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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

Cabinet of Curiosities: The basement bathroom of Houston Hall

Exploring an eccentric bathroom.

Graphic for Jacob Ren's column "Cabinet of Curiosities"

If you turn right on the basement floor of Houston Hall, you’ll see a signless grey door with a metal plate where the handle is supposed to be. Inside, you won’t find the popular ’70s R&B disco band Earth, Wind & Fire, but rather the stalls where Houston basement residents flush, brush and shower, surrounding you left, right and center. 

Despite the horror stories I’ve heard about graffiti and smells of fermentation, I believe this bathroom is unique in its unnecessarily communal nature.

The entrance has no lock, so there is no way to keep someone out unless they’re attempting to use an already occupied station. One night, I showered accompanied by the sound of two electric toothbrushes and the violent bowel movements of a very unfortunate victim of the Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center.

This bathroom isn’t too different from regular public ones, but I find that having people exhibiting all three levels of nakedness — raw, presentable and presentable from the waist up — as opposed to the usual two, does alter the psychological bathroom experience.

Arguably, bathhouses and changing rooms have provided simulations for this scenario, but it’s important to note that those sinks, showers and toilets are spaced out, with many more of each — an important distinction, because if you do happen to make an embarrassing sound there, you can’t be accurately located in the sea of cubicles. Here, however, you don’t need sonar to tell if the plonk or the grunt you heard emanated from your left or your right, one station or two stations down.

In the face of this environmental stressor, the population of the Houston basement initially developed adaptive strategies, such as exiting the toilet or shower stalls only after those at the sinks had left (they’re really the only ones you need to worry about).

If humans spend a third of their lives sleeping, those who use this Houston basement toilet arguably spend a third of their time waiting silently — and only occasionally dressed.

Over time, however, we have gradually grown used to seeing each others’ faces. As long as all parties have their articles of clothing on, in the right places, no one minds the awkward entrances and exits all that much anymore.

We carry out our personal duties, then exit to the east or west of the bathroom into the common space, each carrying a different odor, where we wash and chit-chat and leave, until we meet here again some other time, awkwardly, spontaneously and (hopefully only figuratively) naked.