Essays >How Things Came Out Right in Flint


You know more, reading this column, than I did when I wrote it nine days before the election. I’ve never tried to be timely in writing “Village Life,” but it confounds me what to write about when all that seems to matter is our new president.

Thinking this through, I find my fingers typing: well, dear friends, I just hope everything came out okay.

Came out okay? Yes, no matter what happened on Nov. 4, I imagine we all will have spent some moments considering the results. After all the hot air, the endless verbal gas, after all the gaffes and convoluted rhetoric, after all the hope and infuriation – Obama’s middle name, Palin’s wardrobe, McCain’s seven houses, Biden’s apology to the wheelchair man, -- we’ll need a break.

Ah-hah. With all due respect to Joe the Plumber, where is that place, the refuge that all human beings retreat to for relief and, if we’re lucky, private contemplation?
The bathroom, of course.

So I offer you a celebration of the john, the loo, the powder room, the head. Don’t worry. I won’t indulge in biological specifics -- I do occasionally and accidentally lapse into discretion. Instead, I’m thinking about how when a person enters a bathroom, the moment is a time of taking stock – of relaxing, of sighing a few deep breaths and enjoying a moment alone. Three cheers for johns!

Women have it both easier and harder. That is, we have more privacy because we do ALL our business in individual stalls. On the other hand, we have to practically undress to get the job done. And sitting down takes time and patience. That’s why there are always lines outside women’s rooms during intermissions at Whiting Auditorium and halftime at The Big House. We’re used to it, of course; the time we have to spend in there , looked at properly, can be a fine hiatus.

Memorable restrooms abound in Flint. In my early rowdier Flint years, I released life’s ebb and flow in many a downtown watering hole. Which Eighties partiers, could forget, for example, the frigid crappers of the much beloved Hat’s Pub?

I still miss Hat’s., closed nearly 20 years ago. It used to be on the corner of Kearsley and Harrison, where there’s now a UMF-Flint parking structure, There never was any pretense of pretension at Hat’s – as I recall it, crotchety barista Bob Sippert offered only two kinds of beer on tap – Olympia and Cinci, and if you asked for anything else he’d cuss you out.. It fit with Sippert’s miserly reputation that the spartan restrooms had their own entrance, on Harrison Street, and he never bothered to heat them. I seem to remember it always being winter at Hat’s Pub, when it was a chilling and urgent experience after all that cheap beer to dash outside to pee as fast as you could. There was hardly time for gossiping – what women love to do in bathrooms – but once, in a fit of pique and barely able to afford my share of the pitchers of ale, I stole a role of TP, my hands shivering as I sharmefully stuffed it into my purse. I don’t suppose that got even for persistent goosebumps on my nether cheeks.
The Torch’s bathrooms, offer a different challenge. At the Torch you go down a dozen stairs into the basement, facing a disorienting painting of – a dozen stairs going up. And worst of all, the ladies’ stalls are positioned so that you have to climb over another woman’s knees to get to the second stall, an indignity only bearable when inhibitions are softened by lots of the house merlot. I’ve had great conversations – giggly and accompanied by tinkling – in the Torch ladies’ room – often with women I’ve mercifully never seen again.
At Churchill’s people face an uphill climb to get relief – the restrooms there are on the second floor. In either case, it’s a sobriety test to see who can get down – or up – with no disaster. It’s part of the charm, I guess., part of Flint’s requirement of general fortitude, even under the influence of the strong drink we love so lustily.

Remember the johns of Figlio, the one-time classy eatery in what we then called Water Street Pavilion? When UM – Flint bought that building the restrooms were still there, red marble for women and black marble (I was told) for men – an rare artifact of style in what became my workplace of many years – the Advising Center. But the restrooms were sealed off, in an action we proles thought was prompted by an administrator named Dorothy jealous of our high-class commodes. Somebody launched a furtive campaign to “Free Dotties Potties” but eventually got humorless ultimatums from the other end of the building. It wasn’t worth it to fight for our Sanctum Sanctorum. Last I heard the marble was gone, replaced by something institutional and boring. But all is forgiven because the recent French Hall renovations include tastefully remodeled bathrooms that make taking a pee break a moment of aesthetic, as well as bodily, pleasure.

So here’s to bathrooms and the relief and privacy they afford. I hope no matter whom you were rooting for Nov. 4, you’ve got at least one quiet, comfortable bathroom to retreat to when the going gets tough.