and they’re off!

Toilet paper tower
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No matter where you work, what you do for work, or how you feel about your work, this one thing is irrefutable: the microcosm of the workplace is truly one of the most entertaining and perplexing entities in human existence. I don’t watch The Office, but I don’t need to. I know that it’s genius, the same way that I know a show similarĀ  about a gym would be awesome. Those two places are cesspools of human bacteria and culture and I cannot get enough of it.

The biggest work drama in my life is currently is the toilet paper in the ladies’ bathroom. I won’t even get into the brand situation, which was an issue for me long before the present shenanigans, but it’s dire. (I will say, however, that this is clearly recycled and there is not a bear ANYWHERE on the packaging. As far as I’m concerned if there isn’t a bear on the package it’s not toilet paper. It’s crepe paper. Useful for random crafts and birthday parties. Not sanding your sexy parts…) The situation breaks down like this:

A few weeks ago there was an toilet paper emergency. It was similar in nature to the copy paper emergency and can no doubt be traced back to our office manager leaving and us finally figuring out what she was up to all that time. Anyway, one afternoon (while I was out of the office) I get an email from the president of our company assuring all the ladies that he had been made aware of the TP drought and would solve the short term problem and implement a system for long term toilet paper availability. Its an odd email, but frankly weirder shit (no pun) happens around HM on a daily basis. I was mostly just disappointed that the new toilet paper was slated to be the same recycled crepe paper as before.

By the time I returned from the office (I think I was in Hawaii) the toilet paper situation was under control. Each stall has a two roll dispenser and we’ve also gotten in the habit of hanging a spare roll on the purse hook on the back of the door. (Sometimes I laugh a little when I think about the times my lady coworkers have had to do the pants down waddle to get a roll from under the sink. At least I assume they’ve had to do it…I have.) Everything was back to normal. Sort of.

It’s hard to remember a time when normal toilet paper rolls existed. While Schick and Gillette battled it to see who could create a six bladed weapon for those scary Latino girls who stalked me in high school and beat each other with lunch trays, Charmin and Quilted Northern were in competition to release the thickest roll of toilet paper known to man. Do you remember roll extenders? There is something so disturbingly American about the roll extender. I think that roll extenders and Double Downs are cousins. Or at least one leads to the other. Apparently, during that same time, Marcol, the red headed, recycled step child of the toilet paper world was having a little competition of their own. The goal? Create the thinnest ply toilet paper that can be spun into the tiniest roll of toilet paper the world has ever seen. The problem? Two work time PBTs (personal bathroom times) and the role is finished. Not a serious problem unless there are more bathroom users than roll replacers.

In my score plus years of life, I have never known a group of ladies more incapable of roll replacing. I’ll admit that the roll holder contraption is tricky and it does take some time to figure it out, but it’s not a Chinese finger trap. (I do feel a twinge of guilt as I’m typing, as I clearly remember my first year of marriage when I came home to find the hubs standing in the living room holding a fresh roll of Charmin and the bar that holds the roll in the holder. He then proceeded to perform a step by step live tutorial on how to change a toilet paper roll. I never liked him.)

The stages of toilet paper replacing anger are many, but distinct. It starts with ignorance. You go a few weeks constantly changing the roll before you realize you’re the only shmuck doing it. Then there’s the disbelief stage, followed by frustration, then anger, and finally (I think) the stage I’m currently in, humor. I know use the toilet paper “sitch” like my own personal daytime soap. Actually, I use it like my own little game.

It’s clear what’s happening, and as much as I don’t want to be a part of it, I also don’t need to be a loser. The fire of competition burns too deeply to allow me to ignore the game that everyone else is very clearly playing. It starts with initial observation. Is there a roll that is clearly the safe choice? The object of the game is to not be the person who has to change the roll. If there is a roll with clearly more TP, super. Done. Level one complete.

The midlevels of the game mostly involve keeping the rolls even. It’s then incumbent upon your opponents to make the tough choices. It’s like peace times. Yes, everyone is pretending to relax, but what’s really going on is highly strategic thinking. More vicious than defensive strategy is offensive strategy. Keep the rolls even until you force someone to make the choice. When one dips below the other, you give the next stall occupant and obvious choice. They advance because of your sacrifice. Sometimes you have to play dirty. Sometimes you have to be a soldier, make the tough choices, use less than the desired number of squares. Force a hand washing, if you understand what I’m saying.

And then there are the final levels, the ones where mind games and physical sacrifice are not enough. You must employ foresight. This is where the cheaters and pansies are revealed. Those who lack the mental fortitude to play the game. Instead of risking defeat, they go AWOL. I’ve entered the game only to find two empty rolls and the extra roll–still on the purse hook– with a trail of paper hanging almost to the floor. A flag of surrender. The sign of a coward.

There is also peculiar behavior derivative of the game. The bathroom, which was never a social scene in the office but was at once a place for at least two people, has become a one-at-a-time bathroom. You cannot risk someone seeing you leave your stall, know what your move was. The integrity of the game must be maintained at all costs. It is a game of stealth, silence, night moves and trickery. This is not about relief this is about victory!

I don’t know how long the game can continue. Eventually we will grow tired of the lies and someone will suggest we buy toilet paper with more than eight squares per roll. Or maybe we’ll spread a rumor that there are web cams in the stalls. But for now, the game is alive. And until there is a unanimous (though silent) understanding that it has ended, I will slip silently into the stalls and make my move. And my movement.

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the bathroom ninja

I’m constantly mortified by my apartment. In my mind, I’m a delicate cleaning flower. I hang my clothes up after work, open drawers and place thing neatly inside, clean up after myself as I cook a meal. But in reality, I’m a whirling tornado of horrifying mess, never understanding where everything came from. How did I end up with 26 loads of laundry? Why are there eight empty water glasses next to my bed? And where the fuck is my other shoe?

The worst part is that I fear if left to my own, I may not ever clean. Would I seriously bask in the filth of my own lifestyle for eternity? No. No, I tell myself, I wouldnt. My mother once told me that a friend of her’s husband left her because she was a mess. I know it was partly untrue because my mother told me, and because she has always lacked the reasoning skills to understand that not everything can be traced back to an Electrolux, but it really got me thinking. I don’t mind if I think I’m a mess, but I certainly don’t want other people thinking it. And the last thing I want is to try to explain to people that my marriage ended because I couldnt get my shit together– literally.

About a year ago, I was preparing for a dinner party. A friend of mine was over at the house watching me tidy (Swifer, vacuum, blow dusk off of picture frames, and Fantastic the counters) when she suddenly looked up and asked me if I wanted her to Windex. Windex what? She explained that she would Windex the mirrors in the bathroom, and the glass panes on our French doors (they are indoors, not out). Apparently she Windexed her mirrors and crystal every Sunday. I was torn between whether to be fascinated by her, panicked that it had never, ever occurred to me to do any such thing, or simply kicked her out. And uninvite her to my party. Who the hell spent her Sunday Windexing the bathroom mirrors, let alone those teensie glass squares in the picture frames? She did.

I blew it off, but later on it started to get at me. Was something wrong with me? Why didn’t I hop out of bed on Sundays, ready to right the wrongs, make things shine, and prepare my abode for the week ahead? Here is what I came up with: Thresholds. Everyones got a Threshold.

To my poor friend, a low Threshold. The slightest sign of dust, the vision of one glass awaiting its turn in the dishwasher, was enough to send her to the other side… the dark place. She needed to know that at a moments notice there would be no doubt in her separate-sponges-for-counters-and-dishes mind that a guest could arrive unannounced, a neighbor could drop in for tea and cookies. As for me? Practically no Threshold at all. The amount of work required to make those things happen doesn’t begin to compare to the mental relaxation of not doing them at all. It’s not like I leave things rotting and festering around my house, but I have been using the same disposable dusting cloth for 2 + years.

But there in the distant future is a Threshold. It doesn’t inspire me to oil the floors on Thursdays, or organize DVDs alphabetically on Saturday afternoons, but it does pick holes in my conscience until I feel an enormous amount of guilt. And guilt is as good a motivator as torture.

I’m generally on a six to eight week cycle. Every six to eight weeks I have a push that is equal-to, if not greater-than, the sum total of what others do during that entire period of time. The hubs often complains that when I take on “cleaning” I generally start by making an insane mess beforehand. I can’t just pick up the various and sundries around the apartment, rehang coats, and wash dishes (which I do on a MUCH more regular basis), I have to first reinvent the wheel. Before I hang up coats, I need to take everything out of the closet. I have to visualize how the coats are going to fit, what the hierarchy of needs will be, so that I can rearrange the closet accordingly. It’s sick, and very time consuming, but if I’ve learned anything from the hubs, it’s whole ass or no ass.

Unfortunately, sometimes I get tired midway through. Then I’m left with a half organized closet and twice as much shit laying around on the floor. To this point, there is the method by which I tackle more aggressive cleaning issues– anything involving a product. If I’m going to get out the Comet, there better be an entire afternoon and some yellow rubber gloves. And someone sequester the cat.

As of yesterday, it had been approximately 6.5 weeks since I last attempted laundry. It’s due in part to a self-diagnosed anxiety disorder that keeps me from gearing up to do laundry for fear that I will get everything together, lug it down to the basement, and then discover that there is a line until Tuesday. When it comes to doing laundry in a community setting, everyone is your enemy. Fuck your neighbors. In addition, our family penchant for Aqua Net aerosol extra hold means that everything that dares to enter the bathroom will eventually become shellacked to the tile beneath a generous layer of the Secret of the South. That, and Stuart loves to roll his body in anything liquid. It’s a miracle he isn’t shellacked to the floor. I had gone to yoga in my pajamas, which I took to be a sign that I needed to get my domesticity in check, so I decided that I was going to take care of it. Tired of being embarrassed that our bathroom showed signs of use, I got out the Soft Scrub, the Tilex with Bleach, the Clorox, and a spong. I went in and surveyed the area. I locked Stuart in the bedroom. And then I remembered that the last time I cleaned the bathroom I got so high that I nearly passed out on my couch. (Which does beg the question of what said products are doing to the ozone, but I’ll tell you, I haven’t had much success with the greener, less abrasive versions of my favorite cleansers.)

So there I was, standing in the bathroom, a black silk-blend cocktail napkin tied over my nose and mouth, the tip pointing downward towards my breasts, looking exactly like an extra from the latest Al Quaida hostage video. To complete my outfit, I stripped down to my black boy short pannies and black sports bra. I was the bathroom ninja.

Outfitted in my nimble gear, I was able to tackle soap scum in a way that few can attest to. The stains cried out in consternation. As if they thought, after four to six weeks, that I would not be back. When I finished with the bathroom, after I had polished the grout, gathered the fur and hair from every corner, rearranged the products in the cabinet to better reflect their usage, the hubs stepped upon the gleaming floors with city coated shoes. His body will not be found, nor his cause of death discovered. I am, after all, a ninja.

As I continued down the list of things to do, albeit with less fervor than what I exhibited with the bathroom, I couldn’t bring myself to take off the napkin. It had become an alter ego. I was not only the bathroom ninja but the laundry ninja. I sat on my couch, my neck sweating beneath what was now my ninja necklace (I had to pull it down from my nose and mouth in order for the hubs to understand what I was saying), folding clothes like a mad woman. Hiyah!

When it was finally time to go to bed, the hubs worked to untie the knot keeping my ninja mask on. As it came off, the cool air finally giving my neck some respite from the chemically charged poly blend, I felt like my old self again. I walked by the bathroom on my way to bed, not stopping to brush my teeth, because it would only mar the sink.

When I crawled into bed I took some time to think about all that I had accomplished. I was sure that waking up, going to yoga, cleaning the bathroom, doing the laundry– that it would all give me an amazing sense of accomplishment. Instead I felt defeated. I kicked my yoga pants off, leaving them on the floor, and realized that none of it made a bit of difference. By the time the next person comes to visit I will be between cycles. My living room will be scattered with boots, shoes, models of loft apartments, books, bills, cat toys and scarves. My kitchen will have empty bottles of wine on the counter, pepper under the mill, and dishes in the sink. The $80 diffuser in the foyer will be ineffective because my fuck face cat will relieve himself moments before I bring a guest into the house, sabotaging my efforts to appear clean and neat.

So this bathroom ninja is putting away her expectations. There are too many opponents, too many walls to scale, in order to feel like I am keeping up with the status quo. I’ll try to remember to vacuum if I spill something. I’ll Swifter when Stuart starts to sneeze at his own overwhelming contribution, and I’ll attempt to keep the odor to a manageable foul. But other than that, kids, I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

If you don’t like dirt, you shouldn’t walk around barefoot.