Taking A Stand On The Can, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 2 2015 @ 7:30pm

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A reader responds to our recent post on bathroom graffiti:

Oh, I think you’ve started a whole new thread here. My personal favorite, from an old-style English public convenience: “Here I sit broken-hearted; paid a penny and only farted.”

Another sends the above photo: “Here is my favorite from a mirror at Telegraph Beer Garden in Oakland, from ‘parents'”. Another reader:

Do I have what it takes to turn this one into a thread? Let’s find out.  I want to add another dimension to why people scrawl bathroom graffiti, which is group identity.

When I’m in the bathroom at a trendy or well-known bar or club, I often notice a big difference in tone and quality of the wall scrawling, compared to the average truck stop or gas station. Jokes that are actually funny, bits of poetry, or even running conversations are much easier to find. It seems like patrons want to demonstrate the value of their establishment in the kinds of things they write. Sometimes the jokes are so good that I wonder if some of the paid staff were instructed to write them to contribute to ambience.

Spontaneous case in point: at my small, very bookish liberal arts college, someone penned, in the grout between the tiles above a urinal, a pun playing off of the word “grout.” Other students found this so delightful that they started contributing additional grout puns along other parts of the grout. “Grout Expectations,” “The Grout Books,” etc. After a few years of many people adding more puns, it got to the point where you had to be very lucky, or have a very full bladder, to successfully think of a new one before your purpose at the urinal was spent.

Eventually, the grout puns spread to other men’s rooms on campus. I never discussed these puns aloud with anyone at school, but it was clear that all of the male students knew about them and that many of us contributed at one point or another. (I never found out if they spread to the women’s rooms.) How can one explain this popular, leaderless explosion of puns on the unlikely word “grout”? How else but that it nicely conformed with our self-conception as a student body of being clever, non-conforming nerds who read too many books?