Two Fridays ago, I got locked in the office bathroom. The door had been inadvertently jammed so that it wasn’t budging from the inside or the outside. So I was trapped, with no cell phone, no crossword puzzle, and no convenient panic button. Now, being stuck in a 6 sq. ft metal box is pretty terrifying, especially when you consider all the notable people who have died in bathrooms (Elvis, Jim Morrison, Orville Redenbacher). I was frightened… Would I really die here, having never tried kettle corn or cocaine?
Thankfully, my calls for help were answered. A co-worker called building security, who assured me that I’d be out of there soon. But while security tried to figure out how to unjam the door, all I could do was wait, stuck in a box with poor toilet-water feng shui and an odd, bleachy smell.
In our media-loving, tech-happy world, it’s a pretty rare moment when we’re helplessly alone with our thoughts. There I was, sans-Blackberry, sans-television, sans-any type of entertainment whatsoever. I tried to kill some time by reading the fine print on Scott toilet paper, but it’s a rather reticent product. And after my initial panic subsided, I had to settle in for the remaining phases of Being Alone With Nothing to Do.
Phase 1 – Self Pity: Being trapped by yourself in the bathroom yields some pretty dark thoughts. After I stopped sobbing, “Why me? Why me?”, I reviewed all my recent misfortunes, like the time I gave away my TV to a “disadvantaged family” on Craigslist… who showed up wearing fur coats and driving a Hummer. As I listened to the security team discuss the options (“maybe take the door off its hinges?”…”maybe we can get her out through the vents?”), I wallowed in my safe space of self-loathing. What does my face look so fat in photos? Why are 60% of fifth-graders taller than me? Why am I stuck in a bathroom? Why me? Why me? Why me, Nancy Kerrigan?
Phase 2 – Philosophical Evaluations of Life: With any exaggerated-near-death experience, it always happens that you move from panic to self-pity to a profound contemplation on the meaning of life. As the security team called in backup, I considered the banal questions that people in jail must think about all the time. I wondered whether The Circle of Life was meant to capture the irony that one enters the world wrinkly and helpless, and usually leaves the world wrinkly and helpless. This may not have been the spirit of the The Lion King, but losing control over your bowels likely means you’ve lived a long life. As I sat next to the sink and listened to the woosh of drainage pipes, I felt rather glad that I had some time before I’d be in diapers again.
Phase 3 – Stir-Crazy: After about half an hour, I was still stuck in the bathroom, no real progress had been made by the team outside, and thus, the delusions had started. First, I started juggling toilet paper rolls, which are not conducive to juggling. I gave up on that and tried to remember the words to Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang. I couldn’t get past “to the hip hip hop,” so I soon abandoned my musical efforts. Then I started thinking about how rappers often pronounce “shawty” or “shortie” like “shaw-tayyy” (see: Lloyd’s “Get it Shawty”, Bow Wow’s “Shortie Like Mine”). At that point, a revelation: rappers are all huge contemporary music fans! Why else would they give so many shout-outs to Sade?
Phase 4 – Peace and Acceptance: To bring me back to normal, the security team outside soon guaranteed that they’d get me out of the bathroom in the next five minutes. It was Tool Time in the office. Outside, the team asked me to please step back, away from the door. I could smell freedom, and it smelled like a sweaty security guard. I hippity hopped onto the countertop and tried to look nonchalant as the men took a crowbar to the door. Who knew I would be rescued with a Tonya Harding move?
Phase 5 – Back to Reality: With one final chop, the door handle was removed and I was finally free. I peeked my head out of the bathroom, looking at my saviors wide-eyed, feeling like a full-grown Baby Jessica. The security team had been gathered around the door, and they parted like the Red Sea as I came out. I got a business card from the building manager, who told me to call if I needed anything (perhaps an hour of my life back?). And although it was finally nice to be released from the confines of the wastebox, I also felt a bit disappointed that it was all over. Who knew that being alone with nothing to do could be such an adventure?
I’d been hoping to get out of the bathroom that whole time… but now that I was back in my office, staring at another Excel spreadsheet, I couldn’t help but wonder: If I’m going to end up wrinkly and helpless some day anyway, why not enjoy my non-wrinkly days now? Perhaps this means I should quit my job, or take a permanent vacation to Costa Rica… Or I suppose I could just keep truckin’ until I figure it out someday on my own, without the bleach fumes.
In any case, the next time I go to the bathroom, I’ll have my phone on me. I don’t want to go through Phase 3 again. Get it Sade, get it Sade, get it Sade, get it Sade…