I took my first flight alone when I was nine years old, to Florida. I visited Disney World and still remember it better than Disneyland. The woman in the window seat next to me on the plane let me switch with her and since then I am obsessed with looking out the window on planes. I can do it for hours. Today I'm going to Chicago, and I have a window seat.
- written inside of one bathroom tile
Public toilets are intended to provide a degree of privacy to their various visitors. Security cameras in the vicinity of exposed human body parts being generally frowned upon, users of public facilities are pretty much left to do as they will as they relieve themselves. To the chagrin (and entertainment) of later occupants of communal toilet facilities, some ne'er-do-wells and tricksters follow the instincts of their distant biological relatives, the Muskrat1, and leave their mark on their surroundings. This form of graffiti in toilets can take almost any form.
this is my most favorite stall to use... a most fragrant canvas
- blue ink on a full lavatory wall canvas in California
Graffiti is especially common in the toilets of lower income or less refined establishments, where the walls are otherwise unadorned and janitors simply don't feel they're paid well enough to scrub the stuff off. Some places actually encourage the practice of writing on the lavatory walls, in order to give their privy some character. The establishments which encourage graffiti are easily picked out, because it's impossible to discern the original paint colour under all the layers of graffiti. Typically, toilet graffiti is written in ink, on the inside of a toilet stall (though the areas around urinals in men's rooms are certainly not immune). Unlike its more durable cousin, spray paint graffiti, toilet graffiti tends to be handwritten. It's possible that the vandal graffiti author sees an empty restroom wall as a writer sees a blank piece of paper, or as an artist sees a bare canvas. However, speculating on motives is fairly useless, because a graffiti creator's rationale can be just as varied as all the many kinds of washroom defacement.
Messages on lavatory walls and stalls can be entertaining, disgusting, beautiful and confusing. Sometimes messages, or replies to other messages, can be downright witty - even when the subject matter is distasteful. Being in a public toilet, after all, is acknowledging that human beings must share in practices which are not considered to be appropriate conversation in polite company. It follows that while in there, we should be able to have some fun with that acknowledgment.
What follows is a simple guide to what graffiti one may expect to find in public restrooms. Lavatory writing has evolved considerably past the classic inscription '[x] was here'. This entry contains occasional strong language and, by necessity, some toilet humour, so the weak of heart are advised to stop reading here and to develop a strong bladder so as to avoid having to relieve yourself in public restrooms ever again. All of the examples used in this entry are genuine, quoted from actual toilet stalls.
everyone is entitled to my oponion [sic]
- written on a toilet with black marker
Everyone seems to have an opinion, and most feel the need to express it. Toilet walls seem to provide a sort of low-tech message board, a place for everyone to give their opinion about whatever is concerning them. Toilet graffiti tends to be a bit bossy and overbearing at times. It tells you how to live your life. It tells you what to think. The toilet being famously a place for contemplation and deep thoughts (especially for males) this can include matters political, religious, intellectual and commercial.
The Mullet Will Rise again
- in a West Virginia pub toilet
Why? The damage is already done.
To prevent more.
Why doesn't what the people say matter? Why can't we stop him?
Is this what we call grassroots organisation, ladies?
- from a bookstore lavatory in New York City (each line written by a different hand)
Some of the most provocative graffiti to be left in toilets is the political kind. A strong political statement is almost certain to attract the replies of those who disagree and those who agree (not to mention those who ridicule people for arguing about politics while relieving themselves). Some will simply make a joke out of the sentiment.
Limit one per customer.
- from a toilet in West Hollywood, California (second line written separately)
The public toilet is the great equalizer for people of all political persuasions. Liberals, conservatives, communists, fascists, Neo-Nazis, anarchists, vegans and others do not shy away from expressing their opinions in toilets. In fact, it seems to be the case that the anonymity of a toilet stall allows people with... shall we say 'unpopular' political beliefs to express themselves freely and vociferously. The great abundance of swastikas and the anarchist 'A' symbol is sufficient evidence of this. Also popular are the three-pronged circular peace symbols, and conversely, local gang symbols.
The political statements written on lavatory walls are not unlike the sort of simple political phrases that make good bumper stickers. Usually, a short phrase will get a name-calling rebuttal ('hippie!' or 'fascist!') followed by yet more rebuttal, until eventually someone covers up the entire argument up with a curse word or possibly the word 'treason'. There's usually nothing civil about political conversations in toilets. Being anonymous and unaware of the identity of the victim of one's scorn can really free one up to be as abusive and irrational as one wishes.
Mark 3:27 - Must have just missed you
- from a toilet in Boulder, Colorado (written by two different people)
Understandably, many people feel so strongly about their religion that they want to help others find their way into the fold. Also understandably, many of those 'lost' people resent this. In strongly Christian areas of the world, the words 'Jesus Saves' can be found on many toilet walls (which is often changed and added to). Scripture and religious sayings are common. Some people prefer to denounce religion, or one religion in particular. Satanists (or at least people claiming to be Satanists) aren't shy about letting their views be heard.
Jesus is a Mexican car Mechanic.
oh, great. another college student bought a sharpie.
- from a ladies' toilet in Seattle, Washington, written under a long intellectual rant
Especially prominent around University campuses are thoughts about philosophy scribbled in toilet stalls. Users of public restrooms are often subjected to mini-lectures on the ins and outs of existentialism, nihilism or whatever philosophy class that a particularly vocal student was taking that week. These rants may ask the reader to question his own existence, or question the nature of reality. It's said that philosophy students begin to understand the nature of reality when they get a mortgage. Reality could similarly be said to manifest itself to a student in a toilet when they get a good whiff of the stall next to them. Unfortunately, there's no proof that this ever happens. Yet toilet philosophers seem to expect the common man to reach out for a higher plane of enlightenment while taking a poo.
Some intellectuals have a tendency to make jokes about philosophy on toilet walls.
God is Dead - Nietzsche
Nietzsche is Dead - God
but Zombie Nietzsche lives! - Zombie Nietzsche
- a wall conversation in a toilet at the University of York
I'll be right back - Godot
- from a toilet in Stockholm University, translated into English from Swedish
- written on the underside of one toilet seat
Marketing truly is irrepressible. Even the most private of places can be invaded with the advertisements of those hoping to make some money. The large, multinational corporations have not yet gotten into the business of advertising in toilet stalls (yet). However, smaller businesses and websites do try to bring in clientele and visitors from people in the toilet. A local restaurant could get a plug on a lavatory wall, or a web address to a personal blog. People committed to a particular political candidate may write political advertisements on a privy wall. A devotee of a sports organisation may even cheer on his team in this manner.
In a less conventional way, some people advertise negative facts about other people. For instance, an upset former lover may advertise the fact that 'Mark has herpes'. What better place to do that than in the toilet - the understood public square for all matters disgusting, sexual and unpleasant.
Don't date a guy unless he buys you stuff
- sage advice in a ladies' room
My girlfriend follows me everywhere.
No, I don't.
- on the wall of a men's room
In a world where shopping malls, residential development and industrial progress are encroaching upon public green space, the old ideal of a hopeless romantic gouging his and his love's name onto the side of a tree has faded with the forests. Statements of love these days are likely to be found in a toilet stall. A modern Romeo might use a marker to declare 'R + J 4ever' right after a romantic taco lunch with his Juliet. This is not generally considered to be the most romantic thing in the world, but luckily, if the couple is of different genders, it's unlikely that the object of the writer's love will ever have to suffer the sight of the love message. Most embarrassingly, though, it's not at all unlikely that a toilet love message will outlast the relationship. One person writing on a wall in Massachusetts was realistic about it-
(or until college)
whichever comes first
Some walls are absolutely covered with these love messages, all with the requisite hearts and Cupid's arrows. On such a wall in a women's toilet in Waverly, Ohio, one woman wrote down a short poem-
If you love your man have some class
Don't write his name where you wipe your ass!
Beauty and Art
One would think with all this wit
That Shakespeare had been here to sh**
The handwriting on
the wall said
cheer up things could be
So I did and they were
- from a Unisex toilet in Los Angeles, California
Some people choose to draw on lavatory walls. While the content of most of the drawings is quite crude, there are some that can genuinely be called 'art'. The question of why someone would choose to spend time in a toilet drawing something for its beauty is a puzzling one. Even more valid is the question of how the artist managed to stay in the stall long enough to finish her piece without arousing suspicion or anger from impatient bathroom-goers. Nevertheless, drawings of all kinds are to be found in some lavatories. Some are simple marker or pencil drawings. Others are colourful and lively and may have required quite a few art materials, smuggled in. Even the disgusting images can be well drawn. Even in this lowest of media, there is no shortage of art critics. Compliments and insults are frequently made next to toilet art pieces.
Dirty drawings and diagrams are common - some are intended to be humorous, some to be crude, some to make a point. A drawing might be a representation of how unhappy the artist's experience was in that particular toilet stall during his visit. It may also just be a drawing of a section of a man or woman's genitals. In fact, a man's phallus is probably the most common muse for artists in public restrooms.
Poetry commonly makes an appearance on toilet walls. Not a few tell the obscene story of a man from Nantucket, but true, original poetry can be found as well - some of it having been composed on the spot. The lavatory's role as a quiet refuge from the outside world cannot be overstated - an unhappy soul may use the toilet walls as an outlet for his suffering. Of course, others may not appreciate that.
Cacator cave malum, aut si contempseris, habeas Iovem iratum2
-Latin graffiti on the ancient walls of Pompeii, Italy
One of the most irrepressible things to be found in toilets is the message asking if the viewer is looking for a good time. For those seeking a good time, the message leaves a telephone number and possibly further details (Ask for Sue). This is generally not a great way to meet attractive and interesting people for romantic involvement. The motive of the writer must be taken into consideration. After an unhappy breakup, it would be understandably cathartic for an angry person to get a bit of revenge by offering his ex-partner's phone number up to strangers.
Signatures are a common way of leaving one's mark on his or her surroundings. 'Mike was here' is not uncommon, but really contributes nothing to the ongoing, universal toilet graffiti dialogue. There are good ways to mock these stall signatures. Some are answered with No I wasn't or something of the sort. The phrase 'Kilroy was here' was a popular one in American soldier toilets (among other places) throughout WWII.
Much less creative than other kinds of graffiti are simple, unadorned swearwords. Sometimes these are written very in a very large script, seemingly with passion and anger behind them. While displays of these words help to build the vocabulary of youngsters, they really serve no purpose.
Well... it's a nice fabric and all, but I don't know if it rules...
While most toilet graffiti writers don't worry too much about getting the spelling of words or the composition of sentences correct (being drunk/angry/uneducated enough to want to write silly things on toilet walls in the first place), many of the readers do. These folks are more than willing to helpfully correct a hastily scribbled sentence with a handy arrow pointing to the incorrect part of the message and a correction. One of this researcher's favourite pieces of toilet graffiti is a long, poorly-thought-out rant with multiple misspellings and an entirely correct use of the semicolon. Some cruel people may take you at your word and feign confusion or mock you, as in the aforementioned 'Satin' example.
While this entry in no way condones vandalism of public toilets, if you are going to put up some toilet graffiti of your own, at least try to make it funny. It's good to give people something to read or a chuckle while they're doing a mindless, dull thing like urinating or defecating. Some of the most entertaining toilet graffiti mocks or twists otherwise dull or uninteresting messages.
Jokes are not uncommon in a toilet setting. Simple one-liners are probably the most popular form. A question and response joke can be risky for the original author. An unanswered light bulb joke can sit on a wall for ages. It can be either gratifying or disappointing to see an exchange completed, such as this example from Austin, Texas where the original questioner got a response he probably wasn't looking for-
Q- How can the angels sleep when the wicked are so strong
A- God's got killer heroin!
Toilets don't generally see many 'clean', innocent 'lightbulb'-type jokes. Unsurprisingly, toilet humour dominates. A mens room at the University of Minnesota saw this gem, written by a student apparently unhappy with the food quality in the school dining hall-
Flush twice - it's a long way to the cafeteria.
When is a provider of security to a German church like a philosopher?
When it's a Kirche Guard (Kierkegaard)
- in a toilet at Harvard University
One can often find geeky graffiti in public toilets, especially around a University campus or near certain workplaces3. You don't see many references to quantum physicists in most toilets, but a toilet at the University of Virginia claims Heisenberg may have been here. At the University of East Anglia was written Don't beam me up Scottie, I'm having a Sh. Another puzzlingly insists Frodo Lives. Some geeky notes also spotted include math proofs, Latin phrases (Semper Ubi Sub Ubi, translated as Always Where Under Where) and a diagram for the chemical structure of 3-bromobenzoic acid.
Very good Albert, but next time show your work.
If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.
-At a place called Winnie's Karaoke Bar in New York City. If you're ever in NYC, maybe try the toilet of the next bar.
Maybe most worrying of all are those words on the stall which make you want to leave and find another restroom. They are especially worrying if you only notice the words after you've already begun use of the toilet facilities and thus cannot immediately extract yourself. The underside of one toilet seat says, Smile you are on camera. A toilet stall elsewhere (and countless like it in various forms) says, 'I just had sex in this bathroom'. Perhaps the worst is a poem found in a Men's room in San Diego-
Roses are red
Violets are blue
I have VD
Now you do too!
Finally, possibly the most ironic piece of toilet graffiti known to this researcher was found on an otherwise clean, green tiled wall-
These bathrooms are LOVELY!BBC HealthBBC Art