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To Lock or Not to Lock? The public restroom door dilemma

Posted by Didi Gorman on

Many years ago I got stuck in a public bathroom.

It was one of those restrooms in the basement of a large hotel, at the very end of a long hallway. The stall was completely closed off, without a gap underneath or above the door, and for some reason the door wouldn’t unlock.

After several futile attempts at wrestling with the door, including pushing, yanking, twisting, and tugging at the disobedient lock and unresponsive handle, panic started creeping in. I banged on the door and yelled at the top of my voice, “Helloooooo? Is there anyone out there? Help!!! I’m stuck!”

Luckily, it didn’t take long for someone to hear me and call for help.

The maintenance person who came to my rescue, guided my moves from the other side of the door, and by a coordinated effort –him unscrewing the handle from his side, and me pulling on the lock on mine– we finally managed to persuade the rogue door to snap open and release me from that horrid prison.

The experience was so bad that I resolved never to lock a public bathroom door again if I couldn’t see an easy way out.

And to think that was the SECOND time I got locked in a public bathroom!

The first time occurred a few years earlier, in the basement of a large office building, at the very end of a long hallway. (What is it with washrooms in basements at the very end of long hallways?)

Thankfully, it was a stall with a gap above the door, large enough in case an escape was warranted. And warranted it was, because I found myself locked inside the stall, pushing, yanking, twisting, and tugging at a stubborn lock and a flimsy handle, to no avail.

My parcours to freedom started by stepping onto the toilet seat, then climbing onto the toilet paper dispenser while praying it managed to sustain my weight (It did just about, but was accompanied by a suspicious cracking noise), then braving the pinnacle of the frame by positioning one foot beyond the top of the door and twitching and flailing about till I managed to balance myself at the top of the doorframe, momentarily suspended, triumphant over gravity, my legs hanging from either side of of the door, my fists clutching the frame with all the might I could muster. If any aspiring acrobat is reading this right now, take notes!

But gravity inevitably intervened, forcing me to leap –somewhat clumsily– into liberty, while unceremoniously ripping the left side of my sweater. I landed with a thump, a few strings of my sweater left stranded on the top of the doorframe, now far above me – a silent testimony to the drama which had just transpired.

Hence my resolve not to lock the door if I can’t spot an easy way out. But this decision, alas, has its obvious drawbacks, namely, when someone walks in on you; like the time when a friend of mine (of all people!) stormed into the bathroom stall in a local restaurant, only to find me there… Poor thing, I think he was traumatized. He can’t look me in the eye to this day.

Anyway, after enduring such hardships in public washrooms, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve been asking the wrong question all along. The real debate is not whether to LOCK, but whether to KNOCK!

Many a friendship would have been saved and many an awkward “Oops! Sorry! Sorry!” would have been spared if we applied the simple, non-intrusive tactic of politely knocking on the door before we walked in.

There would be no gasping, no gaping, no abrupt slamming, no shock.

Just knock on that door, dear friend, just knock!

By Didi Gorman