlet Store” and “Amishland”. But for me, the most traumatic restroom experience that I ever went through had to have been the Dune State Park train station in Chesterton, IN. The wife and I took our kids, along with my parents and my brother and his family on a birthday trip to Chicago. It was my mom’s 60th birthday and we thought it would be a great time going to the Museum of Science and Industry, then hitting up Giordano’s for some stuffed pizza. We all drove to the train station in Chesterton and thought a train ride would be fun for the kids. Of course we got to the station and a few of us had to use the bathroom. My dad and I took my son to the men’s room. What we discovered was something not unlike a crudely assembled recreation of Mt. Everest, made out of various Southshore riders’ undigested breakfast sandwiches rising past the toilet seat and well into the air. It was a grotesque display of human laziness AND ingenuity. My first thought was towards the last couple of desperate souls that hovered above that Hell-ish shit sundae and added to it. The variable brown cherry on this human waste confection. I was appalled and began to get a little sweaty. I think my reaction would’ve been the same had a seen a severed head, or a raccoon smoking. No, I think my reaction would’ve been much less with either of those two options. As badly as my son said he had to go we quickly exited that abhorrent display of humanity called a bathroom. There’s a gas station probably a mile down the road. Could you not go down there? And then there’s the state government that’s in charge of the upkeep of this restroom. Why? Dear God. I mean at that point I think if I’d had a say I would’ve had the entire building bulldozed and then the rubble burnt to a crisp with flamethrowers. Rebuild from the ground up, I say. Possibly bring a Catholic Priest in to bless the ground. Fortunately the train’s restrooms were in MUCH better shape.
Maybe I’m just a clean freak. I might possibly have some OCD-like tendencies. A combination of an overactive imagination and the need/want for a clean restroom to make myself a bit more comfortable makes for some strange anxiety dreams. They aren’t as prevalent as they used to be with me. They come from out of nowhere anymore. Maybe a walk into our main bath at home after one of the kids takes a shower and leaves two or three wet towels and their dirty clothes in a pile causes me to regress a bit. With the feel of a filthy Russian bathhouse I start to think about all those dank bathrooms I’ve endured over the years and I rush to remove the soiled towels and run for the Clorox Wipes. Not in my house. My bathrooms are better than that.
Either way, it feels better to get this off my chest. Maybe I can finally move on from these filth-laden anxiety dreams. If I move past this, then maybe I can conquer those high school anxiety dreams as well.