In mid-September, 26 of my residents and I spent the evening in our residence hall bathroom at Binghamton University. Collectively, we were sick–of the dreary white shower tiles, the boring mirrors stationed evenly against the wall, and the stalls that held the same prize behind doors one, two, and three. (Pause here: no, three stalls is not enough for such a large group of girls, no matter what time it is.) We looked at our area, our nodding heads indicating that yes, we needed some umph, some pizzazz…something to mark our territory as the girls of Bingham Hall 1B. Backed by the ever-enticing promise from our Resident Director of an ice-cream sundae party to the floor with the best bathroom decorations, we committed ourselves to the challenge: when the judging began 24 hours later, we were going to win.
After explaining the few rules (which, unfortunately, included no highly suggestive pictures of attractive men), I asked the girls to search their rooms for materials. We scrambled to assemble scissors, glue, tape, construction paper, markers, crayons, stickers, glitter, and pages of color computer printouts in a neat pile covering the length of the hallway before sitting down for some serious decorating.
In small teams, we decided what passed our inspection (pictures of Mickey Mouse affixed to blue paper, a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.) and what we sent to its destruction (pictures of older men leering at young children, a quote from Hugh Hefner).
Amid laughter at the crazy captioned printouts, smiles between new friends, and six-degrees of separation talk of who knew who from back home, I heard a door down at the end of the hall creak open.
“That’s my absolute favorite color,” a shy voice offered, and we turned our heads to the new sound coming from behind our backs. The owner of the voice darted her eyes from my fingers, busy snip-snip-snipping fringes on a purple sheet of construction paper, to the floor–embarrassed, somehow, at having made such a proclamation.
A full second went by.
“Mine too!” I revealed, and we beamed at each other. A few more agreements and nods from the other workers led us to acknowledge purple as the newly reigning color of our bathroom. In an only slightly overly-revealing discussion, we knew it was the perfect choice for two reasons: one, if it faded, it would still be a nice shade of violet, and two, none of us harbored bad memories associated with bathrooms and the color purple (the reason why yellow and orange were immediately ruled out).
With a color-specific whirlwind dancing through our heads, we managed to scrounge together purple decorative lights and streamers to supplement our other purple décor. Although tempted to see if the other residents in the building had entertained similar ideas while decorating their bathrooms, we managed to curb our curiosity and deposit the extra we-want-to-win energy into our work. When we imagined one of the other floors might have painted the windows, we decided we should paint the windows; when we thought another team might have incorporated our school mascot, Baxter the Bearcat, we appointed the resident with the most artistic talent to design a school-pride poster.
We designated two runners who would grab our inventions as soon as the glue dried, rip off a few strips of tape, and head into the bathroom with a decorative eye. “Go,” we told them as we thrust glittered splotches of collage into their hands, “we really want to win that ice-cream party!”
Four and a half hours, 6 paper cuts, and many, many gluesticks later, we all assembled in the bathroom once again. We looked the same–nodding at each other as we milled from the showers to the sinks to the stalls, looking above our heads and below our feet–though this time, we were looking at what we had done, rather than what we simply hoped to do. The once drab interior was transformed into a conglomeration of the thoughts, values, ideals, and humor of a herd of girls, thrown together, who were beginning to learn about each other by examining the walls, laughing at the cartoons, and reading the quotes.
Over thoughts of mint chip and double chocolate decadence, we invited a few residents from other floors to view our bathroom; they oohed and ahhed at our carefully selected and manufactured additions.
“Hanging out in the bathroom is like, so much fun,” they said, only partially kidding as they switched the decorative lights on and off, splashing the purple hue across the showers and stalls, “I could chill in here all day.”
We thanked them, and told them they were welcome to visit anytime as long as they followed the signs that read, “Are you sure you’re in the right place?” and “This is a toilet. Please use it as one.”
The next day, when the winner was to be announced, our hearts thumped in unison as we tacitly wondered, Well, what if we didn’t win? Would our time have been wasted? Would we take all the decorations down in disgust? Does that make the fun we had null and void?
These concerns were semi-annihilated as the Resident Director cleared his throat, smiled his little smile, and spoke: “It’s a tie,” he declared, pausing to scan the room, “between 1B and 2B.”
“Cool,” we commented to each other, our eyes moistly glistening at the shared glory, “we get to have our ice-cream party with a floor of guys.”
We quipped with our co-winners; teasing them they won because their bathroom looked so bad that the judges felt sorry for them. Members from the remaining floors chimed in with their remarks. Good-natured banter ensued; as the topic broadened and people began talking with each other about school, and siblings, and clothing, the other R.A.’s and I looked each other in the eye and forgot who won the contest.
In the following days, the bathroom-decorating contest was major talk around the building. Feisty males knocked on our bathroom door, asking for a tour. Girls from other halls, under the pretense of using the shower, walked around the bathroom with an open mouth, their flip-flops smacking behind them. The opportunity to meet people was open, and we took it.
There’s just one thing that remains wrong: we’re still waiting on that ice cream.
Submitted by By Rachel S. Epstein, Resident Assistant, Binghamton University