IF I were to curate our times, I would begin at the comfort rooms.
CRs, as we call them in this shortcut-loving country, reflect the values and temper of an age.
When I was still in uniform, we could eat in the CRs of our school, run by nuns. The air was so pure, these places seemed only remotely associated to Bodily Function No. 1, and hardly to No. 2.
Cleaned once a day by the staff, the CRs were maintained this way the rest of the day by us students.
It was a feat. Anyone with an idea of the amount of powdering, combing and fixing up girls subject themselves to in privacy before appearing in public, will be in awe of how we never left even a telltale strand of hair on the sink long after the last class.
Decades later, I ran into a friend when we both used a CR in our alma mater. About to wash my hands, I stopped when I saw the congealing swishes of pink foundation and hair strands of assorted length marking the white bowl. When I looked up, my batch mate shook her head and said sorrowfully, “Things have changed.”
My college years introduced me to other kinds of CRs. In this university, students protested about tuition fee increases that were forever lining the priests’ pockets and not improving the students or teachers’ lots. Yet, by rigging CRs with whistlebombs that only sometimes whistled but almost always blew doors off hinges or cracked bowls, these students were reducing the functional CRs on every floor and increasing the bladder-challenged among a population better known for lifting more bottles than books.
Why was I not surprised that these petty anarchists were also bigots? In the girls’ CR, the bombs planted were not the whistling variety because, they claimed, the girls could be counted on to supply the acoustics.
When I transferred to a state college, it was impossible to ignore the reek of state-subsidized education because the library was beside the girls’ CR.
“What kind of library is this?” often warred with “What kind of girls use this CR?” for my quote of the day.
Though I gave up on research attempts with references that may have been abandoned in the mass retreat before the Japanese Imperial Army (the campus was a holding center in World War II), I could not snob the Origin of Evil, as our CR was called by the boys (whose CR, across the hall, proved there was indeed a Residence Beyond Evil).
Before it was taken over by the Crying Girl (a spirit, urban legend or noisy manifestation that interrupts many a visitor’s No. 1 or No. 2), the OOE was notorious for its three cubicles—Bad, Worse, Worst—that did not only refer to the frequent occasions when there was no water, or too much.
When I was an undergraduate, the cubicles were the final bastions of campus freedom. Every comment that could not get past the faculty advisors of the student publication or the rally marshals checking ideology and grammar on placards and streamers ended on the CR walls and cubicle doors with the genteel wooden louvers.
Adding more atmosphere to the material and astral haunting of the place were the graffiti that, in Cebuano, English and CebGlish (never Tagalog), roasted students, teachers, God, landladies and Charlie Chaplin.
How could anyone write such a long scurrilous insult without the ballpen ink drying up? Share the brand please. What kind of spelling ignoramus are the taxpayers educating? Want to know the secrets of passing Math 11? Hoy, it’s not “in” but “on” the bowl. (Hoy)2X! The preposition depends on the object, object ka?
Times have indeed changed. Student groups now raise funds for CR sanitizers and must field student agents to check if you are handwashing properly. It’s not only choosing to do No. 1 or No. 2 but knowing eye and wrist coordination to shoot inside one of at least three CR waste receptacles to prove your IQ and EQ on segregation.
And today’s bare and unstained CRs prove only that the young have moved away to post on their Facebook wall and through their Tweets what used to be the unmentionable, unintelligible and memorable in the CRs of my time.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 16, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column