The Restroom Attendant

"Don't shit where you eat" works both ways, you know.

One of the most popular bars at the University of Oregon was called Rennie’s Landing, and it had quite possibly the worst floor plan imaginable for an establishment where hundreds of people went every night to get blackout drunk.

For one thing, it had a giant staircase connecting the upstairs bar and the downstairs bar, which is just asking for trouble when the bar’s signature drink was basically a pint glass full of vodka and a splash of Tampico. Not only were the stairs a magnet for personal injury lawsuits, but I also watched one of my friends vomit all over them on his birthday, which created an interesting cleaning situation for the staff.

The worst thing about Rennie’s, though, wasn’t the stairs, or the lack of space, or the inadequate climate control, but the bathrooms. For the entire two stories’ worth of bar, which on any given Saturday night was packed with upwards of 250 people ingesting booze and cheesy bacon fries, there was only one tiny bathroom per gender.

I can’t speak to the women’s bathroom, but the men’s consisted of one urinal, broken soap and paper towel dispensers, the world’s wettest floor, and two toilets which were never not overflowing with shit – and as if to add insult to injury, there weren’t any stall doors, either. One got the impression that the staff had given up cleaning the bathroom at about the same time America gave up on Vietnam. The difference is that nowadays Vietnam’s economy is booming, while that bathroom is still giving people PTSD.

Honestly, though, it’s unfair to criticize a bar too much for having a gross bathroom. A bar, after all, is a place where people go to dump poison into their bodies to inhibit motor functions – if I went into a bar bathroom and saw that it wasn’t covered in human excrement I’d probably be worried that they were watering down the drinks.

I’ve been to several bars in LA with bathrooms that I’ve found to be far worse than the aromatic little sweatbox at Rennie’s Landing. These bathrooms were all larger and cleaner than the one at Rennie’s – what made them so terrible was the presence of a restroom attendant.

I’d seen restroom attendants on TV and in movies, but I’d always sort of assumed they were some kind of shared fictional plot device dreamed up by the film industry, like bombs with multicolored wires or being able to enhance the resolution of security camera footage. It seemed like too pointless and demeaning of a job to actually exist: ”Your job is to stand in a bathroom all night, watching guys pee and handing them paper towels.” That’s not a job. That’s cruel and unusual punishment.

Last night I went to the bathroom at one of my local bars to find a smiling black guy in a snappy suit and fedora holding the door open for me, standing beside a little tray full of gum, mints, candy bars, mouthwash, and condoms – along with a tip jar.

“Hey man,” he beamed. “How’s it going?”

“Great!” I lied – what I actually meant was, “Really bad, because now a complete stranger is going to make small talk with me as I pee.”

This guy was really committed to earning his tip. As I went to the sink, he lunged in front of me and turned on the tap, then snagged two paper towels from the dispenser one foot away and held them at the ready until I was finished scrubbing. He didn’t push the soap dispenser for me, though, which I thought was odd – if I can’t be trusted to turn a faucet and grab a piece of paper, why am I suddenly on my own when it comes to pushing the soap button?

As I dried my hands, he gestured to his little table full of snacks and goodies. “Can I get you anything?” He asked.

“No thanks,” I said. “If I’m going to buy something and put it in my mouth, I’d just as soon not get it from the one room where everyone in the bar goes to take a shit.”

He grabbed the wet towels from me and threw them in the garbage, and then went to open the door for me. I could feel the tip jar staring me in the face, and I knew I had no choice. I pulled a $1 bill out of my pocket and stuffed it in the cup, and resolved to not go to the bathroom for the rest of the night.

I get that America is a culture of tipping, and unlike Mr. Pink I’m completely happy to play ball – I tip fairly at restaurants in spite of the fact that I still don’t know how to calculate percentages, and I make a point of tipping bartenders well because never in history has it been a bad thing to have a bartender like you.

The thing is that waitressing and bartending are jobs that need to be done for the food service industry to work, and tipping is how we reward good service and ensure future good service. Restroom attending, on the other hand, seems to exist only because of tipping. I may not be particularly good at a lot of things, but I’m dynamite at going to the bathroom without assistance.

But I can’t not tip them, mainly out of pure sympathy. It also doesn’t help that every restroom attendant I’ve seen has been some type of minority, and as an extremely white liberal I can’t help but feel a gigantic amount of white guilt that it’s 2012 and there’s still a black guy whose job it is to stand in the bathroom all night just to make sure my piss is as pleasant as possible.

The bathroom is the one place in the bar that I don’t want service. Now, if there was a guy walking around who would give me hand sanitizer after I touched the bar and save my seat when I got up and drive me home in my car if I was too drunk, I’d tip the shit out of that guy.

In the bathroom, though, I’d tip extra just to be left the fuck alone.

Truman Capps is usually feeling white guilt for something, no matter what he’s doing.