Are you in condition for the toilet?

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They say that you can judge the quality of a restaurant by the condition of its toilets. So you would be ill-advised to chomp down on a porterhouse steak in an establishment that has turds floating about the rim of an overspilling, unflushable bowl. Personally, I support this piece of popular wisdom.

   But would it be fair to judge an entire city -- or nation -- by the same standards?  I don't mean that the streets must form cesspools of unthinkable...stuff... in order to qualify; I mean in terms of providing adequate facilities for the general public. In other words, why -- in the modern, industrialized world -- should a person have to wander far and wide in search of a place to relieve himself?  It is dehumanizing in more ways than one,. First, it is an insult to your status as a homo sapien that you must suffer so; and, secondly, it causes you to really start thinking like an animal. And finally, to behave as one. (But maybe that isn't so bad and maybe we should reconsider our theories of 'etiquette'??)

    I am spoiled, I guess. There are many things wrong with America, but finding a place to shit isn't one of them. True, the banks and post offices usually don't offer such havens, but any venue where you consume food or drink has a toilet available if not on display. I wouldn 't be surprised if it was the law. And here is the clincher: YOU DON'T HAVE TO PAY.
   My first experience with having to cough up money for this purpose came many years ago in the Roman Colosseum, of all places. It was a blistering hot day, as I remember, and I had spent the previous night drinking a barrel or two of wine. But I couldn't miss out on the big ancient circus, so there I was sweating and huffing about the stifling passageways leading to where the tigers and gladiators had awaited their fate, when suddenly I was nearly felled by an overwhelming urge to uncork part of my misery. But where?
     Miraculously I came upon a place which was guarded by a toothless old crone. She wanted ex-number of lira (pre-EU days), which I gave her. But inside the hovel of relief, I saw that there was no toilet seat -- just a splotched-looking bowl. Confronting her again with an expression of manic disbelief (I spoke no Italian so I had to do a pantomime), I got her to understand that I wanted a proper toilet seat. She had one (hidden under her black gown, it seemed), but she was shrewd, and she probably saw that I was just a spoiled American boy who did not want to plop himself down on a crust of mildewed dung, and so she first flashed it at me and then demanded more payment. Which she of course received. And so I was able to enjoy the pagan world in a most civilized way.
     (The strange this is that I have since discovered that there were more public toilets in ancient Rome than in modern Moscow. Don't believe me, google it).
     Europe really hasn't changed the last few times I was there. Even Germany -- the jewel of the EU -- still offers many little cafes without toilets. And something tells me that what I continue to see in Russia has never been otherwise. It is hard for me to believe that the Russian governments that have come and gone have ever devoted much serious thought to how and where people out of their homes can go to the toilet. The same with Russian entrepreneurs and business men. I mean, if you can construct an apartment complex (and more and more until the rows of them start to resemble a galaxy sparkling at night and without end) without providing adequate parking or other bits and pieces of infrastructure, why should you be expected to care how people get rid of their post-breakfast playdough, all valuable nutrients having been absorbed?
     What is the mentality? That people don't need to shit when they are out -- they should do it at home?  That putting in a toilet (plus toilet paper!!!  And soap!!!!) costs money and eats into the profit?) Almost none of the Russian quick-munch places offer toilet facilities, and it is really infuriating at times. It is the ultimate, cynical, just fuck off and don't bother us syndrome.
     Russia, try that when the World Cup arrives next summer and a million people are looking for food, drink, and a place to shit.
    Of course, some Russian businessmen finally figured this out and so, dating back to 2014, a group of entrepreneurs decided to do something about it. We remember the days when the public toilet lockers were minded by old babushkas who collected your money and cleaned up after you. But of course that was too fucking simple, having to pay a human being to slob up the urine and polish the floor, WASN'T IT?
   So the automatic toilet came into being. You simply had to pay 50 rubles -- the price of a metro ticket -- into the slot of one of these booths which happened to be, perhaps suggestively, shit-coloured, and out would pop your card which you could then go to the internet and activate in such a way that you received a discount (the reduction was to only 30 roubles) for every visit to the stall of your choice. Moreover, each of these stalls was equipped with an automatic cleaning devise which kept the toilets smelling like spice. AND !!!! every ten minutes, the doors would open automatically, thus denying the bums and the homeless from even thinking about the idea of 'moving in' for the night.                                       In Your Dreams Mate !!
    Sounded like a pretty good idea, right? And it must have really struck a chord in Voykovskaya where, as an expecially observant blogger pointed or, there remain actually no less than twenty-two (22 !!) such toilets lined up side-by-side within shouting distance of the metro.

      To me, such fecal overkill does not make sense, but it must make sense to somebody in authority  Except that, the Voykovskaya Shitting Club notwithstanding, it hasn't caught on across the rest of the city. In short, it didn't work. Either the bums couldn't operate the shithouse computer or they didn't have an internet to follow up on it. Or they just didn't want to. Evidently it was more convenient to piss ON the booth than IN it. That would be my guess. So now they are being systematically removed. Just as the trash containers that once appeared suddenly disappeared when the government decided that they were good places to hide bombs.
    So now we are back to throwing our trash in the street and shitting in the bushes.
   For me it all came to a head the other day when I arrived at a teaching location needing to go to the toilet. My passions rose and my heart lit up when I saw a Burger King. A Shit Oasis !! Rushing to the second floor and hurling myself through the hungry mob, I was on the verge of release (all bowel-related muscles relaxing) when I realized that the entrance to the Magic Kingdom required a receipt given only upon completion of a purchase. I had no room for a burger; I was too busy trying to get rid of one. No go.
  I staggered away, and ended up relieving myself behind a tree and wiping with an old student attendance list. Sorry, Olga, Dima, Sergey, and Julia. Didn't mean to smear your faces with an absurdity: a city of 16,000,000 people where you can't shit when you need to. It is utterly ridiculous.
    By contrast, I remember a time in Bulgaria, riding up a mountainside with friends, when I noticed a gypsy doing his business by the side of the road. This, and I do not kid you --was an epiphany, a Road-to-Damascus experience: I saw, once and for all -- watching that bony man squat there along the side of the mountain road -- that we are animals, each of us, no less than the squirrels and the coyotes, no less than the stray cats and raccoons. We all have to shit. That Bulgarian gypsy, poor, pure, unself-conscious man, just didn't care if we disapproved of  him. His hard, bare ass, hunkered down there, was pumping it out unasbashedly by the side of the mountain road, and this glimpse I suddenly had of a skeletal form obeying not human rules but natural laws, taught me more about who I really am and what we really are than all the verses in the Bible could ever wash my brains with. I saw that we shouldn't be ashamed of our excretions any more than we are proud of our procreations -- they are part of a cycle.
     It is a shame that a city over-inundated with smart phones, still hasn't figured out that there is, at least not yet, a 'smart' application, which can make piss and shit simply evaporate. We still need at least one square meter, not only to do it in, but to get rid of the evidence afterwards.
     Maybe Apple can solve the problem eventually if the City of Moscow cannot.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===

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