I have been minorly obsessed with urinals for some time now. There are many questions I have pondered for years. Such as: How is it that the males of the species just stand together in groups, with penis in hand, peeing? Is it not awkward to find yourself at the urinal at the same time as your boss or your dad? What is it that men at the urinal talk about? The whole idea of a urinal, especially in a workplace, is just bizarre to me. Are high-level corporate deals being cemented at the urinal, the last place where girls are not allowed? And I’m a little worried that the urinal is the glass ceiling. If so, can we, in fact, blame the entire financial crisis on the urinal?
To illuminate the matter, I contacted a cross section of urinal users. The study was double-blind and highly scientific. Below, the data.
Come on, isn’t it awkward being at the urinal with other people?
“Yeah, it sucks,” says Mishka Shubaly, a writer. “One time, I had to use the stall next to my dad. He looked up, I looked down, and he insisted on carrying on a conversation. But, thank God, I resisted the urge to check out the size of his wang and see who was bigger. There are some things you’re just not meant to know. I mean, I think I’m bigger but it kind of doesn’t matter because Dad’s cock trumps your cock every time.”
Where do you look when you are at the urinal, down or up?
“There is generally an ‘eyes up front’ stance that is adopted at the urinal,” insists Geoff Brown, who works at a Canadian college. “It is strange, but once a dude has got his Johnson out and he has established that his stream is hitting the mark, then it is automatically ‘eyes up front’ and he stares at the wall ten inches in front of his face.”
Not all our study subjects were in agreement. “I look down,” says Mishka. “I think guys like to look up to pretend that what’s happening (i.e., we are taking our dicks in hand while other men are present) isn’t happening, but I like to have good visual contact with my wang to make sure I don’t pee on myself or a candiru doesn’t leap out of the urinal and up my peehole.”
Do you ever sneak a peek?
“There is no peeking. Ever,” says Dan, an artist in Brooklyn. “That’s why there’s an unwritten rule that if you can, you always have one empty urinal between you and someone else. You never just sidle up to a urinal next to someone unless it’s crowded and you have to.” This opinion was echoed by many. “It’s sort of a ‘do unto others’ thing,” says Stuart, a shrink in Brooklyn. Steven Cox and Daniel Silver, the designers of Duckie Brown, are skeptical of this assertion. “I think every guy, gay or straight or whatever, is looking,” says Steven. Daniel adds: “But no straight guy is going to admit it.”
Except for Eben, who owns a boutique real estate firm in Manhattan. “I think I used to sneak peeks when I was less secure of who I am and wanted to see what other people were packing, but now I don’t really care,” he says. “Maybe after doing martial arts for years and seeing a lot of dudes naked in the locker room, dick is no longer interesting. It is interesting how some dudes go out of their way to make sure that you do not see their business. I think that is weirder than sneaking a peek.”
Josh Wolk, author of Cabin Pressure, shares this peeking anecdote. “The one time I did I was at the theater, and out of my peripheral vision I saw a guy pee, but then, in shaking the last drops out, he began wildly garroting his member; out of the corner of my eye, it looked like he was beating a snake against a rock. Then he’d stop and do it again. I’ve never seen someone so concerned with getting out every last drop.”
Have you had any urinal mishaps?
“Yes, I had a horrible experience with a urinal when I was in first grade,” says Daniel Silver. “And I don’t think I had ever used a urinal before. I guess I got my dick out to pee in the urinal, and I got too close, and it all shot back at me. My brother had to come get me, and he had to take me home, because it looked like I peed my pants. It was very upsetting.”
This problem apparently does not completely resolve itself with practice. “The most awkward thing about the urinal, in my opinion, is judging the distance to stand back from the urinal pre-stream,” says Geoff. “Splash-back can ruin an outfit. Often the angle of the stream and the ‘convex’ nature of the urinal can cause a fine mist that will pepper the lower half of your torso.” This is something I had not been aware of. “If you don’t realize how much splash-back there is, it will blow your mind to use a urinal in shorts,” says David, a writer in California.
Do you have conversations at the urinal?
“It depends if eye contact is made and the exchange is mutual,” says Geoff. “If you do, then it is usually in an ‘outside voice,’ about really common stuff like HOW ABOUT THAT WEATHER? You definitely wouldn’t lean in to some bro and in a soft, ‘indoor voice’ say, ‘Where did you get your belt?’” Dan had this to say: “It’s totally awkward having a conversation at the urinal, and most people don’t do it. It’s usually guys who feel more awkward, not more confident, like two guys just out of a business meeting, one of them feeling insecure, or, in my experience, on a commercial job with someone you just sort of met but have been working all day with. If there is talking, though, everyone stares straight ahead. I’m surprised they haven’t put TVs above urinals yet. I’ve contemplated the details of typical bathroom tiling way too often.” Apparently, they do sometimes post newspapers above restaurant urinals.
Don’t you ever just want to use the stall?
There was some difference of opinion on this matter. There were those who considered it socially unacceptable. “There’s something oddly unmanly about being spotted peeing in a stall,” says Josh. “It’s as if you don’t have the guts to belly up to the bar with the rest of the gents.” Mark, an entertainment lawyer in Manhattan, agreed: “You can’t let other dudes think you’re a little pussy who wants to run to the stall,” he reflected. “But obviously if all the urinals are taken, it’s perfectly acceptable.”
Eben occasionally likes the privacy. “Sometimes I use a stall if I need a moment to myself to just not see anything and be in a closed space where I am totally alone,” he says. “I am a conscientious seat lifter. I always use my feet to lift the seat and flush in stalls no matter how high the lever is.” Mishka is also a fan: “Oh, fuck yeah, if the stall is open and there’s dudes in the bathroom, I always go for it. Handy for using cocaine as well. Whoever invented the stall, well, I salute you.”
Preferred type of urinal?
Basically, no one likes the trough type found at stadiums, and the new waterless types apparently don’t work so well. “I like those big cascading waterfalls, like in Europe,” says Bill, a writer in New York. “Because you can pee in every direction.” A few guys had a preference for urinals with ice. “I love urinals that have ice cubes (or sometimes crushed ice) in them—something about the sound of it melting feels productive, stirs up Proustian memories of your mommy cheering you on way back when you were first learning to go,” says Mike Flaherty, a writer in Brooklyn. “By the way: Has anyone in your reporting mentioned the urinal game, the one where you’re at a bar or function of some kind, and early in the evening you drop a quarter onto the strainer or urinal mint and you see if by the end of the night there was anyone miserly enough to reach in and take it? That game?” Um, no.
Isn’t it awkward to use the urinal at work? Like, what if your boss comes in?
“I view the urinal as the great equalizer, where everyone can come together,” says David, the California writer. “Your boss is now your equal. The urinal does not discriminate, and I really like that about a urinal.”
The urinal can also reveal some undecipherable things about one’s boss. “When I worked at a big fashion company that you can’t use the name of, I was standing there doing a wee, and all of a sudden the president comes in,” says Steven Cox. “He takes both of his hands, raises them up, and puts both palms open on the wall. He’s like spread-eagled, both hands high up above him, doing a pee into the urinal. I couldn’t believe it. So his dick was kind of free. And I went back to the photo studio and told everyone, and they were like, Oh yeah. Everyone knew it.”
Have you ever been hit on, or hit on anyone, at the urinal?
“Oh, sure, when the situation called for it, like in Brazil, or the Port Authority in the old days,” says Bill. “In a gay bar or club there are very different codes at the urinal,” says Steven. “I don’t think that’s necessarily true, Duckie,” says Daniel. “I might be at a gay club looking to get fucked up the shitter, but I want to go and take a pee and have my privacy when I do it.” All-righty.
“One of my first memories of New York is from the bathroom at the Port Authority in about 1984,” says Eben. “I was 13 and had just gotten off the bus from DC to come hang out with my older sister at Barnard. The bathroom was scary and reeked like a Porta-John, but on an epic scale. I started to pee and immediately there was a dude next to me hanging over me, staring at my cock, jerking off. I finished what I could and got the fuck out.”
What is the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you at the urinal?
“I attended grad school with this very beatific Mormon,” says Josh. “He had no sense of sarcasm or irony and didn’t like profanity. He lived in a world in which nothing should be dirty. I was at a urinal, and then he stepped next to me. As he stood there peeing, he suddenly let out an enormous fart. It gave me quite the jolt, and I waited for him to giggle or apologize or make some joke, but I glanced over and he was still just staring straight ahead, with no expression change. Now, personally, I believe that being at a urinal doesn’t mean that all orifices are open for business. Just because you’re peeing doesn’t give you license to let loose with every bodily function at your disposal. That’s just not right. But looking at him standing there, unfazed by his own behavior, I realized he was so untouched by gross humor that he probably had never heard a fart joke and thus had no idea there was anything wrong with them.”
Even celebrities must use the urinal. “I was at a premiere in Santa Monica, and this giant guy came in next to me,” says David Carr, New York Times reporter and author of The Night of the Gun. “I had to look. It was Will Smith. He smiled and said something friendly. I stopped midstream. Choked, as it were. And I once had a dwarf sidle up next to me in Knoxville, Tennessee. I wanted to look, but propriety prevailed.”
Pat Bobst, who works in telecommunications, was at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. “I was using a urinal next to my band’s drummer,” he says. “He leans over and whispers: ‘I pissed in the empty antifreeze bottle in the van and I got some antifreeze on my dick. Do you think that’s OK?’”
“A big, thoroughly unlikable time bomb of an oaf I worked with in grad school walked in, whipped it out, started to wizz, and then put his hands on his hips and stood like that the whole time he pittled,” says Stuart. “During his first days as a new employee. It was an amazing posture. Picture a man standing with his hands on his hips; men very rarely stand like that. And never at a urinal.”
“I remember a guy coming into a rest-stop bathroom with a beer in his hand, grunting, and then sighing as he started to pee,” says Dan. “Then, still peeing, he chugged his beer.”
I still don’t understand why the urinal exists. Why don’t men just revolt, en masse, and start using stalls?
“Without them, the lines to the men’s rooms at concerts would be worse than the women’s,” says Pat. “They are space-saving conveniences.”
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