What to do? I just moved into a new neighborhood with my husband and new baby. The neighbors are all really nice and my next door neighbor especially, who helps me out a lot without me ever asking. I appreciate her help, and she gets along great with my daughter. She’s older and her husband died two years ago. I know she is lonely, and I would like to be able to be company for her. But there is a problem. She comes over to my house the same time every afternoon and before anything she says she just has to run to the bathroom. She spends 15 to 20 minutes in there, and afterwards I can’t go in for an hour. I feel bad thinking that she comes to my house mostly to use my bathroom. But since she lives next door, can’t she use hers and then visit me? It happens at the same time every day, and I feel like she must know that her body has a, um, schedule. It’s not like she has to go often so I don’t think it’s a health problem. I really don’t know if I can even bring it up it’s so embarrassing. I could let go of it if I didn’t have to plunge sometimes.
–Holding My Breath
First, let me offer my heartfelt sympathy. Nothing makes me want to put my house on the market like discovering unexpected bathmosphere. I gather from your letter that you’re pathologically diplomatic, which is wonderful for everyone who doesn’t happen to be you. The most important order of business is for you to become a person who can head off this sort of thing at the first instance. This can be achieved through therapy, membership to a firing range or ladies’ fight club, or a number of other ways. Cultivating the ability to deflect crap will enable you to avoid anything like this happening to you in the future. Meanwhile, however, you must address the odor of the day, but not necessarily directly.* You are dealing with a dangerous kind of neighbor: the coveter. My guess is that your house is the more attractive of the two, and she’s pretending to live in it for a while each day under the guise of friendship and help. She seeks out the only appropriate solitary space, and marks it as hers in the most offensive manner.
It strikes me that the easiest way to end your “friend’s” daily insult to your bathroom is to make the space as unappealing to occupy as possible. The most obvious route is to just stop cleaning it. There are, of course, more creative approaches; you could adopt the repulsive “if it’s yellow…” rule, for instance. Or you could start toilet training your baby impractically early and time sessions with your neighbor’s bodily clock. If you don’t care at all about seeing her again, you could do something unspeakably horrifying, such as emptying a can of wet cat food into the commode right before she shows up, or filling up the sink with water in which you soak dry beans. Beware, such tactics require complete mastery of the straight face. However passively and/or aggressively you choose to handle the situation, I beseech you to act now, as I can’t even bear to experience bathmosphere vicariously.
*Most male readers will find the impossibility of issuing a direct verbal request about this ridiculous, but any woman who’s worked in an office building has inevitably participated in or witnessed the anonymous bathroom stall waiting game. For the most part, we pretend that we do not use the bathroom. The more fortunate of us actually don’t.