Close Encounters with Unspeakable Things in New York City by Deb Danielle Younge-Ullman

I had an exciting day Tuesday, one that included a train ride into NYC, a trip to the Penguin building, my first ever podcast, a visit with my editor, meeting a bunch of the publicity people, lunch with my publicist, a visit with my agent and checking out a possible venue for my NY launch party in August.

I could write an entire post about it, but I just can’t resist sharing what happened at the very end of the day…

A little background: I’ve made this trip into NYC before and learned the hard way about the train bathrooms. I won’t go into detail, but think men, aim, moving trains and no toilet paper. Bad times.

So I time my liquid consumption and pre-train bathroom visits carefully on these trips. This day goes well in every respect and to top it off, when it’s time to go I score a ticket for the 4:50 express train to Dover. I have 8 minutes to board the train and of course, need to make that last precautionary trip to the bathroom. By the time I get there it’s closer to four minutes. No problem. I zip into a stall, hang my bulging purse (free books, sweater, spare shoes) on the back of the door. I’m in a rush so I don’t look too closely, except to check the seat for anything yucky. All clear.

But the automatic flush thing goes off before I’m quite ready to stand (damn those things!) which makes me jump up and then, as I look down to survey the situation, I see the water rising and rising FAST! And there’s stuff in there that’s got nothing to do with me, Unspeakable Things I did not see in my cursory check. I swear and jerk my underwear up and yank my purse off the door and try to hold my dress up at the same time but the water is milliseconds from the top and I have to move BACK towards the toilet to get around the door because my purse is so massive and I see the water coming for me, Unspeakable Things in it, starting to spill over the edge…

I’m yelping and feel like I’m moving in slow motion. Finally I burst through the stall door with a shriek that jolts the two women standing at the sinks. I hurl myself at the soap pump but look back before rinsing and see the water is, again, almost upon me. I go “Ahh! Ahh!” and leap/hop my way out of the bathroom with a final warning shout over my shoulder to the women back at the sinks who are shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at me like I’m some kind of lunatic.

And then I’m on the run, down multiple sets of stairs, looking for my platform. I know I should tell someone about the toilet but a glance at my watch tells me I have maybe two minutes left to catch my train and not only do I need to get home for dinner with my family on the last night of the trip, I am NOT staying in the station with those Unspeakable Things. (Isn’t there some kind of expression about shit flowing downhill?!) And besides, I might be unmasked as the perpetrator of the heinous flush-and-run. And this is New York where not an hour ago, someone yelled at me just for standing still on the sidewalk. Every woman for herself, I think, and run like hell.

I just make the train and once there and seated, I whip out my trusty Wet Ones and bathe my hands and try to stop sweating and laughing hysterically and saying “ohmygod, ohmygod” over and over, which, again, makes the people around me think I’m crazy— not that they care.

And that was the end of my day in New York.

Good thing I managed to escape those NJ Transit train bathrooms, hunh?

And what about you? Are you for or against automatic flush?

Deb Danielle

P.S. Thank you to Deb Eileen for swapping days with me this week so I could spend yesterday recovering from my ordeal…and driving back home to Toronto, of course.

18 Replies to “Close Encounters with Unspeakable Things in New York City by Deb Danielle Younge-Ullman”

  1. OMG. I swear, I feel like I need to go wash up just reading this. I hate public restrooms. I hate even more automatic flushers. They either never work (and then I need to push the little hidden button to make them flush) or they flush too soon. Give me the basics . . . a flusher I can activate with my foot, warm (not scalding hot!) water to wash my hands, a soap dispenser that works. And paper towels, dammit. Not hot air blowers.

    Glad you made it on the train safely.

  2. I’m with you, Judy! I love the foot-flush. And I didn’t mention this, but I also hate the motion sensor taps which also never work. The whole public bathroom experience has gone from bad to worse–before it was yucky but now it also feels like a mine field!

  3. Ha! What a hilarious piece, Danielle. I have a funny automatic flush story. My youngest potty-trained quite early. The only problem was those auto-flush toilets scared the hell out of her (I was gonna say scared the crap out of her but that was not true). We’d gone on a road trip a few hours away. We got to the hotel and my husband and my son went to check in while I took the girls to go to the bathroom. We were in the big stall, thank goodness, my older daughter standing next to me, and I helped the little one up onto the seat. She went to the bathroom and she leaned forward a little bit as I reached from behind to wipe her, creating a gap in the laser light sensor which tells the toilet it’s time to flush, which it did with the power of a waterfall. My daughter was so startled, she lurched forward, doing a flip–I kid you not–off the toilet seat. Luckily I caught her just as she was about to make a hard landing onto the tiled floor. My girls and I just about wet out pants laughing over that one, and when I came out of the bathroom with tears streaming down my face, my husband simply couldn’t imagine what could be so amusing about a bathroom pit stop.

  4. Oh Danielle – I feel for you! How funny/mortifying! I can just picture you shrieking and hopping out of the bathroom (but totally warranted when you’re on the run from unspeakable things).

    I personally am all for the autoflush, when it works properly. There is a bathroom at the mall across the street from my work where the bathroom has no door (it’s the kind where you have to turn in past the privacy barrier wall), autoflush, autosinks and auto papertowel dispenser. It is a germophobe’s dream.

  5. Oh Jenny, that is priceless. A flip! You know, ideally the auto flush things would have some kind of button you could use to turn them off for situations like that.

  6. Joanne, I get what you’re saying re the germophobe factor. I don’t like touching the door handles either and will often use paper towel to open the door on my way out. Then I prop the door open with my foot and take aim for the garbage with the paper towel and cross my fingers, since my aim is not so hot.

  7. Hey, I’m trying to figure out if we can install auto flush here at home. I’m tired of being greeted by Unspeakable Things every time I walk into my kids’ bathrooms. But you’re right, Danielle; there definitely would need to be an emergency button.

  8. I have long wanted to write a book about various travel bathroom stories-(oh let me tell you – you will never forget a trip to the public washroom in Cairo) called “Places I’ve Gone.”

  9. LOL, Kaylynne. There would be an upside to auto flush in homes with kids. I’m also looking for “auto-clean-and-do-the-laundry-and-dishes”, “auto-walk-the-dog” and “auto-book-writer”. I’m only part kidding.

    Eileen–I’m thinking anthology…Famous Authors, Infamous Bathrooms

  10. You should see her relate this story in person. Even more of a laugh riot. My personal favorite as of late is in the sub-terrannean mall near the CBC building, the powers that be have installed not low flush men’s urinals, but, and I kid you not, ZERO flush. Oh yes, apparently we’re saving water here in Toronto, but I defy anyone to tell me that the little smell pucks are doing any good for the guy pee that travels down towards them. These brain trusts obviously never understood that eventually that pee dries. And stinks. Yick. I hate public washrooms.

  11. Larramie, that is QUITE the freaky coincidence! Thanks for the link.

    Oppressor, thanks for the vote of confidence, and for the warning about the Zero Flush method. Eew.

    Jess–it really was that perfect blend of funny and awful.

  12. Oops, that’s me above, still logged into my own computer as Michael. (sneaky, isn’t he?!)

  13. Yes, a book on the best and worst ‘potties’ we have peed in!!! And any one who has travelled beyond North Amercia has had many more gross experiences to relate. I personally love the one that is unisex and you have to place your feet on the foot prints provided, and squat down and hope you hit the hole … and that you can get up again before being asphixiated.

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