The Lav and Us
"Miss Nater our bathroom is a nasty pit."
"Our bathroom Ö meaning?"
"The one for us, us Blacks only and now the Mexicans
have destroyed it. Itís our territory."
"Yes, itís ours."
ĎAnd? Where are the Mexicans supposed to go?"
"They used to go to the white girls lav but they were
"Iím new here Margaret, I donít understand. Separate
bathrooms are not part of what we do here."
"It is at this school."
Good grief, what have I let myself in for?
"Take me to this pit thatís yours."
I went with Margaret, a beautiful girl, standing at
6í2" and all business. We went to this pit. One look,
one breath was enough.
It was: a four stall bathroom, one toilet partly
ripped off of the floor, the others filled to over
flowing, the doors hanging off of their hinges, toilet
paper holders ripped away, empty the paper towel
container hanging off the wall. Badly spelled
profanities lipsticked on mirrors, messages carved or
penned on every surface, cigarette butts ground out on
the filthy tile floor.
"What the hell."
"Itís them not us, they wonít leave us alone. Iíll
admit it wasnít so great before either, some of our
girls are slovenly. But the custodian doesnít even clean
Two weeks into this job as vice-principal and I had
to deal with a bathroom problem; A Masterís Degree for
this shit. I placed a call to the custodian.
"But Miss Nater I just gave up on keeping the
bathroom clean. These girls are worse than pigs. I wonít
clean it anymore. They just piss on my efforts. My union
steward told me itís not part of the job description"
"Alfred, clean and get it into decent condition now!
I canít allow this to exist on my school grounds. Call
in a team, get it done. Ifís it overtime you need, ok,
Iíll approve the paper work."
Two days and$1,500 later the bathroom was ready for
A week later and Margaret was back in my office.
"Miss Nater, come look. The Mexicans have done it
The room was in shambles.
"Margaret, we need to talk."
"Youíre going to have it fixed up again?"
Did I hear a sneer in her voice?
We sat across from one another, locked our gazes on
"Well, Miss new vice-principal, what are you going to
"No, not until you girls have met with me and come to
terms. The bathroom is yours as it is until further
notice; you think that I am going to spend school money
again? Ask the custodian to spend his time cleaning
after you girls, Blacks or Mexicans? So, only toilet
paper will be provided. No paper towels, no repairing,
no soap, no cleaning at all. Think again girl. No way.
When you find a solution see me. Until then go to
"But Miss Nater, those are white girlís bathrooms
they wonít let us in. This is our corner of the campus."
"You heard what I said, no bathroom to smoke in, to
shit in, to tear apart, to vandalize. This is worse than
animal behavior; go do your thing, Margaret. You told me
that youíre the leader here, so lead. Is there a leader
of the Mexican girls?"
"Probably Linda Chapparo."
"Get with her, find a solution. I wonít have it
repaired again until there is complete agreement as to
the sharing and the care of the bathroom."
"But, what will we do for a bathroom?"
"Your problem; the girls brought on themselves."
That afternoon after school there was a large group
of girls gathered on the quad, sitting in a circle. I
watched from my office window. Margaret was in the
middle along with a stately Mexican girl that I guessed
was Linda Chapparo. I stayed in my office, calmed down
the staff that there was no pending fight, no riot.
After about thirty minutes, I saw papers being
circulated and then the group dispersed.
Early the next morning, long before school started, I
was greeted by my upset secretary.
"Two girls insisted that they wait for you in your
office. I couldnít keep them out here on the benches.
They just pushed their way in."
"Iíll handle it Dorothy."
I went to my door knowing who was in my office. I
stood at the entrance.
"Girls leave my office and wait out here as my
secretary asked. And you will apologize to her first
before we have a meeting in my office."
They didnít move. I didnít move. I just stood there
looking at them while they looked at me. Then they
looked at one another, got up and went to Dorothyís desk
and then they sat on the bench. I went in and sat behind
my desk, called Dorothy on the intercom.
"Send in the girls."
"Please sit down."
Margaret spoke first; Linda opened a folder that she
had on her lap.
"We believe we have a proposal that will work, Linda,
hand the papers over to her."
Linda placed a pile of papers on my desk. Smoothing
them down as she did.
"Please, read these."
I------------- [name inserted] promise to care for
the lav just like I would at home." I leafed through the
pile. Each one was signed. Margaret then handed me
another paper. It read: Miss Nater accepts the
promises of the student contracts. In return she will
have placed in the girlís bathroom a large, standing
receptacle for cigarette butts and have installed a
floor to ceiling, wall to wall backboard, with chalk,
erasers for messages that we wish to leave.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, to ignore smoking on
campus, which was an offense that meant automatic
suspension, and more. How will I explain it to the
entire staff? Iíd handle that later.
I signed, they signed, I called the custodian, and
gave him the orders. Cleaning was done, requested
supplies provided; student contract kept.
The bathroom saga was over. All was good between
custodian, vice-principal and girls.
Margaret is forever in my life and is a practicing
social worker; Linda, a practicing physician.