My Week 15 – Strange Bathroom Experiences and Customer Service

*I am currently over the quarter-way point towards a whole year of inanity. Huzzah!

Thursday: I have strange bathroom experiences.

In my workplace, there are many bathrooms. That is to say, there are many bathrooms for the students, but only one staff bathroom. This can be very awkward since I teach 3 floors away from said staff bathroom, and most often resort to using the girls’ bathroom down the hall from my room, in order to be more efficient. As a side note, are there any other professions where you can’t go to the bathroom when you want to? When a BELL tells you when it’s OK to pee? But let’s face facts; most of us have a ‘system’, a type of rotating coverage where we keep an eye on each other’s classes in the case of an emergency, and since our classes are made up of teenagers, it’s a pretty safe bet that you can nip out for a quickie without anything bad happening, like someone putting glue in someone else’s hair, or poking each other until someone cries, or whatever. I haven’t taught elementary school in a while, but I know those kids get into trouble at the drop of a hat (or a number 2). Kindergarten teachers must have to hold it ALL DAY—what a life. As a second side note, when I use the staff bathroom, it’s become almost inevitable that another staff member (usually female—well, always female, really) will want to strike up a conversation with you when you’re trying to do something that requires both privacy and a certain amount of concentration. I NEVER have that problem in the girls’ bathroom. On a third side note, I don’t make my students ask to go to the bathroom. They are allowed to just leave. I have no interest in being in charge of anyone else’s bowels, and the whole notion of someone asking me “Can I go to the bathroom?” tweaks the absurdist part of my brain. Is there really more than one response to that question? Why would I EVER say No? Some people might say, “But how do you know they’re really going to the bathroom?” What the hell else would they be doing? Starting an insurrection? Holding cockfighting tournaments in the basement? Basically, I trust my students to do what they say they’re going to do, until I actually find them NOT doing it. Or they come back to my room covered in feathers.

At any rate, one of the joys of using a student bathroom is that you never know what kind of surprise is awaiting you. There’s usually a lot of graffiti, although the custodians do their best to remove it regularly. Girl graffiti is a bit boring, mostly stuff like “Johnny is so hot”, or “School sucks”. Last year, there was a whole thread about the power of the Lord, and living your life like Jesus. It’s amazing the kind of pious sentiments that bodily functions can provoke. But I work in a school with a large International Baccalaureate program, so sometimes the graffiti is fairly esoteric. The other day, for example, I sat down in a stall, and read the following:

Things I Hate
1. Vandelism
2. Irony
3. Lists
4. Originality
5. Poor spelling

It made me laugh. I wonder what was going on in this girl’s life at that moment, what prompted her to scrawl this in black sharpie on the back of a bathroom stall door. But kids do weird things in bathrooms. When I was 16, we got up to all kinds of things, mostly smoking. You’d slip out of class, meet up with a friend and have a smoke. Teachers regularly came in to check the bathrooms back then—not to actually USE them, but just to see what we were up to—and sometimes they caught you smoking and you got sent to the office, and sometimes they just shook their heads sympathetically at you and left. Nowadays, girls never seem to smoke in the bathroom. Which is why the other day, I was so confused and befuddled. I came out of a stall, was washing my hands with the outrageously cold water that the students are gifted with, and I saw a girl at the hand dryer, having an animated conversation with another girl about a boy she liked, and she was DRYING A CIGARETTE LIGHTER. Very casually, like there was nothing strange about this at all. Based on my own life experiences, however, I immediately jumped to “She skipped class to go have a smoke, dropped her lighter in a snow bank, and was now trying to dry it off in order to resume her smoking.” So, being the responsible adult that I am, I, equally casually, but just a little bit ominously, went over and asked, “Hi there. Can you tell me why you’re drying a cigarette lighter?” She gave me a big smile and replied, “Oh, we’re doing an experiment in Chemistry and I dropped it in the beaker.” So now I felt like a complete dick, being all suspicious of this poor young scientist type—it just goes to show you that teenagers are, for the most part, pretty decent human beings if you don’t pre-judge them. Then on Friday, I had my second weird bathroom experience that week. I went in and there was no one around, but taped to the front of the first stall was a handwritten note that said, “Do Not Flush. Ring in toilet.” Now in my experience, toilet rings are best removed by a good scrub and a flush, so naturally I was intrigued. I looked, and sure enough, there was an actual ring in the toilet—a gold ring. It looked slightly like the Ring of Power from Lord of the Rings, and I simultaneously felt like whispering “My Precious” and then seeking out the girl with the lighter to see if we could heat it up and make some runes appear on it. The toilet water looked clean enough though, and I hated the thought that this stall would become permanently unusable, while everyone avoided flushing the ring, so I did what anyone (as it turns out, not really anyone) would do—I pushed up my sleeve, stuck my hand in the toilet, and pulled the ring out. Then I washed it and my hands a couple of times just to be sure. It turned out to be just a piece of costume jewellery, but it might have had some sentimental value, so I rewrote the note, directing people who were interested in it to my classroom, wrapped it in some toilet paper, and took it to my room.

“Look what I found!” I exclaimed to some of my grade 12 students.
“Oh my God,” they replied. “Did you pull that out of the toilet?!” Apparently, it had been in there long enough that a lot of the girls had seen it.
“The water was clean,” I said. “Besides, I’ve changed dirty diapers and cleaned up baby puke. My hands have been in worse places.”

This, for some reason, did not comfort them, but prompted some of the girls to insist that they were never having children. So I feel like, on the one hand, I did a good deed by saving someone’s precious ring, but on the other hand, I might be responsible for declining enrollment.

Friday: Conversations with customer service representatives are getting more and more difficult.

I don’t know why, but it seems like lately, the quality of people who work in customer service is going downhill. Last night, it took me ten minutes to order pizza. I was at my aunt’s house, and we were hungry, so I called Pizza Pizza. For some bizarre reason, they have a call centre, instead of letting you call the store you want to get the pizza from. The guy taking my order was NOT a native English speaker. And that’s ok with me, as long as he could actually speak English. But this, apparently was a challenge. Shouldn’t the most important criterion for hiring someone to take pizza orders be that the person can understand the language the pizza orders are mostly going to be in? He asked for my address at least 5 times. I said it, I spelled it. He said it back, he spelled it back. He was wrong each time. We went back and forth like this for a few minutes, my aunt looking terribly amused in the background. When I finally said, with a certain amount of frustration, “It’s Keats! Like the poet!” she laughed out loud and said, “There’s no way THAT’S going to help.” I hadn’t even gotten to the food part of the order yet. Don’t get me wrong—it has nothing to do with what country someone comes from—in fact, I had even more trouble trying to order something from a Sears rep. who was from Quebec, and whose English was also virtually non-existent.

But face to face can be just as bad. Today, I was in an antique mall, and I found an old historical atlas of Oxford County in one of the stalls. I was really excited, and opened it up to see the price, because most responsible antique dealers pencil the price inside the cover to avoid damaging the outside. It said $12.00. Awesome! Then I looked at the outside cover, and it said something MUCH more expensive, on a nasty sticker. Well, I wanted the atlas, and the booth was 15% off, so I took it to the counter. I showed the woman the page with $12.00 written on it and said, “Can you remind your vendors to remove the price they paid from their items before they re-price them?” then I showed her the price tag on the cover. She looked at me and said, “What?” Actually, it was more like, “Whuh?” I don’t know how much clearer I could have been. I keep thinking of variations but they seem to all sound very Neanderthalic, like “Old price good, new price bad. Old price go away. Me buy book.” That makes even less sense. Maybe she didn’t know what a ‘vendor’ was. Like the time I was down in Ohio at an All-You-Can-Eat pizza restaurant and I asked the woman behind the counter if she could direct me to the cutlery. She stared at me blankly and said, “The what?” I repeated, “The cutlery.” She said—and I kid you not—“I don’t know what that word means.” I replied, “You know, like knives and forks and stuff.” She pointed to a counter by the pop machine and said, “Oh, you mean ‘silverware’.” It was plastic, by the way, so no, I didn’t actually mean silverware. Maybe I should have just said, “Me want fork.”

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