Johnny Wildebeest was a small-town boy from Scranton, Ohio who found almost as much pleasure working in the Greyhound lavatory as he found money in his paycheck. Working there throughout high school, however, fed two goals simultaneously: it provided some small savings with which he could eventually go west to Cal, and it gave him much time to spend surrounded by the enlightening inscriptions scrawled on the bathroom walls.
After years of hard work and study Johnny’s dreams were realized and he was finally able to come to the University of California at Berkeley, where his real education would begin. He would become a writer; a real writer, a writer of prophecies and comedies, of ambition and wit, all on the public canvas: the stall wall.
Good John was shocked on his first day in Berkeley when, after meeting dorm orientation obligations, he snuck into the men’s first floor bathroom in Barrows. A strange graffiti language confused his eager eyes. What were these small scribblings between the tiles? Nothing he had seen back home, to be sure. “Twist and Grout,” “That’s Groutitude for You,” “Oscar the Grout”GAA|on and on they went in their singular way, delighting and entertaining with the most wonderful simplicity! “This must be the West Coast sophistication I have been longing for,” he thought. He was consumed with a sudden urge to learn all he could of this exciting, previously unknown style.
With this artist’s determination he squarely placed himself at the first urinal in the Dwinelle first-floor restroom at 8:00 a.m. on the first day of classes. From this spot he would not move until he had found a master to follow. At 10:23 a scruffy lad broke out a blue Papermate® and scribbled something on the metal divider before hurrying off in apparent fear. John left his station to examine the message. “Snow White and the Seven Grouts”! This was clearly no master, but a frightened amateur. John assumed his position and waited through two “Have a Grout Day,” one “Mashed Potatoes and Grouty”, and a “Come Grout of the Closet.”
He was ready to give it all up, when a short, self-possessed young man breezed in at 6:13 p.m. Drawing a black Bic, he took his time spelling out, “Grout Balls of Fire! by Jerry Pee Lewis.” Anyone who could so effectively incorporate the classics into this revolutionary art form must be the innovative expert Johnny had sought. Chasing the writer out of the bathroom, Johnny threw himself at his feet, begging to be indoctrinated into the sacred art. “Yes,” answered the stranger, “I have been waiting years for the right apprentice.”
And so, Johnny began accompanying his master all over campus as he undertook his apprenticeship in this neglected craft. He shadowed the master as a studious assistant in his secret efforts to better people’s lives through art. At first Johnny just carried his pens. Then, as time went by, he began to catalogue his work so that no particular phrase would be repeated in the same building. One day, after months, his master tool him aside and told him that it was time for a very special project.
In great anticipation Johnny met him in the third floor bathroom of McLaughlin Hall after midnight. “Tonight, we create a masterpiece!” the master said. He opened his robes to reveal a black leather satchel, which Johnny had never seen before. He pulled out a black felt marker and drew an ornate bookshelf over eight gleaming tiles. Then, drawing bookspines, he began filling in the titles of volumes: “Grout Expectations,” “Grout Fishing in America,” “Grout of Africa.” The master then turned to his pupil for a suggestion.
Anxious to please, but his mind blank, Johnny unthinkingly blurted out, “For Whom the Grout Tolls.” The master shot a stern glare, and grunting his disapproval he turned back to his work. “Don Groutote,” “The Groutobiography of Groutcho Marx.” Needing to redeem himself, John’s mind raced for something worthy of this literary monument. After several minutes of spellbound gazing, Johnny yelled out in his excitement: “I guess you’ll have to use the Mildewey Decimal System to organize them!”
The deathly silence that followed was broken only by the clattering sound of the master’s pen hitting the floor. His eyes wide with terror, he clamped his hands to his ears. He had just received his undoing. He ran shrieking from the bathroom, never to return. That was the terrible moment, the moment when student surpasses master, and a new reign of mastery is begun…