Archive for November, 2010

Trapped with a Porcelain Apostle

Imagine a man trapped in a safe, descending rapidly through the dark pacific toward the murky seafloor- the cramped, close environment; the hopelessness of escape. Surely, even if the safe door was to jar open from the impact with an undersea rock face, the immense pressure at those depths would simultaneously compress all of his organs to the size of a key lime and explode head as his natural orifices were not enough to accommodate the unimaginable speed with which all of the air was forced from his body.

Now imagine that that man is, in fact, this author and that the safe is a 5×5 bathroom with a fifteen foot ceiling and a broken lock in a building approximately 60 miles from the nearest ocean. That was the scenario only weeks ago. Having bravely come through the trauma of that event, I can now recount my story.

Shortly after our Greek-reading group I found myself particularly aware of the amount of  liquid I had consumed that day. I rushed down the hall to the men’s toilet, expecting only a brief excursion. After shutting the entryway behind me, I reached for the lock— an activity in which I have participated doubtless hundreds of times. Something felt strange as I twisted the metal thumb lock— a disturbance. Full bladders afford little time for reflection, though. While decreasing certain internal pressures, I casually looked around the room as I had dozens of other times.

The room is no more than five feet by five feet, and, for some inexplicable reason, divided further into two separate rooms. As you walk in, the sink is immediately to your left. At approximately 2.5 feet of your stroll through the bathroom, you reach the division between the “washroom” and the “toilet.” The University must have had a surplus of toilet doors during the construction of this room, because there is no other logical explanation for why one would divide a private bathroom into two separate rooms, including placing a door between the toilet and the sink. Are there that many males who just need to wash their hands that I should leave the main door unlocked so that they still have access to the sink for sanitary emergencies? Or perhaps it is for added security, like Fort Knox, except that what is on the other side of the final door nobody wants to steal? Furthermore, closing and locking the inner stall door requires either standing on top of or straddling the toilet. Needless to say, I have rarely locked said door except during the occasional instant of curiosity, but I digress— back to me at the toilet.

Having finished the assigned task, I turned on the sink water and pretended to wash my hands, as all men do. I included the added flair of cranking out some paper towel on the slot-machine type dispenser we have. Then things went terribly wrong. As I twisted the thumb lock counterclockwise, it felt as though the knob separated from and turned apart from the deadbolt. Now I had a turn knob that twisted freely from the locking mechanism. I felt a moderate sense of panic surge through my arms (for some reason), and I realized that I had no phone, no book, and no window in that tiny room. I was facing my only way of escape.

For the next five minutes I fought violently with that tiny, metal protuberance, even managing enough room to kick it twice. The option to which I wanted to resort least was yelling for help, but I had reached the end of my already extremely limited range of escape plans. This toilet has the added annoyances for the entrapped of being well-insulated and the furthest room from all offices, excluding the basement. Therefore, one has to scream all the louder if one hopes to be rescued. I decided to bang on the door loudly at first without pleading for help; I wanted to get out, but I did not want to sound desperate. After a few minutes of no response, I began to yell “Hello!” At this point I briefly feared that I might die in that minuscule room. But the thought lasted less than a second as the article about the Chilean miner rescue I had read the night before helped give some perspective of my situation. I had three basic needs met in that room. Besides, the amount of coffee consumed in our department ensured me of the fact that someone would be at my door by the next morning.

About fifteen minutes into I heard the heavenly resonance of footsteps in the hallway. I knocked and shouted louder. Someone twisted the knob on the other side and said in a German accent, “Oh sorry.” Of all the people who could of rescued me, it had to be my secondary supervisor and respected NT scholar Roland Deines. I thought of saying, “That’s okay” to spare myself some embarrassment, but self-preservation won out over pride. I shouted louder, “No, wait. I’m stuck in here. The lock is broken.” I heard a pause and then the sound of someone fiddling with the lock. “Well I can’t unlock it from this side. I’ll have to go get maintenance.” Salvation was near… hopefully.

Moments later a knock came on the door and a soft feminine voice said, “Hello, Andrew are you alright?” It was Laura, the administrator for the theology department. I responded, “Yes, it’s just that the lock is broken.” Muffled chuckles came through the door. “I’m sorry, it’s not funny,” she said. I assured her, however, that it certainly was. “Anyway, I’ve called maintenance and they’ll be here in a few minutes.” Relief replaced the panic in my arms and I waited. A few minutes later Laura returned to say the same thing, so I can only assume the ulterior motive was for another laugh at my expense.

Silence persisted for another five minutes before I heard metal against metal and watched the lock reach the peak of its turning radius and pop back into its resting, and still locked place as the screwdriver slid from the slot on the other side. I attempted to twist the knob on my side, to which I think the person on the other side responded, “Stop that,” but the noise of the vent fan made it difficult to tell. After several minutes of the same sounds and still being locked in the bathroom, I heard one of the maintenance men grab his radio and call a supervisor. “Mike where are you?… Can you get down to Highfield House as soon as possible?… Yeah, we’ve got a gentleman who’s locked himself in the toilet.”

That’s right— the toilet. The longer I live in England, the less it makes sense to call this room the bathroom, American readers.  If I was taking a bath in that room, you would have cause for concern (and probably wouldn’t invite me over anymore). Perhaps it offends our sense of modesty, but it is more accurate. Furthermore, requesting the “bathroom” does not somehow leave the concept so vague that your company is completely unaware of what you are actually going to do in that room. Specificity, m’friends- ’tis the way forward.

Back in the toilet I waited for mike. There was muffled discussion on the other side of that former tree, then a snap, and the door slowly crept open. I suppose he did not want to interrupt in case I had decided to make use of the facilities while I waited, so I opened the door the rest of the way. Forty minutes after the ordeal began, I found myself thanking Mike and company in the liberating atmosphere of the theology department.