Here’s what’s frustrating about answering nature’s call in a public restroom: It’s always a crapshoot.

Whoa! Zing!

But seriously, folks.

I got to thinking about this at a Chinese buffet. At this point, the less specifics I divulge, the better off we’ll all be. What should have happened, in a good and just world, is that I should have walked into the restroom at said buffet and been gently welcomed by the scent of lemon Pledge. Every surface should have sparkled like the lighted interior of a South African diamond mine. My sneakers should have squeaked against well-scrubbed linoleum tiles. And ”“ this would have been a cool bonus ”“ a tuxedoed gentleman named Waddington should have wiped dry my freshly cleaned hands as business adjourned.

Yeah, none of that happened.

What happened instead was so horrific they should award me the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When people do private things in public spaces, that’s just what happens, sometimes. That’s how it is for men, at least. I haven’t been inside a women’s restroom since I accidentally walked into one at an Orlando airport when I was 6 (sorry, Denise), so I can’t speak for the fairer sex. There’s a part of me ”“ a very childish part ”“ that thinks women’s restrooms are like the insides of FabergĂ© eggs. A place saturated with sunlight and rainbows, where hand towels dangle from the horns of unicorns and Sarah McLachlan plays the grand piano in a silk bathrobe. It’s possible I’m an ass.

Most men’s rooms, by contrast, could easily be mistaken for the torture room at Guantanamo Bay. It’s the place where dreams go to die.

That’s the worst-case scenario, anyway.

The best a guy can hope for is a men’s room like the ones at the TD Bank Garden in Boston. I took the train there last summer, and with one too many Mountain Dews under my belt (literally), the john was destination numero uno. There’s a moment before walking into a public restroom when I steel myself for the most horrific scenario possible. I tell myself the floor tiles will be cracked and pooling with water from a busted pipe, or that the person who used the facility just before me had enjoyed a breakfast of beer and cabbage.

That way, when the room is well-maintained, as it was in Boston, it comes as a pleasant surprise. The Garden restroom seemed less like a place where people do their business than a command center for the International Space Station.

Everything gleamed. Everything. The faucets, the tiles; the throne itself. The level of cleanliness was borderline disturbing, and it’s ruined other restrooms for me.

Because it’s a roll of the dice, isn’t it? Sometimes you can make an educated guess as to the room’s condition. In the case of the Garden, it makes a certain sense that clean would be the norm ”“ it’s a major hub in a major city, with mop-wielding crews on hand to fight the good fight against seediness and grime. But take a trip to the can at a roadside Arby’s in rural Kentucky and you may be lucky to make it out alive.

It’s the uncertainty that makes it so daunting to do familiar business in a foreign land. It’s a feeling akin to receiving Christmas packages from an inconsistent gift-giver: Will this be the snazzy sweater I drooled over in the perfume-choked aisles of Macy’s, or a 10-pack of garish underwear with drawings of Snoopy on the butt cheeks? Unwrapping it is the only way to find out for sure.

In the case of the Chinese buffet, I should have been more prepared for disaster. Such establishments can be a hoot, but they generally exist to service those who are feeling gluttonous and undiscerning. That alone should tell you everything you need to know about what the restrooms might be like, but it’s more than that. With a few notable exceptions, buffets can’t even keep the buffets clean. When the trays are overflowing with gooey lo mein noodles, ignorance is bliss; there could be a silver dollar from the California gold rush era hidden at the bottom and nobody would be the wiser. But take a look at the half-empty pizza tray the next time you’re pigging out. Next to the hardened little squares of half-hearted pie will be freckle-sized clusters of crust, glued to the tray by a film of grease that could stop a bullet. It stands to reason the commode would be similarly neglected, the stuff of Stephen King novels and Vietnam flashbacks.

And what can we do about it? Not much. When nature calls, we’ve got to answer it.

Really, the best way to keep these places clean it to not dirty them up in the first place. That means treating your stall as if it were your bathroom at home, minus the ugly ceramic cat on the wall that I keep telling you to take down. It stares at me. Sell that thing on eBay, already.

The women, I have more faith in. The men? Well, let’s just say I’m a man myself. We’re pigs. And the world, it turns out, is our sty.

— Jeff Lagasse is a staff writer and columnist for the Journal Tribune, and has seen things no man should ever see. He can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 319 or [email protected].

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