Here’s the thing about walking in on someone using the bathroom: I can’t figure for whom it’s worse. On the one hand, you’ve got the person in the bathroom; the person in that oh-so-vulnerable of positions who is certainly not expecting anyone to come bursting through the door. On the other hand, you have the person entering the bathroom. All this person wanted was to wash his hands before he sat down to eat lunch, but instead had to deal with literally catching someone with her pants down.
So here’s what happened. I was grabbing lunch downtown. I placed my order and decided to freshen up a bit before I sat down (I find it important to stay neatly coiffed). I made my way to the bathrooms. There are two unisex one-person bathrooms, both of them with the deadbolt system that changes the little indicator panel from “Vacant” to “Occupied.”
After carefully assessing that the indicator panel did indeed say “Vacant,” I barreled through the door in my usual graceless and lumbering manner. What happened next was a flurry of awkwardness, apologies, and regret. Time stopped, sped up, and somehow ceased to exist all at once. There, hovering above a toilet that was 3 feet in front of me, perched a woman mid-sit. Her pants were making their journey down to the ankles. Her “delicates” – tasteful black cotton, I believe…not “granny,” but nothing overtly provocative – were firmly in place (thank God for small favors). She looked up at me. I looked down at her. I looked at both of us reflected in the large mirror. In the distance, a dog barked.
She didn’t scream so much as she feebly yelped. All at once, her two arms tried to do the job of four. She clawed at her jeans, trying to pull them up as she lurched toward the door in that hobbling manner only pants around the ankles can give you, arms flailing for the door handle. Momentarily caught off guard by all of this, my small brain tried to think of the appropriate response. “I’m sorry!” seemed natural, but like it wasn’t enough. Maybe it should be, “I didn’t see anything!” No, that’d be weird and make it look like I took the time to notice that I wasn’t seeing anything. “It’s OK…I’ve seen girls in their underwear before!” would probably sound unnecessarily creepy. So I just went with the “I’m sorry,” which, somewhere in between my brain and my larynx, became, “Oh! I…um…no…I mean… M’srry!!” Well done. And keep in mind that all of this happened in a span of .7 seconds.
I quickly backed out of the bathroom, and the indicator panel switched to “Occupied” over the sounds of that poor woman literally hurling herself against the door. I used the bathroom next to it, and waited until I clearly heard the woman leave the other restroom – in no way was I going to bump into her as she came out. After an additional 30 seconds of buffer time just to be sure, I left the restroom. But now I had to make my way though the café, wind my through the crowd and back to my seat. And there was a problem: I had no recollection of what this woman looked like, so it was going to be impossible to purposefully avoid her.
My only mental picture of her is this blurry, in-motion mass of long brown hair, the black underwear, and crumpled pants. I only caught a glimpse of her face before she started her lunge for the door. But my brain decided to go into “fight or flight” mode, and was too busy flighting to think to record her panicked face.
So I slinked quickly back to my table and sat down. I adopted the “eyes ahead of you no matter what” stance. But then I worried that if she had to walk in front of me (I was by the door), her waist would be at my eyes’ level; the last thing I needed was for her to think I was trying to look at her crotch again. I briefly toyed with the idea of pretending to be blind or handicapped, but I lacked the dark glasses or helper monkey to pull that off. So I just stared at the table. Eyes down, locked on the table.
I finished my salad, scurried down the street and tried to put the whole thing behind me, the image of the black underwear slowly fading away. It was over now. I made a promise to always, always knock on bathroom doors for the rest of eternity. Even if they’re standing wide open. Even if I’m home alone. I don’t care. The sound of that woman’s pathetic yelp is all I needed to learn my lesson.