I’m not the first to marvel at bathroom graffiti and certainly not the last.
My fascination with these writings is hardly academic. Take it from someone who has a fruity liberal arts diploma, there is no shortage of literature on the matter. There are thousands of doctoral theses on gendered studies of bathroom graffiti, structural analyses of urban stall culture, the “dialogic nature of washroom tags” and so forth.
They even have a formal name for the subject: latrinalia – which proves nothing other than the fact that there is literally no bottom to the pit of scholarly mental masturbation. It amuses me to no end that universities fund research that essentially involves sitting on the can and philosophizing.
So why this fascination?
There are some genuine grains of wisdom amongst the scratched lines and on more than one occasion they’ve made me smile, seethe… or most recently write about it.
Your eye is inevitably drawn to them. Some places like Sneaky Dee’s seem to actually encourage defacing their surfaces… if you can find an inch of space. The memories carved into their tables are a testimony to the longevity of the establishment and a hallmark of the demographic they service: people who habitually carry graffiti markers and pocket knives.
In some venues, you will find T.S. Elliot quotes and Shakespearean lyrics.
I hate those pompous pricks.
It’s the most sincere scrawls and borderline incoherent tags that usually get my attention.
I encountered a surprising number of self-affirmations and words of encouragement for the modern woman. Every bathroom wall told me I was beautiful and everybody has a maxim on what life is “really” about.
Get out there, live and love – just put down the seat before you go.
Some of these tags are outright heartwarming. Others are vindictive and defamatory. And if you look closely you will see the indentations of a prior decade’s Bic scrawls beneath the top coat of paint.
I was deeply saddened to find the Java House walls repainted – that place will always be close to my heart and it contained some of the funniest scribbles I’ve read and reread dozens of times. Yet no amount of vinyl paint can stave off the ebb and flow of conversation.
So again I ask why the fascination?
I’ve been hanging out at Java before Twitter was a thing and I feel these spaces are like the origin of the microblog. You’ve got 5 minutes, a crappy Bic pen and about two inches of space to make your point. Make it count.
I was born in the post-modem city and did a fair amount of growing up in forums and chatrooms so I can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that digital communication lies. Posts get edited and removed, threads buried, histories deleted. Pen to a wall is a far less ephemeral means of conversation.
That’s just what these tags are: conversations. People dispense life advice, proclaim their loves, origins and philosophies and draw arrows across the whole stall to have the last word in a lengthy argument.
Moonbeam has the perfect venue for this. Those slatted doors look like a reddit board.
I love the worst of these scrawls because they are human. Poorly worded, miserably spelled and crudely drawn they are akin to cave paintings. Most don’t have an audience in mind; they’ll talk to anyone who will listen. Most are written for the writer’s sake and do not invite the participation of the hapless patron of the stall. Yet they persist and warrant revisiting by readers and writers alike.
They are stories of the city I love, written by the people who make it so strange and wonderful.