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Ready, Aim, Fire: Men, Marksmanship, and Public Urinals

American boys and men have always taken great pride in hitting targets.

Whether that target was a bulls-eye during an archery class at summer camp or a catcher’s mitt in high school baseball, we applaud those who possess the ability to strike a target. The first act of an eleven year old given a BB gun is to set up a target. One of the activities of military boot camp occurs on the shooting range, where skill on the firing line separates men and women into the classifications of marksman, sharpshooter, and expert. We even carry the metaphor of a target into our workplace, when we speak of our goals as targets.

Given our love of targets from an early age, and given the fact that most men want to hit targets, I wish to raise a question here: why is it that so many from a gender and a species so interested in targets cannot hit a wide porcelain bowl six inches away?

Yesterday afternoon, I entered the unisex public restroom of the Battery Park Book Exchange here in Asheville, a sumptuous chamber with antique prints adorning the walls and cloth hand towels in a wicker basket. An elegant, well-appointed room, to be sure, yet when I stepped to the commode, I once again confronted the results of bad shooting. Some failed marksman had peppered the toilet seat; another, or perhaps more than one, had machine-gunned the floor; still another had somehow managed to rake the water tank with his discharged ammunition. (Note to feminists and women in general: do you truly desire unisex restrooms? Did you not have brothers growing up?)

Over the years, I have asked myself why men make such poor marksmen in public lavatories. After all, they visit the shooting range several times a day. They are intimately familiar with the piece they are firing. The target is what’s called “soft,” that is, one that even an idiot suffering delirium tremens should be able to hit without difficulty. A urinal provides an even larger and easier target than a commode, yet visit the men’s room at Barnes and Noble and you will find evidence of misfires every time you approach the porcelain.

(An aside: I did once discover a urinal that proved impossible to miss. After attending a bullfight in Tijuana, during which the crowd consumed massive quantities of beer, I sought out and entered the “rest room,” a huge canvas tent with aluminum troughs running along three of the walls. Trickling water and gravity carried away the used beer, and one stood over the trough while firing away. This flume was, as I say, impossible to miss. Unfortunately, the troughs of this makeshift pissoir were packed with dozens of men all urinating at the same time. It was approaching twilight, and the chill air of the evening combined with the bucket-loads of warm urine to fill the inside of that tent with a sort of micturated mist. To walk through such a cloud of urine was, I must add, among the strangest experiences of my life).

Perhaps men need a target for aiming and shooting. Perhaps—and I am merely speculating—manufacturers of public urinals like American Standard could paint a bulls-eye at the bottom of the urinal which might attract the eye, rouse the competitive instinct, and cause the participant to focus on hitting the target. If a bulls-eye is too mundane, too ordinary, then the commode-maker might consider manufacturing as targets waterproof stickers depicting the faces of certain politicians and despised celebrities. The purchaser could decide which of these stickers might best suit the clientele of his establishment. If he wished an inoffensive target, he could always post a picture of the Kardashians.

Ah, well. Probably no real solution exists. Small boys are excitable and careless; some old men have problems with their firing mechanisms; and obese men don’t always have a clear line of sight to the target. But the rest of us—for heaven’s sakes, gentlemen, have some mercy on those of us using the facilities after you and on those poor wretches forced by their duties to clean up your misfires.

The procedure is really quite standard.

Ready, aim, fire.

It’s that simple. 

Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick

Jeff Minick lives in Front Royal, Virginia, and may be found online at jeffminick.com. He is the author of two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust on Their Wings, and two works of non-fiction, Learning as I Go and Movies Make the Man.

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