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The Column

Get Out Of My Bathroom
8/7/05

I am a good tipper. I always have been. I tip for food and cabs and help with my luggage, and anything else that seems appropriate. But I see no reason to tip someone that helps me wash my hands against my will.

I am very good at washing my hands; I've been doing it for years. I'm so good at washing my hands, I can even do it in a restaurant bathroom. I turn the water on, pump some soap when available, run my hands under the faucet while rubbing them together, and dry off with a paper towel. I could do it a million times in a row without making a mistake. But if a restroom attendant watches me to make sure, I'm supposed to give him a dollar.

By society standards, a restroom attendant is considered a classy element of a nice restaurant. By my standards, I consider him a complete nuisance.

Let's start with the aspect of the tip. Next to the captain of the S.S. Urinal is always a tip jar. Why? The reason I tip other people in the service industry is because I couldn't do the job myself. I can't get my own food at a restaurant, I can't drive my own cab, and I can't always get all my bags myself. But without a rest room attendant, my life would improve. I could wash my hands just the same, and I wouldn't have to worry about someone watching me pee.

It is awkward to pee in front of someone else. Especially when that someone is just standing there, waiting for me to finish. When guys go to the bathroom, they pretend there are no other guys anywhere near them. That gets a lot harder when a guy two feet away is wearing a blazer and calling you sir.

Guys are hung up about this, and we always will be. I don't think the fear stems from homophobia; it's a fear that we're doing it wrong. I've seen grown men approach urinals and not use any hands. I've even seen one man put his hands in back of his head like he was being robbed. And while my instinct said, "freak!" in the back of MY head I wondered if that was how I'm supposed to do it. Maybe I'll ask the bathroom attendant. He seems to have no other purpose beyond answering my riddles three.

Well, he does often have a basket of mints. And if there's one time I'd like a mint, it's when they're kept in the bathroom. I know the mints are individually wrapped, but there's still a chance some bathroom vapors crept inside. And I know my fear is irrational, but so is keeping mints in a bathroom.

There is the argument that I should tip the attendant because he has a crappy job and depends on us to make a living. Until there are no "help wanted" signs left in any Burger King, I don't buy that logic. That person, while applying for jobs, picked the one located directly on my path from the sink to the door. You know what? Homeless people also ask me for money in exchange for doing nothing. But I give it to them more often because they don't stand there watching me pee.

The one good thing about bathroom attendants is they keep crazy stuff from going on in the bathroom. Let's be realistic - bathrooms are places that get messy easily, and that are often home to much illegal activity due to the prevention of cameras. But let's stay realistic - the restaurants that need to watch their bathrooms carefully are rarely those that do. The worst five-star restaurant bathroom, even sans attendant, looks nicer than the nicest bathroom in Starbucks history. When the bathroom key is attached to an empty syrup bottle, you're much more likely to stumble in on a crime scene. Or something that looks like you just missed stumbling in on a crime scene. Or something that smells like someone exploded while stumbling in on a crime scene.

I'm not sure of the solution to my bathroom attendant predicament. For now, I just ignore the guy and leave. But occasionally I'll be in a place with an attendant for a few hours. And since my bladder is the size of a mint, I often visit the bathroom a few times during that stretch. Which gets increasingly awkward each time.

"Hey, I remember you. You're the guy that keeps leaving without a tip."

"I apologize. Here's a tip - stop watching me pee."

Mint?

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