October 30, 1992

The Evolution of the Urinal

For men and mother of boys only

With a modern urinal, many men find that they are either not tall enough or not long enough.

We usually think of progress as meaning that things improve with time. The modern airplane is safer, faster and more comfortable than those of half a century ago. Despite what old car enthusiasts say, the same thing applies to automobiles. New cars are much more comfortable than their predecessors.

One notable exception, that has gotten worse with time, is the urinal; that piece of rest-room apparatus that graces only men's toilets and not women's. If a woman goes into a John --or is it a Jane-- that has a urinal, she is probably in the men's room. If a man fails to see one when he enters a rest room in a larger facility, he is probably in the lady's room.

When I was in elementary school, the urinal consisted of a slate wall running the whole length of the room, with a trough at the bottom. It was the same slate that was used for blackboards in the classrooms, and they were used for the same purpose. A boy could show his fellows that he had good hand-eye coordination and that he knew how to spell his own name, as well as a few words that he wasn't even supposed to know.

From this very functional apparatus, the individual urinal evolved. It is about a foot and a half wide by three feet tall. Like its predecessor, it is essentially a wall with a drain at the bottom. Thus it serves males of varying heights, from the child to the tall man. It is considerably inferior to the old fashioned slate wall, where it didn't matter whether a person's aim was true; the target was big enough so that he couldn't really miss. The newer ones, being only a foot and a half wide, don't quite do it. As a consequence, in most little-boy's rooms, all of the iron within three feet of the urinal is corroded because it has been sprayed with urine. Some builders don't seem to be aware of this potential problem, so they often make enclosures out of mild steel, not stainless steel or tile.

For some reason, which I can't fathom, someone decided to substitute something that looks more like a bidet than a urinal. For those of you who don't know what a bidet is, it is an apparatus that a woman can use for washing her private parts without getting into a bath tub or shower. Most better European hotels have them as standard pieces of equipment. American soldiers, during WWII, assumed that the bidets were toilets and used them accordingly. Unfortunately, the drain in a bidet is similar to a sink drain and can't accommodate what a toilet would. Consequently, many a French chambermaid considered Americans as barbarians when she discovered that she had been left with an extra tip that she had problems dealing with.

The design of the modern urinal is idiotic. It doesn't take into account that fact that males come in all heights and lengths. The urinal that is perfectly positioned for a poorly-endowed basketball player is totally unsuited to a five year old child.

A friend of mine asked me if I thought that a woman could relate to this essay. I think that the mother of a boy probably can. She probably can't understand how her son can miss the toilet and spray the bathroom mirror on a regular basis. I don't understand it either.

The ordinary home toilet is poorly designed for men, and even more poorly designed for boys. Some women try to deal with this by placing a washable rug in front of the toilet bowl. Some even add a matching cover to the lid so that a man is obliged to hold the lid up with his free hand. No real man will stand for this.

The fact is that it will take a genius to design a unisex toilet; one that will be equally functional for men and women. I tried to design one for my house, but decided that it was easier to sit down to urinate that to design a functional stand-up urinal in a small bathroom. Sitting down to urinate is a solution that doesn't usually occur to a man. It was suggested to me by a woman, when I told her about the problems I was having designing a suitable toilet. Sitting down has the further advantage of giving an old man time to think, and to completely empty his bladder.

When I think of the designer of those modern urinals, I rage. There should be some appropriate punishment for those dorks. The Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado comes to mind. The Mikado proposes to "let the punishment fit the crime". He proposes that "The advertising quack who wearies with tales of countless cures, his teeth, I've enacted, shall all be extracted by terrified amateurs."

I propose that the designers and manufacturers of the modern urinal be made to lie under one of their creations while it is being used by a whole school of small boys.

Next column

Return to the Light Stuff Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page