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Scandalous scribbling

By Veronica Perez, Commentary

From the Stall by Doug Rice is a full-color, 145-page compilation of photographed graffiti found in bathroom stalls around the United States. Rice, who resides in Brighton, Mich., found the inspiration for his book while studying in the Oakland University library.

“(I needed to) swing by the office because I had to make a conference call,” Rice said. “The bathroom of choice is on the basement floor. So I go down there, and I am doing my business and reading the graffiti on the walls. It says, ‘Rick Moranis has enormous horse (testicles),’ and along the side, other curious individuals – not unlike myself – put in their two cents.

“What compels a human to write such an outrageous claim?” Rice said. “What a statement. I was in shock. I was baffled. I was confused. It was the most astonishingly brilliant piece of literature that I had ever read.”

It was this event that lead Rice to expose the “perverse nature” of this “dark side of the human brain.”

Rice spent a year collecting “an incredible amount” of photographs from Michigan universities and bars in the local area. He compiled his material into book form and set out to find a publisher. After receiving several rejections, Rice decided to publish the book himself.

“This is not easy – to get a publisher to pick you up,” Rice said.

The “bathroom reading book” as Rice refers to it became From the Stall. Each photograph includes where the photo was taken and a commentary by Rice.

While Rice’s idea is a novel one, the majority of the material in From the Stall is a testament to the age-old question “what is this world coming to?” Included in the book are 22 drawings of naked women and close to 20 percent of the entire work is made up of similarly pornographic scenes.

There is some “clever” material including a miner edit to Descartes’ cogito: “I poop therefore I am” and a poem about farting in public. This “bathroom reader” has certainly earned a place in the bathroom – and nowhere else.

From the Stall is far from being the next American novel, although its popularity, or lack thereof, will shed light on changing American tastes. Though the resistance that Rice experienced while trying to find a publisher proves that certain standards remain upheld, the mere presence of a book of this kind is an indication that the general public no longer recognizes those standards.

Content of this nature is exactly what Holden Caulfield tried to protect his sister from in Catcher in the Rye: unnecessarily vulgar material that violates innocence.

By Keith McGee, Commentary

Almost everyone is familiar, to some degree, with the general content of bathroom stall graffiti. It’s usually coarse, vulgar and only slightly entertaining. What Doug Rice has done in From the Stall is collect a highlight reel. This book is a compilation of the best stall scrawls he could find, on a broad range of topics including relationships, religion, racism and politics. Some of them, like “the only Bush I trust is my own,” are quite clever.

The entries that make the book worth reading, however, are the ones that leave the reader completely flummoxed. Some of the graffiti in this book is so random, crass and nonsensical that it actually becomes fantastic. The mysterious stranger who wrote “DOOKIE MONSTER” in big capital letters on a bathroom wall offers no explanations, and that’s what gives his work its charm.

Most of the pornography in From the Stall is childish, but some of it is violent and terrifying. Rice doesn’t comment much on the condition of the human beings who felt compelled to write this stuff, but readers will definitely ask themselves, “why?”

This book is a jaunt through the dark side of the human mind. It is tempting to provide some examples, but none of them will bear repetition.

Thoughtful readers will have to wonder what it is about a public restroom that brings out the basest parts of human nature. Even the would-be philosophers of bathroom graffiti seem to dwell on the dark side. Quotes like “Everything you love will be taken away” and “I believe in her lies” aren’t designed to brighten up someone’s day.

However, there’s something to be said for the book’s juvenile humor. Readers might shake their heads in dismay at some of the dirty limericks and crude drawings, but they’ll be forced to chuckle at the same time. If this were Rice’s own material, it would be unforgivable. Luckily, he’s collected it from the unwashed corners of real life.

It could be the total privacy and anonymity of the stall or the rank and raunchy atmosphere that makes people to behave the way they do in bathroom stalls. Whatever the cause, the effect is clear. The writing is on the wall, so props to Doug Rice for his fearless look into a willfully ignored part of the collective conscious and for providing a few laughs along the way.