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Monday, June 14, 2004

SINKS ARE FOR HANDWASHING ONLY 

AND, AS A COURTESY TO OTHERS, BATHROOM TIME IS LIMITED TO 15 MINUTES

This sign is posted on our bathroom door to discourage patrons from using our small facilities to bathe, inject drugs, and do other things I don’t wish to contemplate. Even if there isn't any malfeasance taking place in the lavatory, the diet and lifestyle of a bum do not promote ‘regularity,’ and so I often end up having to perform one of my least favorite duties: banging on the bathroom door and telling the user that they have exceeded their time and they need to finish things up. Often this puts the bathroom user in a bad temper, and when they emerge they act all indignant, give me the stink eye, and storm out. It’s unpleasant, but since we don’t have security it’s up to the librarians to enforce the rules.

The Tacoma library had terrible issues with their public restrooms, ones that were affecting the entire neighborhood. Prostitutes began using the library's bathroom, the only public one in the area, to 'freshen up' in between customers, and their presence caused a domino effect of drug dealing, other illicit activities and blight in the neighborhood. The fed up library administration went to the city council to demand emergency funding to hire a full-time security guard to stand outside the bathroom door, and his intimidating presence alone was enough for the prostitutes to move elsewhere. Once the ladies moved on, the neighborhood underwent a tiny urban renewal.

Euro tourists are always dismayed and scandalized by this city's lack of public restrooms, and by the time many of them manage to find their way to our library's bathroom they are desperately crossing their little legs. A French company put up free standing, coin operated public restrooms all over the city but those are not always in service. Even if they are, I wouldn’t call them exactly inviting, even for the non-fastidious. Due to the ADA, the bathrooms have to be wheelchair accessible, and so they are just the right size for many of our citizens to turn tricks, transform into a cozy shooting gallery, or take a nap. Every twenty minutes the doors swing open and hoses spray the walls and floors and any occupants down with scalding bleachy water (whether it is occupied or not), but that function is easy to disable. Until the city comes up with a better solution, libraries offer one of the few public restrooms available in the city, except the ones in the park, and chances are they are locked or in use by Loretta.

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