While partaking of the auspices of the “Business Class” lavatory on our flight home from London, I caught sight of a red Attendant “Call” button on the wall directly in front of me. Sitting there, a not entirely comfortable thought crossed my mind:
“Can they get in here whenever they want to?”
I also wondered if there’s a similar “Call” button in “Coach.” Or if you just have to sit there until they land.
With regards to toilets on the ground (as distinguished from toilets in the sky), you may recall my mentioning the “High Tea” that we enjoyed at the Lanesborough Hotel during our trip. We had stayed at the Lanesborough years before, at the urging of our travel agent who insisted that we experience it just once.
The “Lanesborough Experience” provided a distinctly English feature. Each room included the 24-hour services of a butler. You press a button and he arrives. The joke would be if the thing you need fixed is the button that calls the butler.
In our case, the button to call our butler worked fine. But a number of the other buttons on the panel – buttons that allowed us to switch off various lights in the room without getting out of bed – did not work at all. The butler dutifully arrived, and, apologizing profusely in an educated accent, explained, in the most mellifluous diction and language, that he had no idea what to do.
Okay, back to the bathrooms.
There’s a tradition in (not all but many) fancy hotels and restaurants – not just in England, but here too – wherein the Men’s Rooms come equipped with an impeccably attired, generally advanced aged attendant, whose sole purpose is to hand you a towel when you finish washing your hands. Though we had stayed there before, I had forgotten whether the Lanesborough were proponents of that tradition.
First of all, it’s just sad. I mean, I am not in the habit of disparaging people’s lines of work – with the exception of political talk show hosts – but, I mean, seriously. What kind of a job is that, handing out towels in Men’s toilets?
Could any man ever aspire to such a position? Could any child have selected “Men’s Bathroom Attendant” as the subject for a school-assigned essay on “What I Want To Be When I Grow Up”? There are those who view dentists as doctors who couldn’t make the grade. What grade could “Men’s Room Attendant” not make? Had they washed out as busboys?
“I kept dropping the trays.”
I know that sounds cruel. But what you’re experiencing is a lame cover for my actual emotion – a heart-wrenching sense of pity.
I know it’s an honest day’s work, but it feels like the bottom to me. I mean, the guy hands out towels in a bathroom. How different is that from a homeless person, soliciting money for squeegeeing your windshield? I’m looking at a panhandler, in a dark suit and tie.
So of course, with this attitude, I am dreading stepping into the Lanesborough’s Men’s Room, and finding him there. A man, consummately attired and groomed, toiling in a windowless room, no indication whether it’s day or night, distributing post-pee hand-drying material. (Sometimes, linen, but sometimes…just paper.)
I hoped that the Lanesborough has progressed to electrical machines.
So there’s the issue of finding him there. And the discomfort of avoiding his eyes. Sometimes, you can get past that, nodding head down in passing, while miming a pressing need to access the urinal.
At some point, however, you have to finish. You can’t pee forever. Though, as you get older, the guy waiting behind you might think that you are.
You have to wash your hands. Not just restaurant employees – everyone. Despite an overpowering urge to flee the premises, bypassing the excruciating towel-passing routine altogether. You can’t do that. Laven los manos. It’s the thing to do.
So now, you’ve got dripping hands. Do you make your way over to receive your towel, expressing faux gratitude that this service exists, and an over-effusive appreciation to the man providing such a service? That’s an act. And both of you know it. You can go through the kabuki-style ritual of it all – the able manservant and the appreciative guv’nuh – but it’s a transparent sham, demoralizing to all concerned.
And then there’s the tip. How much do you tip a man for handing you a towel? You can over-tip. The universal put-down:
“I know you do nothing. Here’s twice as much as you deserve.”
You could lowball the guy. But is the man not suffering enough, just standing there?
Or you could stiff him completely. And agonize guiltily over the fact that that towel dispenser is somebody’s grandfather.
And then, there’s the worst situation. You left your money at the table. Not as unlikely as it sounds. Wallets are generally not required in the bathroom. And now, you have nothing to give him.
You want to see a tortured expression? Check out his face when you tell him you’ll take care of him later and he’s pretending to believe you.
All of this roils through my brain as I push through the door of the Lanesborough’s “Men’s Lavatory”, entering sanctum sanctorum of bodily waste products elimination.
I step inside…
And there’s no attendant.
I heave a sigh of relief.
Then I wonder where he went.