Monday, May 28, 2007

The Price of Privy Privacy

I walked into the bathroom and there she was: an older Asian woman in black pants, dark patterned vest, crisp white shirt. I never met her before but I recognized her instantly: The Bathroom Attendant. It had been a while since I'd seen one. This is probably more of a commentary on the caliber of establishments that I frequent then on how many attendants there might be in the city. A typical haunt for me can be lovingly described as a hole in the wall, where the services of an attendant are very unnecessary, unless said attendant is also a plumber or janitor.

Bathroom Attendants appear mostly in the facilities of upscale restaurants, nightclubs and bars. They are supposed to bespeak an atmosphere of luxury and personal service offering users soap, towels, lotion, deodorant, gum, condoms. It might be time to get off the merry go round if The Bathroom Attendant is an integral and prominent part of your safe sex, birth control plans.

The Bathroom Attendant is as outdated as The Elevator Operator. The latter hails from a time when elevators qualified as heavy machinery. You couldn't have the general public opening and closing their own elevator doors and pushing their own buttons, could you? That would be madness. I imagine the job of The Bathroom Attendant was similarly created to guide people through those heady days when indoor plumbing was new. "How do I flush this thing? Where do I wash my hands? What can I dry them with? Somebody help me!" Bathroom Attendant to the rescue.

But now we push our own buttons and flush our own toilets. The Bathroom Attendant has not only become unnecessary, but an intrusion. It feels particularly invasive when the bathroom is not crowded; when it's just me and her. I feel judged.

When I'm safely locked behind my stall door, I wonder what she's doing. Is she listening? How can she not? For giggles, does she carry a stop watch in her pocket to time how long visitors urinate? If so, how do I rate? Suddenly I'm in competition with past pee-ers.

And what if I'm engaged in more... er ... personal work? Oh god, is she listening then too? How could she not? Given my druthers, I'd prefer a little privacy, keeping whatever gastrointestinal difficulties I may or may not be having to myself. I'd rather not be identified as the chick with the cranky colon in stall three.

And then there's the matter of the tip. Do you or don’t you? There are three reasons to tip, the first is for services rendered. I'm all up for living in the lap of luxury, truly I am. But I can pump out my own soap and reach for my own paper towel. Anything else the attendant can offer, I've already got in my mammoth hand bag: lotion, nail file, perfume, safety pins. Everything except condoms. Yes, I'm from the "No Glove, No Love" generation but I'm also a sexist. Carrying condoms is his job. It's the least he can do. If I can remember to take a pill everyday, he can keep a condom handy. And yes, I check the receipt for freshness.

The second reason to tip is guilt. Most bathroom attendants are working for tips. Employers don’t pay them anything, pushing the cost off to the customers. But why should I pay for a service I neither need or want? Nonetheless I do feel bad not giving The Bathroom Attendant something. But it's the kind of guilt I can usually live with.

And then there's the apology tip. When I'm in there by myself behind my locked door, and she's on the other side with her stop watch, I give her the "I'm sorry you had to hear that tip." How can I not? I put a dollar in her cup and wish I could have tipped her not to be there in the first place. Privacy, that’s real luxury worth paying for.

Monday, May 21, 2007

New Toe Trends Are A Foot

If the purpose of travel is to see the sights, then I think I've seen it all. While standing in line at St. Maarten immigration, I saw a woman sporting fake toe nails. I know they were fake because they were a little too long and a little too perfect the way acrylic finger nail tips are. I doubt this will ever make it into the guide books, but it should.

While the women in my circle regularly have false tips put on their finger nails, I am not one them as I lack the requisite amount of patience. Sitting and waiting for the polish to dry on a plain old manicure on my natural nails is about all I can stand. I have never, however, seen a woman with false toe tails.

When I see something for the first time, it's easy to assume that it's something brand new, but perhaps I just don't get out as much as I think I do. At first glance, her toes were reminiscent of bird talons; assuming of course there’s a species of bird who's claws are french manicured and painstakingly decorated with a golden, flowered designs.

A woman with false toe nails is obviously a woman of leisure, with time on her hands, and apparently her feet as well. Getting fake tips on your toes shows a real commitment to sandals, or at the very least to big shoes. It's not clown shoe status, but I'm betting you'll need at least a half size up to accommodate the extra length.

One of the reasons for false finger nails is to strengthen the natural nail, which for some is weak and prone to breakage. Does the same apply to toe nails? Not for me. The strength and resilience of my toe nails are the envy of my fingers; a challenge to any pair of nail clippers. Making my toe nails stronger through the power of acrylic and polish would be like selling arms to China.

Now we’re talking safety. If I go a little too long without cutting my toe nails, my husband's calves pay the price. From what I hear I'm a rough sleeper and once the R.E.M. kicks in I take everybody down with me. What if my toes nails were artificially longer and stronger? A simple scratch, would now be a stab wound. My husband could bleed to death by dawn. I mind as well take a loaded gun to bed. Arrested and jailed, would the media begin calling me the Midnight Slasher? I can't risk it.

As far a new trends go, I've never been a first responder. I may never be up for the uber-pedicure. I'll just continue to sit back and watch with the awe of a tourist.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sometimes Justice is Swift and Sweet

I was sitting too long at a stop sign, or so thought the man in the giant SUV behind me, when he honked, whipped around me and gunned his gas guzzling chariot through the intersection. Ug! Where's a cop when you need one? At the next stop sign Rude SUV Guy sailed through. Yes! Lights flashing, the cops pulled him over and I was unabashedly thrilled. As I drove by, I slowed down so I could flash a smile at Rude SUV Guy that said, "I guess you're not in a hurry now are you, Sweetie Cheeks."

Unfortunately Rude SUV Guy didn't notice me and my gloating grin. He was too busy digging through his wallet for his license and registration. I was very tempted to stop and ask the officer if he needed a witness to SUV Guy's vehicular misdeeds, but I didn't want ruin the moment. In retrospect I should have tooted my horn and waved.

Petty though it may be, I love when reckless drivers get their comeuppance. It's like when I'm sitting in traffic and I see a driver zooming down the shoulder of the road, like he's the only one in a hurry. Clearly the rest of us love being bumper to bumper. But nothing warms my heart more than seeing that same driver pulled up short behind a police car that’s waiting a mile or so down the road like a patient spider for a speeding fly.

In my fantasy Rude SUV Guy's license gets suspended and his tank is impounded. Forced to traverse the city streets as a pedestrian, he learns the vital importance of a stop sign. But I'll settle for hoping that a big fat ticket will slow him down.

Monday, May 7, 2007

The New Motto at Staples: Attitude? Yeah, We Got That

So I'm in Staples buying a three pack of Pilot pens. According to the sign, there's a rebate. Cost: $4.99. Instant Rebate: $4.99. Free pens. Cool! But when the cashier rings it up, no rebate. Strange. She said, "Let me have someone check the sign."

Enter Karen. A young woman in her late teens, perhaps early 20s.

While I waited at the register, Karen checked the sign. She reported back that while there was a rebate sign, the offer had expired. Legally, expired or not, if a sale or rebate sign is still posted, a store has to honor the offer. But it was no biggie, the pens were only $4.99. I wasn’t gonna to make a big deal out of it, but somebody else might, so I said, "Wow, you guys really need to change the sign."

That's when Karen had an episode; a mild outburst, an angry muttering loud enough for me, the cashier and another customer to hear: "This is a big store, they're aren't a lot of people here and everybody has to do their part."

I didn't need to hear about the store's staffing problems.

As an employee that's the kind of thing you say to yourself, your manager, a coworker, a sympathetic loved one, not a customer. And definitely not this customer.

The cashier and the other customer at the register looked shocked. I was too. Shocked enough to say, "Excuse me, Karen. That wasn't a personal attack. This is business." The only thing I should have heard from Miss Karen was, "Sorry about that. You're right. Thanks for bringing it to my attention."

But I showed Karen more courtesy and professionalism than she showed me. Had I allowed myself the freedom of an episode I might have said: "Why are you giving me lip? You don't quite get the hang of customer service do you, Sweetheart? It’s not my fault if you’re at a job you don’t like. If the red shirt doesn’t fit, then maybe you should quit."

What offended me most was that technically I was doing my part. I brought a problem to the attention of a store employee. Who was I supposed to mention the problem to? But I wasn’t dissuaded. I continued to do my part by having an nice chat with Karen’s manager about her lack of professionalism and customer service skills. Maybe the store will do something about those pesky staffing problems they seem to be having.