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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The column I wrote the other day for the Collegian:

Ponderance, poetry, and poop - Opinion

No form of written self-expression is quite as distinctive as bathroom graffiti. The intriguing balance of wit, insight and vulgarity yield hasty but thoughtful messages meant for the world to read and embrace. I myself have been an avid fan (and sometimes practitioner) of this kind of artistic endeavor for a long time. Since coming to UMass and being surrounded by the bright minds of academia, I've noticed that whether it's displayed in calligraphy near some of the finest academic minds on a university campus, or scrawled illegibly inside a musty bus terminal stall, restroom graffiti doesn't change much.

The significance of this most personal of writing comes from the public nature of its display. There is no specific audience for restroom wall literature, since, as one of the most famous bathroom-related books tells us in no uncertain terms, Everyone Poops. The writings are to be read and understood by everyone that may walk into that stall at any given moment. This gives the slogans, poems and other messages a kind of every-man quality that is to be admired.

But UMass is a menagerie of different academic interests, each with its own mindset and sense of humor. Shouldn't graffiti in these specialized areas differ according to these distinctions?

To find out, I began a small and informal study of this campus' bathroom walls. My research was limited to men's rooms for obvious reasons (my apologies to any journalism professors I have shamed by not going that extra undercover mile) and took place mostly around the south side of campus. My results yielded some interesting quotations and vast amounts of typical toilet humor. Here are some of the highlights.

The men's rooms of Herter Hall, home to the Foreign Language, Classics, Comp. Lit. and History departments, didn't have nearly as much fine-tuned wit as I've come to expect from the humanities hub of campus. The third floor (nearest to Comp. Lit.), however, holds a bevy of tasteless, unprintable limericks I hope you all seek out and enjoy for yourselves.
Isenberg School of Management, the sparkling jewel in UMass' crown of alumni gratuity, offered some commendably vulgar, but nonetheless uninspired dirty messages. I had expected such a fine building (which never fails to remind me of a junior high school for some reason) to have freshly painted stalls with gold-plated toilet seats, but the restrooms were just as well-kept as the rest of campus.

The Fine Arts Center provided some decent quotes from our more introspective and theatrical friends. After wading through the declaration "College is a wasteland" and various sexually-confused name-calling in one stall (what the hell are you doing in the theater department if you think theater is gay?) I came across this gem:

"Theater is Life. Cinema is Art. TV is furniture." - Could have used some more naughty words, but soulful all the same.

Bartlett Hall's first floor bathroom (nearest the Journalism office) had some excellent and remarkably long-winded graffiti. One shit-stall Shakespeare must have spent a very long time concocting the novel-length epic on the right-side wall. I won't reproduce it here, but rest assured it's the kind of depressing and monotonous prattle you can expect from someone who just realized that the degree they've spent four years working on will land them a wonderful job editing obituaries in a city they've never heard of. There is also a wonderful little rhetorical question concerning one billion dollars, a three-way and your parents.

The third floor of lovely Bartlett Hall features the finest piece of visual art I came across, a piece entitled "Autobot Bong" showing the famous product logo transformed into a configuration we're not likely to ever see on Toys 'R Us shelves.

Finally, I found the perfect combination of vulgarity and profundity I was searching for. Those lovable clowns from the Philosophy department captured both the depth of their studies with the simple Cartesian pronouncement of "THINK." and the wonderfully crude little elegy:

"Brokenhearted where I sit,
tried to fart
but out came shit."

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