Lessons from the lavatory

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November 16, 2006

10:30 PM

As prospective students continue traipsing the campus in droves, the question naturally arises — what is it, exactly, that differentiates a good university from a bad one? To our aspiring applicants, weak from walking and inundated with senselessly colorful pamphlets, I offer one piece of crucial advice: check out the bathrooms.

p. The scrawls on restroom walls are something like civilization’s lowest common denominator: the yardstick with which we can measure the true scope of our students’ wit and intellect. I took time this weekend to travel to every public bathroom I could find on campus, hoping to uncover comedic gems or the wise musings of some shitting sage. And, pervert though I may be, fear not — I steered clear of the ladies’ rooms.

p. Of course, certain slogans were ubiquitous, most notably “J.T.’s date,” that legendary lass who, alas, “did not reciprocate.” Millington’s men lampooned the Sig Ep catchphrase in a charming piece called “J.T.’s data,” which featured a chart cataloging various genetic Xs and Ys. Had Gregor Mendel graced our urinals, he’d have been proud.

p. Equally pervasive is the “grout pun” phenomenon, which purportedly originated in Tucker before proliferating to nearly every academic building on campus. The premise is simple: in homage to moldy bathroom tiles everywhere, students pen their finest pun on “grout,” optimally mocking some aspect of popular culture in the process. Personal favorites? “Grout Gates of Kiev” and “Grout! Grout! Let It All Out” (Blair); “Oscar the Groutsch,” “The Grout Potato Famine” and “A Classy Man A-Grout Town” (Millington). Highest honors, however, are awarded to whatever effulgent soul played on these classic lines from “Twelfth Night”: “Some are born grout, some achieve groutness, and some have groutness thrust upon them!”

p. Oftentimes, a stall will reveal the interests of its department. Tucker, for instance, references “Paradise Lost” and the W.A.S.T.E. symbol from Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49” — tributes to the value of a liberal arts education. One student, perhaps a music-econ double major, wrote out the notes to “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits” on a Ewell wall. “Although, the cost has gone up,” he added, “Damn recession.” McGlothlin-Street Hall has urinals adorned with “Optimized for Windows ’98” stickers, proof that the College’s computer science buffs will go to admirably extreme lengths to insult Microsoft — or to pee on them.

p. Not all of our graffiti is brilliant satire, to be sure; as with any institution, there are ineradicable traces of homophobia and racism. Even these, however, are treated with enough creativity to merit some Tribe Pride. “Ryan Scofield is a racist!” declares one wall in the University Center basement. “Shut up, man,” someone has written beneath it, “you don’t know. He could be dating an Asian guy.” Underneath that: “He is. It’s me. I’m a Korean exchange student and I love his big American ideas.” In Washington, one satisfied male carved “I Masturbated Here” into the door. Another similarly jaded youth responded, “Who hasn’t?”

p. If “grout” is the good and “racist” the bad, then the Campus Center offers samples of the ugly. Attentive readers will recall the “gay sex bathroom scandal” of past years; unfortunately, it appears the Campus Center basement hasn’t quite lost its reputation. “Leave times for Nov 06,” writes one desperate hopeful. “11-4 after 10PM Hospitality House Rm. 372 I Want BJ or Tite Ass!” We’ll never know, regrettably, if his wish came true. But why didn’t he just use MySpace, like everybody else?

p. What does this collection of graffiti say about our school? It’s certainly a testament to our collective sense of humor. It flaunts, in its own peculiar way, our unique braininess. Interestingly, I found nearly no misspelled words during my misadventures. Even “masturbate,” which is all-too-frequently rendered as “masterbate” by horny high-schoolers across the country, was seldom besmirched. Furthermore, most vandals took the time to punctuate their messages, right down to the commas. Are JMU students so meticulous? Is it beneath U.Va. men to make puns on “grout,” lest an errant speck of ink stain their J. Crew slacks? Do Princeton kids spend time libeling each others’ eating clubs, or do they hire people to write their graffiti for them?

p. Clearly, our lavatories have much to teach us. It’s a shame that so much great graffiti is routinely obliterated in repainting jobs; the administration assumes that we’d rather stare at a pristine wall than at the witticisms of those who came — and worse — before us. Our student body is nothing if not self-aware. In its hands, most bathroom graffiti transcends “vandalism” and emerges as something of an art form. One author in the UC basement openly invites creativity. “The classic lines for this situation are: ‘Here I sit, all broken-hearted / Came to shit, but only farted.’ However, since this is such a prestigious institution of higher learning, be creative and compose a new one.” There’s a section for “submissions.” Several are noteworthy, though they may be plagiarized. “Man’s ambitions must be small,” suggests one, “to write his thoughts on a shithouse wall.” The greatest wisdom, however, is accredited to poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, circa 2006: “This is a teepee / for you to pee-pee / not a wigwam / for you to beat your tom-tom.”

p. What prospective student could possibly resist that?

p. __Dan Piepenbring, the editor of The Pillory, is a junior at the College. His views do not necessarily represent those of The Flat Hat.__

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