Friday, January 11, 2008

One From the Road: The Crappy Crapper

Holidays with my father are always an adventure, mostly because he stubbornly refuses to plan anything. A few years ago, he booked a flight for all of us out to Vienna in Austria, but didn’t reserve any hotel rooms. We arrived in this massive city, toting some heavy bags in the kind of heat that doesn’t suit pasty white Irishmen like ourselves, and wandered around for hours looking for shelter.

Despite how fun that doesn’t sound, there is something hugely liberating about that kind of an outlook while you’re on holiday, as we didn’t feel tied down to any one hotel, or country, for that matter. After two days of Vienna, we felt we had seen enough, and ventured onto Budapest, until we tired of that, at which point we decided to check out Bratislava in Slovakia.

I can’t quite remember the circumstances that led up to the point of this overly personal story; it’s possible that we were after getting off a bus that took us to a train station, but when we finally arrived in Bratislava, my bladder was brimming in such a painful fashion that I was dangerously close to considering wetting myself and letting the dry heat dry the stain away. After hours of holding it in, the relief I felt at finally witnessing a large, albeit derelict-looking, train station before me caused me to shudder a little joyful shudder at the prospect of excreting these troubling litres of fluid.

I ditched my brothers by the bus as they waited for the driver to retrieve the bags and hurled myself into the train station. It was every bit as run-down looking on the inside as it was on the outside, but it smelt extra musky. I looked around frantically for a place to deposit my urine, but saw nothing. The signs were exclusively in Slovak, so I had to take a moment to compose myself and figure out where I wanted to be. The universal stick-man/woman symbol pointed upstairs, so upstairs I went. I bounded up the large wide staircase as my bladder bounced around violently in protest, but I didn’t care - I was on the home stretch! Salvation lay just ahead! Or so I thought.

Perhaps I switched from a stride to a stroll a little late, as I crashed into that bathroom with such aplomb that I almost knocked a small bespectacled woman off her stool. It was a mensroom attendant. Urk. The toilets were dark, dank, and clammy, bereft of a single window to offer light or odour extraction, and after my first breath I got a distinctly salty taste in my mouth, which should give you an idea of how potent the stink was. The seemingly ineffectual bathroom attendant pointed to a sign that caused my heart to falter for a moment, but my adrenaline had yet to run dry. Despite the fact that it was in another language, I will never forget that sign as long as I live.

Pisoár 15 SKK
Skriňa 25 SKK


I did what any man would do in the situation. I shrugged at her and walked past. I had no money! I had to go! She started barking at me in Slovak as I approached the nearest free urinal. Just as I was undoing my fly in this decrepit hole of a toilet, someone grabbed my arm. The bathroom attendant. Despite the fact that other men were relieving themselves, she deemed it appropriate to reprimand the cheapskate. The withered hag dragged me out to the same sign she had once pointed to and now began to slap it vigorously, all the while yammering away in a tongue I didn’t understand, but a tone I knew all too well.

Few times in my life have I felt physically crushed by disappointment. This was one of those moments. Pleading is quite futile when playing charades is your only means of communication. I clasped my hands together in prayer, begging her. Nothing. I grabbed my crotch and danced on the spot for her. Nothing. I tried pointing at the urinal, miming a urination stance, pointing at my imaginary watch, then at the basket full of foreign coins. Nothing. (Okay - so maybe it’s understandable that she didn’t respond favourably to the last one, but how the hell do you mime “I’ll urinate first, then return and pay you”?) I put a 2 euro coin in her basket, she fished it out and threw it at me in a manner that suggested she believed it would poison all the other legal tender. Her incomprehensible nattering was clear. It said “No toilet for you!”

Possibly the lowest moment of my life, that moment of resignation. I did a quick Pro/Con analysis. Was I willing to spend the rest of my life being called ‘Seanie-Seanie-Pee-Pants’ at every family reunion? Would I be able to regain the trust and respect of my future children if I explained to them the tenacity of the bathroom attendant and the extenuating circumstances that led to my public act of incontinence?

The next part is all a blur. I went downstairs, found my father, dragged him over to the bureau de change to change those Euros into something useful, ran back upstairs with a pile of strange notes, and returned to the scene of my attempted crime, equipped with the means to gain ingress to this rather exclusive shithole.

“Pisoár?” she asked as she pointed at the sign.
I shook my head.
I nodded. I wanted a cubicle. I was willing to pay the big bucks for the privacy, seeing as I had realised how elusive it was on my previous visit.

She outstretched her palm. One transaction later and I’m strolling towards the cubicle. She beckons me back, and I realise that in my tunnel vision, I’ve neglected to notice that she’s holding up a roll of toilet paper. I try to take the roll, and she slaps my hand back. Nonplussed, I look at her as she uravels a few squares and grunts a question at me. I nod, without a clue as to what she has just said. She unravels some more. She grunts something at me again that ends with a question mark. I nod. She tears the eight squares of
toiletpaper off and hands it to me.

It isn’t until I’m safely in the cubicle that I realise no toilet paper is kept within the stall. The woman was asking me to predict how much paper I would need to satisfy my excretion needs! Had I intended on defecating in the world’s narrowest cubicle, she had left me considerably short changed in equipping me to do so, but these thoughts yielded to more pressing matters.

The relief that bathroom provided almost moved me to tears. The nightmare was over.

This story is a solid illustration of what my ideal holidays are. I got to converse with a Slovakian local, and witnessed first hand some quirks of their society. Quirks like privacy invading bathroom attendants, who charge a premium based on which call of nature you intend on satisfying, dole out toilet paper based on how shitty you predict your arse will be, and wield the authority to interrupt you at any time to accost confused tourists who are delirious with desire to utilise the facilities.

Granted, we didn’t get off to the best start, but I did sign up for their Frequent Pisser Card, which entitles me to one free urinal trip every Saturday.

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