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Peers of the Stall
By Cheeseburger Brown
Peers of the Stall, by Cheeseburger Brown - illustration by the author

When I was nine years old I changed schools. In my old school kids picked on my classmates and me because we spoke French; in my new school kids picked on my classmates and me because we were "gifted." So, I pretty much felt at home right away.

Like most nine-year-olds, peeing wasn't something I devoted a lot of thought to. I had avoided wetting my pants for a dog's age, and the issue simply didn't warrant much consideration beyond that. Over the years my shooting accuracy improved somewhat, but the basic mechanics had already been mastered. Peeing was old hat.

Until.

* * *

The Day the Pee Stopped

Until the day when my friends and I lined up at the pint-sized urinals to gab and piss, and we heard a taunting shout from behind: "Look girls -- gifties peeing!"

I craned my neck around. The swinging door directly opposite the bank of urinals was being held open by a squat kid in a red fisherman's coat. He was grinning, showcasing the scene for a cluster of fourth-grade girls who exploded into embarrassed giggles and mocking guffaws.

And my pee stopped dead.

I had never experienced such a thing before. My bladder turned into a fist of obstinate lead in my abdomen, the surrounding muscles suddenly aching and ineffectual. The harder I tried to ignore the taunts, the more impossible it became to even try to pee.

I gave up. I zipped up, and opted to spend recess with crossed legs. When the post-recess crowds had thinned, I slipped off to find relief. In the abandoned washroom I filled a urinal until the cakes floated, sighing with deep satisfaction...

Until I heard the door swing open behind me, and the stream choked off. My back tensed and I waited for more giggles -- but it was just a third-grader heading for a stall to do some earthier business. Despite the fact that there were no girls loitering outside in the corridor, I found that my bladder would not release its cruel lock until the swinging door had come to a rest.

Over the subsequent weeks I found that I could not forget that the door presented a view of our peeing backs whenever it swung open. While my friends seemed unaffected, I found myself ever angling for the corner urinal -- the one far enough around the wall to be invisible from the door. When I could not score the coveted corner, I discovered that I simply could not pee -- not for prayer or bounty.

And so, over the course of the fourth grade, I became a stall-peer.


Stage Fright

I first heard the term "stage fright" in a mictural context when I was twelve years old, standing in a stall in Toronto's venerable Old Firehall Theatre to see a Second City show. A gaggle of well-liquored men filled the washroom during the intermission, standing in rough lines and joking lewdly while waiting for their turn to pee. "Hey kid, what's takin' so long?" called a slurring voice, rapping on the rickety stall door.

"Listen, no tinkles -- baby's got stage fright!" commented his companion and they both laughed like jackals.

I knew the stall was put together with yawning gaps around the door, and I knew that they were watching my rigid back and locked legs, straining their ears to hear the pitter of my reluctant payload. My kidneys quivered sickeningly, and flexing my bladder muscles hurt. Defeated, I decisively zipped up and escaped the stall, pushing out of the washroom while the men laughed. "Stage fright!" they jeered.

As I prowled the Old Firehall in search of a less crowded haven, I vowed to refine my peeing policy. I would take a two pronged approach: on the one hand I would develop strategies to protect me from such ribbing in the future, and on the other hand I promised myself I'd find a way to unlock my recalcitrant bladder once it had turned chicken.

I have met with some success on both counts, and so I'm here to share.


The Syndrome Skinny

Like most social-psychological foibles, this syndrome has been given a lofty name by modern soft scientists: it's called paruresis. According to some vague statistics from the International Paruresis Association based in Baltimore, USA, "about 7% of the public suffer from this social anxiety disorder." Also, nine out of ten paruretics are male. (I, CheeseburgerBrown, am a male paruretic.)

According to Dr Steven Soifer of the University of Maryland: "It's a classic mind-body problem. If you perceive danger, your body reacts in certain ways. For people with paruresis, the internal sphincter shuts and urination is impossible."

Treatment is straight-forward. The paruretic gets over their irrational panic by gradually acclimatising to normal pee experiences, as glimpsed in this article about a man named Bob and his "pee buddy" -- Author Mary Roach listens to Bob pissing from various distances, pushing back Bob's boundaries of neurosis a few feet at a time...

Myself, I'm getting pretty good at peeing with my wife around. But I have yet to ask a less intimate acquaintance to hang around my washroom with me. In the meantime I've managed to hone my bag of tricks for coping with the day to day ridiculous rituals with a minimum of fuss.


The State of the Art

First of all, I want to be clear about this: people who can't crap in public have my sympathy, but there's nothing here for you. If you're paruretic and anal retentive you're up shit creek without a paddle as far as my advice goes.

Because sometimes standing in the stall just isn't an option. Sometimes you have to sit down or risk call attention to yourself. Sometimes you have to sit down, even if you're in Mexico. Or Paris.

In the workplace, I favour heading directly for a stall, even if there are people present. Hanging around to wash your hands or inspect your hair in the mirror to buy time is for amateurs. Go to the stall and sit down. If you're feeling particularly scrutinised, try working up a mouthful of spit and letting it drop heavily into the bowl to simulate a deposit of poo. Pass gas if it's available.

It should go without saying that you're likely not being not scrutinised by your colleagues, but the irrational feeling of being paid undue attention is the very core of the problem. In my opinion, anything that mitigates that feeling and thereby helps things flow can't be all bad, as long one doesn't make things worse by actually believing that their toilet habits are of much interest to anyone. (Er...except for you, I guess -- seeing as you've read this far. Bloody pervert.)

My most basic tool: I count in my head. I rarely have to count higher than sixteen before I'm peeing. I have counted as high as forty-eight, waiting for muscles to unclench.

Another tip: people tend to pee en masse right after lunch, and then not at all for a while. So, wait ten minutes after the rush and then claim your throne.

Crises do occur, however. Sometimes circumstances conspire to lock my pee, and I have to give up and leave the washroom with a full bladder. In these instances I try not to get disheartened. I immediately head for another washroom in the same building, or even go for a short walk for a pee in a local coffee shop or diner. You never know the nice places to pee you might find.

A pee promenade can be a life-safer when at a busy nightclub or bar or other venues with crowded, obnoxious washrooms. Why even run the gauntlet when there are alleys and bushes and parks in which to let loose in the privacy of darkness?

I once peed on an alley cat by mistake, and so there's the entertainment angle as well.

Construction sites are good, and so are disused basements or areas under renovation. One time in a poolhall I found a cement sub-basement filled with old boxes, broken pool tables and World War II shooting galleys. I peed into an ancient, rusted vat half-filled with spent shell casings.

And before you ask: yes -- I have peed out of an open window. (And yes, I do recommend it.)

Being paruretic keeps you on your toes. Being paruretic turns every mundane outing into an adventure. Being paruretic is preferable, to me, than a host of other social anxiety disorders like stuttering, profuse sweating, severe ass problems or going postal. I'd much rather hold my pee sometimes than, say, be prone to fainting.


Conclusion

Paruresis isn't so bad but, like most woose-based anxiety problems, should be confronted head on lest the neurosis deepen through indulgence. On the other hand, we must still live day to day, and on the road to recovery one must learn to have dignity with crossed legs.

Fin.


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IF YOU HAVE ENJOYED READING THIS STORY, PLEASE CONSIDER LEAVING A SMALL TIP. A PAYPAL ACCOUNT IS NOT REQUIRED. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. YOURS TRULY, C. BROWN.
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