Flush with tips

A look at the world of the 21st-century bathroom attendant

Gary Lawton: "As you hear the snorting, you know what's going on and you just let them know that they have to take it outside."


CULTURE I floated drunkenly into the second-story bathroom at 1015 Folsom. It's a tiny affair, and my head was just enough obscured to make navigating past the waiting bodies a sure difficulty. I did my business and realized that the man that I had squeezed by, near the sink, wasn't another patron, but some sort of bathroom attendant. In my inebriated state, it appeared to be an elaborate joke.

He was Latino, wearing a nice suit, and stood in the narrow space between the sink and one of the three urinals, his back against the middle pissoir. He had a mountain of curiosities piled over the sink, and a towel for drying hands draped over one arm.

"Have you worked here long?" I asked.

He shook his head. No. Just a little while.

"Do you keep your tips?"

No. He shook his head again, indicating that there was some sort of split. Reluctantly using the towel, I thanked him and dropped a Washington into the tip jar.

Somewhere, after more French techno, I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke, I wondered, had that really happened? Had I dreamt it? Had I hallucinated?

I sent 1015 Folsom an e-mail inquiring about the attendant. Apparently it was true. Barnaby May, who describes himself as a seven-year veteran of the nightclub scene, took credit for the hookup. He felt that something was lacking from 1015, that it would be better to have a bathroom attendant than not. He put me in contact with Shaun Fausz, who runs a company called Refreshus, which trains and supplies bathroom attendants.

According to Fausz, the service is tailored to appeal to a lackluster economy: it costs the clubs nothing. "Clubs would rather have a free service than have to repaint every few months and replace a trashed sink," Fausz says. Which makes good sense in a city where one of the dominant aesthetics of the nightlife is a sort of high-class posturing that can quickly be ruined by a Magic Marker. Other clubs have resorted to taunting taggers. Look how fucked up our bathroom is, the Rickshaw Stop seems to say, what else can you do? Put up another sticker? The Independent has painted its water closets black to nullify vandalism.

Bathroom attendants from Refreshus act as security, whether they're at a nightclub, like 1015, or at a strip club, like the Century Club, where one of Refeshus' longest standing employees, Gary Lawton, has worked for nine months. Lawton says it's "a good public service," although he never imagined performing it. Positioned in the bathroom, he's able to monitor illicit behavior. "As you hear the snorting, you know what's going on and you just let them know that they have to take it outside," he says. "Or they'll approach me and ask me if its cool, and I'll just inform them that it's zero tolerance, as well as alcohol, because there's no drinking with full nudity."

This was news to me. (My Catholic upbringing and feminist programming at university makes it impossible to attend a "gentleman's club.") If a club includes full nudity, and not just topless dancing, alcohol is verboten. "Our beloved senator is responsible for that, Dianne Feinstein." says Lawton. "It doesn't make any sense — I mean that's what security is for. If you see someone being belligerent, you just tell them to go get some fresh air or something."

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