Essay: Coming out of the Stall regarding Shy Bladder Syndrome


Transcript from my first Shy Bladder Syndrome support group meeting:

Hello. My name is Scott … and I have SBS.

Hello, Scott.

I have been an SBS sufferer my whole life.

When nature calls, I like privacy. OK?

I prefer bathrooms with a workable door lock. My grandparents’ bathroom door could be kept somewhat shut only if you slid a drawer open to impede its forward progress. I hated that bathroom. Anytime as a kid that I visited that toilet, about 50 family members would decide they needed to go at the same time too, as if grandma had pulled the old Ex-Lax in the peach cobbler gag, repeatedly pushing the door open a few inches so it banged incessantly against the drawer, their hands reaching inside like in a horror movie scene, my peeing impeded for days (if not decades). My SBS ground zero.

I also blame the urinal for SBS. It’s the worst invention ever. When dad took me into public restrooms, we’d go straight to a stall, the urinals nothing but a mysterious, unexplained white blur. Only in grade school did I encounter my first urinal. Several of them in a row, no partitions. It was a new experience for most of us. Never were we instructed on their operation. We watched second-graders and learned from them. Some of us, sticklers for privacy, remained faithful to the stalls. One by one, though, we were shamed out by the rough boys: “What are you, a bunch of girls?”

Why do we still have urinals? Is this not the 21st century? Are we not a civilized society yet? It’s a caveman thing, I guess, this need to pee in the open. I don’t get it. Really don’t. Never could comfortably utilize the urinal.

I’ll use one if alone, if there are no noises, if no one’s in a stall whistling. I kid you not. It happens. Men do that. I’ve heard of whistling while you work … but whistling while you … never mind. It never fails though that someone else joins me and, worse, starts a conversation. He flushes, then he’s gone. I’m still pretending to go. Once, a co-worker standing next to me didn’t say a word. I waited him out, but he was taking forever. Finally, I faked finishing and flushed. He “finished” too. We left the restroom together. When he was of sight, I bee-lined to a different restroom, stepped inside, only to find him there too. Our eyes met, and we both knew, without saying a word, that we shared the same problem. It was like discovering a doppelganger. Out of respect, I went into a stall. We never talked about it later.

My cousins and I used to take Sunday drives with grandpa, and the dreaded moment would always come: the roadside group pee break. My cousins lined up side by side, like convicts shackled together at the ankles — facing the road even — and whizzed as cars whizzed by, while I basically needed a machete to clear a path through underbrush just to be out of eyesight — and earshot — unzipping once I found the right spot to concentrate, block out mankind, worry about both snakes and losing my compass, finally relaxing enough to pee until suddenly hearing the honk honk honk of grandpa’s car horn. “Scotty? You OK out there? You didn’t hurt yourself with that machete did you?” How I envied my carefree cousins with their bestial, unabashed bladders, waiting for me in the backseat; animals, all of them.

Gentlemen, I decided to come here tonight and go public with this very private issue we unfortunately share, thanks to a recent disturbing commercial I saw starring Rob Lowe. You know the one: The handsome, popular, socially-with-it Rob Lowe looks at the camera and says, “Hi, I’m Rob Lowe, and I have Direct TV,” followed then by a totally doofus, socially inept Rob Lowe who says, “And I’m painfully awkward Rob Lowe, and I have cable.” Then, the extroverted Rob Lowe, surrounded by friends in his fancy apartment, says, “Fact: Direct TV has been ranked higher than cable for over 10 years.” This is then followed by Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe, standing helplessly and dweeb-like at a urinal with others successfully peeing beside him, telling us, “Fact:  I can’t ‘go’ with other people in the room.” Of course, I related to the Rob Lowe with the shy bladder, empathized with his stigmatization.

Then it hit me. I have cable TV, too, like the loser at the urinal. My god, am I that guy? I wondered. Am I painfully awkward Rob Lowe with SBS? Is this how others see me, those not fooled by my otherwise Oscar-worthy performance at the urinal?

I came here tonight to stand before you, my fellow SBS sufferers, to share good news. After a lifetime of being late for classes and meetings and airplane take-offs, finally we have hope. Relief! A cure: Direct TV. I’m dropping cable tomorrow.

I will end my testimonial now, for I have to pee. Please remain seated and quiet for 10 minutes — and, whatever you do, don’t whistle! Thank you.

Bye Scott.

By the way, does anyone have an extra compass?

Scott Saalman and the Will Read and Sing Food players will hold a public benefit show for Catholic Charities at the Tell City High School Auditorium, at 7 p.m. EST on Dec. 7.


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