VOICES FROM THE STREETS: As We Age

When I was young, I traveled far and wide and never worried about finding a bathroom during the trip. Well, at least not to take care of my normal bodily functions, that is.

But now a new horror has risen over the horizon. Last year, my wife Mary Esther and I were traveling to Vermont on Thanksgiving Day to spend some time at the AppleKnoll Inn in Weston, which is only four miles from the Weston Priory.

I’ve talked about the Priory before. It’s a wonderful Benedictine Monastery high on a hill and inhabited by a number of monks. Right now, about eleven monks live there, if my count is correct, and they have beautiful services, including the Eucharist five days a week. It’s glorious!

But that is not what this column is about. Over the past few years, I’ve been having trouble passing urine; it stops and starts. That strong flow of my youth has gone with the wind. Another drawback is that if I have to go and there’s no bathroom, my entire system tightens up and the prior difficulty verges on impossibility.

When I go to a restaurant with only one bathroom, I might occupy that bathroom for an hour, leaking slowly until I can get a normal flow. The longer I wait to use a bathroom, the more painful, critical and time consuming the situation becomes.

On the Thanksgiving Day in question, we stopped at the normal rest area on Route 2 just past Shirley in Massachusetts. I have to plan my stops ahead of time so I don’t get into trouble.

Much to my chagrin, the rest area was closed but there was a sign that said: “For our holiday travelers, we have left the bathrooms open on the side of the building.” I went around to the side of the building and found, to my horror—not too strong a word given the situation—that they had forgotten to unlock the rest rooms.

It was cold and windy, and in that type of weather, I can’t just relax and go behind the building to relieve myself. To put it mildly, I was in deep trouble. My wife and I hit the road again and kept going, praying for an open bathroom. But it was Thanksgiving and nothing was open.

I was in pain. We drove and drove, and all of a sudden, way up on Route 2, about 15 miles before Greenfield, we saw an old Italian restaurant with some cars out front.

By this time, I was in panic mode. All of my muscles were tense and I hurt like the dickens, to put it mildly. We went into the restaurant and my wife told them that we had an emergency situation and I had to use the men’s room desperately.

They said yes and I went in. I was so tense that I could not go. I was afraid that we were going to have to find a hospital and have me catheterized. I had a tranquilizer, which I took, and an extra dose of Doxasosin, which my doctor gives me so I can urinate more freely at night.

To make a long story short, it took about an hour, maybe more, and then I slowly started to leak urine. I was praying for the flow to continue but it would stop, start, stop and start again. I’m a foxhole prayer person for the most part, and this was one of the most terrifying incidents of my life.

Finally, I was good enough to go and we hit the road again. By this time, I was relaxed enough so that, if I had to, I could just pull off the road and go into the woods—I wouldn’t wait until I was in crisis mode again.

Finally, we reached the inn and I was so grateful to have a bathroom at my disposal that I thanked God, and despite the fact that I pray and meditate, I’m only a partial believer. There! The truth is out.

Since that day, my wife and I plan our routes carefully and never travel on a major holiday unless it is a short distance. I had no idea that this physical condition was coming. I suffered for a long time before approaching my doctor about it. And once I overcame my embarrassment and started to talk about it, I discovered that many other men in my age bracket, which is close to 70 years old, also have this problem to a greater or lesser degree.

I am not alone. And I never was.

Now that there are so many older men, people living longer than ever before, why don’t places make it easier to find a bathroom? So many stores and restaurants have signs up—FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY—that it drives me insane.

For God’s sake, when you see a man of my age going into the bathroom, you don’t think he’s going to shoot up, do you? Not many practicing junkies live to be my age.

Also, when older men are homeless, it’s totally difficult to find a bathroom in the city area. Not all of us are going in to shoot up! Men my age are cursed with prostate problems and need friendly access to a public bathroom. On the interstates, there should be Port-A-Potties about every ten miles.

It’s a new era folks. Men live to be older if they are lucky, but prostate problems are no walk in the park, I can tell you. I know that some of you reading this article know of men who suffer from this ailment. Please, advocate for more bathrooms for the gray generation of men. Hey, women too. As they age, they have their own issues with elimination.

It’s not a dirty secret. We shouldn’t have to suffer in silence because we were gifted with a long life. We need a more humane society, one that looks after those of us who have entered the gray years. If you agree, thank you. And thank you for reading Spare Change News, the paper that talks about things that other papers ignore.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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