Column: An ode to the commode

The Duke campus is an education in the power of place. The grandeur of the Chapel, the tranquility of the gardens, the energy of Cameron Indoor Stadium--places like these seem to be physical manifestations of our most heartfelt emotions. After we've left, I don't think anything will stick with us longer than Duke's geography; even now, I bet most of us have our own special place on campus, some place that symbolizes for each of us what we value highest. For me, that place is the bathroom.

You see, I'm a member of a small, coed fraternity, and, until very recently, we all shared one bathroom. And as I look back on the memories of friendship that I most treasure, I realize that most of them took place in the commode. Nothing brings people closer together than washing, brushing and excreting in close proximity.

If you grew up in a big family with lots of siblings, you might know what it's like to share the facilities on a daily basis. Sure, it can be annoying to wait your turn for a sink or bump into a dripping brother straight out of the shower. But isn't it also a little endearing? Don't you miss it?

That's what we have on my hall. I think it's only when we're literally stripped down, exposed in all the imperfection of our teeth and topless bodies, that we can connect on the deepest level. Sometimes it's a soapy, meaningful look exchanged over face-washing. Or admiring my friends' taste in towels or boxer shorts. Or walking in to see a locked stall and jovially exclaiming, "It smells like s--- in here!" Ha, ha, ha.

It's amazing what you find out about people from their behavior in the bathroom. There's Eric, our dear fraternity president, who never spends less than forty minutes on the toilet. There's Valerie, whom I always see two or three times a day wearing nothing but a pink towel. There's Kim, who has such a cute way of brushing her teeth. Or Zane, who apparently never changes out of his fluffy bathrobe.

"I never realized how special it could be until this year," said Justin. "My dad was in the military, and we were always moving around. I guess I never got to feel connected to any one bathroom. Now that I'm here, I know what I've been missing all along. I love you guys."

One night, I was flossing when my friend Portia looked up from her Q-tip and asked, "Do you believe in God?" And we had the most intense, four-hour conversation right there, sitting on the tiled floor. Bathrooms do things like that to people.

But no longer. Earlier this week, three burly men entered our dorm to change our bathroom locks, and our lives. We tried to stop them-Eric threw himself across a toilet; Kim turned the shower to scalding hot and jumped in, fully clothed; the rest of us formed a human chain across the doorway. But the men would not be denied. They wrenched out the old lock and replaced it with an new one that looked, somehow, evil. They told me I could get a new key in the Housing Office.

I do not know where that is.

Already, things have changed in our fraternity. Without a coed bathroom, guys and girls have no reason to interact. No one makes eye contact. Conversations rarely go beyond meaningless pleasantries. We are no longer brothers and sisters; we're just Duke students who happen to live on the same hall. We all seem to know, though no one will say it, that things will never be the same.

Sometimes, late at night, we scratch at the bathroom door and try to kick the lock, but it will not yield. Instead, we are forced to use a chamber pot in the middle of the hallway.

If you have ever felt true brotherhood, and if you have ever lost it, pray for us.

And pray for me. I write this from a bed in the emergency room of Duke University Hospital. My bladder, unable and unwilling to find another place to relieve itself, has ruptured. The doctors try to be encouraging, but I know they fear the worst. I may not last through the night.

Damn you, Larry Moneta. Damn you.

Rob Goodman is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears every other Friday. He would like to note that Matt Gillum is a real Duke student and that all quotes attributed to him in the miscegenation column from two weeks ago are authentic.


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