The toilet vigilante calls twice a day to report on the ladies restroom on her office floor. I’m the receptionist at the building manager’s office, so it’s my job to listen to her patiently and then radio her request to the people who will actually do something about it. I see myself as the building sheriff, protecting our town of janitors and engineers from her neurosis. She’s up there on floor fourteen, checking on the toilet, all day. How does she get work done?
She sounds like a nice enough woman (she has a sweet and cheery voice), but her freak flag flaps when she begins to describe the problem.“Yeah, the handle—I think it’s not working or something. It’s making this hissing sound, but it’s not flushing.” Fine. This is how most toilet related complaints start and end, but the vigilante goes the extra mile.
“It’s not flushing. It’s clogged. And people are still using it. People are STILL using it!” The panic rises in her voice. “It’s just really clogged…” Here is where we both imagine the shit-packed toilet, and we are both silently repulsed.
“It’s just gross! You know what I mean?” Oh, I know what she means. She just made me think about it. But no matter how much I assure her that I understand, she gets graphic: texture, color, consistency, girth, size, and smell. How she thinks this will help the cleaning process escapes me. Does she think janitors use different products for different shaped terds?
I reassure the vigilante that I will “call it in.” She thanks me exuberantly and calls fifteen minutes later to let me know that things, “still haven’t been resolved.” I’ve already radioed the janitor, politely describing the situation as a, “clogged toilet.” I know what Nina, the janitor, will have to face when she gets there, and I resist the urge to radio a red alert, “bring backup.” At least Nina won’t have to talk about what she finds in the toilet. She will clean it up, try not to think about it, and forget about it. I have to listen to the vigilante describe it, and words make the situation take on a whole frightening life. The shit begins to have a personality: her vivid description of the “situation” makes me think of the name Brian–a quiet kid who plays too many video games and is on the chubby side.
If I was a different person, I would politely cut her off, but I like to see how far she will take it. What do the people in her office think of these conversations? What do they imagine she’s talking about? Or do they know. Is she working with people who experience an abnormal number of bowel movements, each one with a personality and potential name?
The first time she called to talk dirty I was sympathetic. She had a valid complaint. There was a foul monster of shit clogging up her toilet, and it understandably disturbed her. But then she started calling with smaller problems. “The handle still isn’t working.” “It’s making noise in the third stall.” What does she do at home? Who looks at her toilet constantly there?
One day I’m going to snap. I’m going to wait for her in the fourteenth floor women’s restroom. She’ll come in, checking each toilet, like a drill sergeant inspecting new recruits, and I’ll tell her she’s lost her complaint privileges. The building relinquishes control of these toilets to her. She’s won. It’s a two state solution. She will move her office into the bathroom, where she can keep an eye on things, preventing disaster and handing out breath mints. Until that day, I will eat my lunch at least two hours after her morning call.