Bathrooms with Circles and Sticks

Susan Bankston 1Yeah, Houston, I’m talking to you.
by Susan Bankston

At other places in this magazine you will read about Mayor Annise Parker and the fabulous job she has done for the city of Houston.

I know she is smarter than Rice University with a fifty-pound dictionary and can watch 60 Minutes in half an hour. I know she is a bound-and-determined woman. I know she is so cunning that foxes come to her for advice. She is so honest that you can shoot dice with her over the phone. She’s sweet as a grandmother’s kiss and tough as a wagonload of wet rawhide.

She’s a shero, no doubt about that.

In my opinion, we need for her to win the mayor’s race with a large margin because after she term-limits out of office we need her to run for a statewide office. So sticking a star in her bonnet for a landslide victory on November 5 won’t hurt.

However, I do have one major complaint to discuss with the mayor.

I spend a lot of time at trendy restaurants in Houston, and it’s obvious to me that the mayor needs to make a new law about restroom signage.

I am not an enormous fan of public bathrooms, but there are times when you cannot avoid them—which is pretty much why they are there.

You know what I really hate? I really hate being pointed to the bathrooms in a chic Midtown restaurant, only to discover that I cannot figure out which door to enter. Are restaurants having some kind of contest to see which one can have the most ambiguous signs for men and women?

Look, when I head for the bathroom, I have business to take care of. I’m not going to admire the decor or write an opera. The last thing I want to do is to stand there trying to figure out if I am the cow or the bull when both of them have things hanging south. In one restaurant, I had to figure out if I was the circle or the stick. I finally got that one, but it took me some time. Time I did not have, mind you.

I do not want to play this game. Not when I am on a mission.

Last night, I was headed into the restroom in a very nice Midtown restaurant. After a long, friendly, and very delicious dinner with people I truly enjoy, the waiter pointed me, at my request, to the ladies’ room. In most restaurants, the ladies’ room is right next to the men’s room, as it was in this one. I turn the corner and see something that resembles a Chinese word on the wall, which was really strange because this was a Salva /Tex restaurant. All I could think was, Damn, I wish I hadn’t had that second Margarita and Crap, I don’t read Chinese.

There I stood, in great need of doing some business and unable to figure out the two symbols. (I was, however, damn-near certain that they had something to do with Korean algebra.)

I swear on all that is holy that I stood there for two full minutes waiting for someone else to come along, preferably wearing gender-specific clothes, and enter one of the doors. As my ears were starting to leak, I closed my eyes and then focused again on the two symbols until I was at least 25 percent certain that one was an M and the other was an F.

Just as I make my decision, a man comes out of the F door. Now I had to ask myself: was he as confused as I was and went into the F-room by mistake?

I finally decided that I am sixty-five years old and can play senile with the best of them. I walked in a door, completed my task, and walked out. There was nothing hanging on the wall, so I suspect I picked correctly.

I know there is always the reliable stand-by tactic of pleading drunk. “Excuse me, I’m drunk. Can you tell me if I am what appears to be a glass of water or a cup of coffee?”

What about people who are not gender-static? Do they just have to barge through a door—any door—singing The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You at the top of their lungs and hope for the best?

I want to make it clear that I am not in favor of exclusively unisex bathrooms. I married a man and gave birth to three of them. As far as I know, there are only two positions for a toilet seat: up, and wet.

As an alternative, should we just designate one bathroom for polite and empathetic people, and one for savage bastards? But I don’t know what kind of symbols they’d have to come up with for that. Maybe a monocle and a spear?

So I want you, Mayor Parker, to make it a law that bathroom doors must be marked with clearly identifiable gender symbols. Hell, I’ll even settle for a circle and a stick. But the circle has to be clearly round and the stick has to be up and down, like normal. I am flat-out not standing there in public trying to figure out if I am a horseshoe or a sliding board.

Y’all, if I ever end up in jail for puddling outside a bathroom door, make sure the headline says, “What Is Wrong with Putting MEN
and WOMEN on Bathroom Doors?”

Thank you, Mayor Parker. Other than that, everything in Houston is just fine.

Susan Bankston lives in Richmond, Texas, where she writes about her hairdresser at The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, Inc., at



Susan Bankston

Susan Bankston lives in Richmond, Texas, where she writes about her hairdresser at The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon, Inc., at

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