Monday, December 2, 2013

The Gender Flip Incursion: A Typographical Tale at a Ballpark

When it was time to build Myers Field in 1999, the architect (a man named Plimpton) decided to leave his mark on the ballpark in some significant way.

Each and every ballpark is a unique creature in and of itself. What the architect had in mind were tile mosaics for each of the restrooms.

“It's simple,” Plimpton said to the team's owner and league management. “Two restrooms on each concourse. One Men's and one Women's.”

But the restrooms would be marked by a large printed tile at the entrance. The women's restrooms would be designated with a giant Roman W, and the mens' with a giant Roman M.

“It's perfect,” said the owners. “Almost classy!”

But the construction crew ran into a snag during the construction of the ballpark itself. Two restrooms were built as prescribed on each concourse, but there were three W's and one M.

Plimpton hemmed and hawwed over the issue for about ten minutes. He knew that the tile company wouldn't take back an incorrect printing, and baseball owners were intensely prickly about saving money any which way, so they couldn't keep an extra.

“Screw it,” said Plimpton. “Stick that sucker on there upside down, and call it a day.”

Now, a Roman W isn't exactly like a Roman M when inverted. Normally, a Roman W looks like this:
When inverted it looks like this:
Which never looks quite right, typographically speaking, because a Roman M always looks like this:
So naturally, when it came time to lay the tile, the workmen placed the three W's right side up and called it a day.

This was not caught until the ballpark opened up for opening day. Right away, it was apparent to guests that there were three Women's Rooms: two on the third base concourse, and one on the first base concourse.

Whenever there is beer drinking involved, the availability of restrooms becomes an issue. Men on the third base side had to walk across the ballpark to the single men's restroom on the other side.

Everyone in the crowd knew that it was truly a men's restroom, that it was constructed as such. Women did flock to the restroom, but did not understand why there were urinals there. Men couldn't use the restroom because there were always, invariably, women powdering their noses in it.

Men complained to management. Hey, they'd say, there's only one men's room!

Well, you see, for as long as there have been restrooms, there have been women lining up to powder their noses. Or, at least, that was the impression that the Myers Field upper management had. Because they never had a problem with lines at the ladies room.

No ladies complained at all. And this was a demographic that they very desperately wanted to sell baseball to.

So nothing was done.

This eventually came to a head one August night that first season, in what historians would later call “The Gender Flip Incursion.”

It started at a sports bar about a block away from the ballpark. Three friends were drinking it up, hoping to have a good buzz before the first inning.

“The Pilots are a hell of a team,” said Earl, raising his mug. “Here's to them!”

“Cheers!” said Kenny and Pete, downing their beers.

“And how about those seats we've got?” asked Earl. “Here's a drink for the ballpark!”

Kenny frowned. “That's shtupid,” he slurred.

“What're you talking about?”

“I'm talking about the can,” said Kenny. “Y'know, the bathroom. Ballpark only has one men's room.”

“It's true,” said Pete. “I asked an usher about it in July and he didn't do a damn thing.”

“Mabel went into that bathroom last month,” said Kenny. “She said there were urinals in there, man.”

“The hell?” said Earl. “That's a men's room!”

Pete started giggling. Kenny and Earl looked at him.

“What's so funny?” asked Earl. “This is serious business!”

“I was just thinking,” said Pete. “I still have some caulk and chisels from when I redid my kitchen.”

Kenny started giggling too.

“We could switch the W to an M or something, and take back the restroom for all guys around the world.”

Earl guffawed with relish. “What time does the ballpark open?”

“One hour,” said Pete. “But why the hell should we wait?”

***

According to the police report issued later that evening, three men had jumped the fence and proceeded to vandalize one of the women's restrooms at Myers Field. As it happened, one of the culprits stood guard, and before the stadium staff could react, the other two had chipped free the W tile, flipped it, and caulked it into place as an M.

There was far too much confusion in the hour leading up to the game. Women who had customarily used this restroom found themselves being turned away. They ended up lining up to use the other restroom on the third base side.

"It's clearly an upside down W," one woman was heard to complain.

Men, meanwhile, knew that it was a Men's Room, because it had an M like a Men's Room, so it must be a Men's Room.

The ballpark's owners almost pressed charges against the drunks, but the positive reactions from that evening's male crowd on the third base concourse was overtly warm (“I've never seen a ballpark restroom so CLEAN!”).

Three weeks later, upper management saw fit to add standard “Men” and “Women” plastic restroom signs to the entries to the restrooms, covering up the marvelous printed letters, and taking away all ambiguity.

It wasn't long after the management put up these signs that they realized that the drunks had inverted the wrong W, and they had followed suit with the plastic signs. For there were now urinals in the third base Women's Room, and regular toilets in the third base Men's Room.

It was too late. The Men's Room that really was a Women's Room was now quite dirty, and the Women's Room with urinals was still immaculate. Nothing had been solved at all.

“To hell with it,” thought the owner, who converted a storage closet into a multipurpose “Family” restroom a year later.

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