Behold one of nature’s rarest spectacles–the double toilet. This pic was snapped at the Olympic Biathalon Center in Sochi, Russia, right before the Winter Olympics.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
Big deal. So what? We’ve seen this before on “Saturday Night Live.”
No, that was the Love Toilet you’re remembering, which is an altogether different type of double toilet. Whereas the Love Toilet is romantic, the Sochi Double Toilet is functional. It’s all business–two Russian rings of Olympic Zdravstvuj.
A reasonable person might wonder, “How could such a thing happen? How could any professional build two toilets next to each other, thus defying all of the international laws of toilet privacy as set forth in Geneva in 1957?”
I have two theories.
To explain the first theory, I will have to share with you an unsavory experience I had while covering the 2002 Winter Olympics. Mitt Romney ran the Salt Lake City Games, and unlike Vladimir Putin, Romney enacted a sensible single-toilet policy. (Had Romney played up his public bathroom policy in 2012, I’m fairly certain he could have won the election.)
As a reporter for Scripps-Howard, I covered a variety of events, including some skiing and snowboarding. It was while covering one of these outdoor events that I nearly lost all faith in the Olympics’ dedication to international peace through athletic competition.
Something was clearly amiss from the moment I entered the men’s room. The men’s room, as men know, is not a room where you ever want anything to go amiss. Men’s rooms should be predictable, always. There should always be toilet paper. It should always be reasonably clean. No strangers should ever talk to you, even if some of your clothes happen to be on fire. But this men’s room wasn’t predictable. It took a moment to register, because it’s not something you expect to see, but there he was–a member of the Russian press seated on the toilet with the stall door wide open.
The man made no attempt to close the door. He offered no apology. When he saw me looking at him, he looked at me like I was the jerk. I left the men’s room, walked outside and held it for three days.
When I explained this situation to some of my friends in the press, no one was surprised. Apparently–and this is the lesson to be learned here–there are nations on earth where closing a bathroom stall door is considered high-falutin’.
So that’s theory No. 1 – the double toilet is a cultural choice, an homage to Russia’s gritty, leave-the-stall-door-open style of living.
Theory No. 2 is that when any government that is routinely elected with more than 99 percent of the vote gives out billions of dollars worth of contract work, corners will be cut. For example, an ice skating venue might be built entirely out of corrugated cardboard.
One envisions a Russian contractor being told to install a certain number of toilets in a sports venue. The work orders do not specify that there should be any stall doors. So, no stall doors. Nobody on the crew objects because installing stall doors sounds like more work, and what are we? Canadian? It should shock no one if we learn in coming days of triple and quadruple Sochi toilets.
At moments such as these, and by that I mean global bathroom fixture crises, we gain insight into nations and leaders and even ourselves.
Much ado was made before the start of these Olympic Games about Vladimir Putin’s controversial views regarding homosexuality. Talking heads railed against him. Organizations protested. Our president heroically responded by kind of doing something. But perhaps we judged the Russian leader too harshly.
His words say that two men should not be naked together.
But what do his toilets say?
That is the measure by which you judge a man.
Joe Donatelli is the author of Full Griswold: Stories from a Honeymoon in Italy.
UPDATE: Some nice double-toilet coverage here from the Los Angeles Times and Conan O’Brien.
UPDATE: Someone found an audience toilet in Sochi. It’s like someone is making an Olympics out of my nightmares.