Flush with tips - Page 2

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

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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."
PHOTO BY SHAUN FAUSZ

Lawton, who looks like he could be a bouncer, doesn't necessarily tell people he's a bathroom attendant as much as "a member of security, who's stationed in the bathroom." But no embarrassment shows when he discusses the details. He loves his work, where he gets to act as liaison, recommending girls to patrons and occasionally getting a peek himself. He gets to meet people from all over, and show them a piece of the world that he never glimpsed before being at the Century. "It's something I can't explain," he says. "You know you're stuck in the bathroom, and then you see them doing something like 'School Girl Night.' It's wild. Like nothing I've ever seen before. It's just amazing every time I get out there. They have several girls who actually lift their legs up and climb all the way to the ceiling. It's like being at the circus, but they're stripping."

It's an experience that, to put it simply, Lawton is generally priced out of, a world where "private dances" can cost upwards of $100. In terms of straightforward class, Lawton has no shortage — he's a polite man who chooses his words with the precision of someone who makes a living speaking to people — but if we're talking economics, he's low on the ladder. Once or twice before meeting me at the Barbary Coast coffee shop off Market Street, Lawton had to drop appointments at the last minute, his housing situation in tumult. Truth is he's on General Assistance, in the shelter system, and shared tips from a few nights work a week aren't enough to get over.

The income for a bathroom attendant, the flow of tips, breaks down across class lines as well as cultural ones. In Lawton's experience, middle- to upper-class white men tip well. With African American or Indian men, he doesn't count on tips. In some ways, bathroom attendants perform an obsolete service that only older generations know how to handle. (Think of the bathroom attendants at Bimbo's, and that club's retro style.)

Fausz has his own observations: "European people don't tip. They don't have tipping over in Europe. Women don't tip as often — they like to let the guys pay for everything when they go out." To my knowledge, Refreshus doesn't have female attendants.

While Lawton can't enforce any specific prices, he sometimes has to step in, politely explaining that the service isn't complimentary. "Everyone under 32, they're oblivious," he says. "They come in and see the candy and go, 'Oh, it's free.' And you have to remind them that, no, this is a service. But you don't force any prices. Like I'll have a jar with a $5 bill and I'll just let them use their own discretion, just remind them that the colognes are usually this amount because it's expensive and I have to pay for all that. You just make them feel comfortable and let them know that even though it's complimentary, this is how I make a living. I'm responsible for all this. Because they think the club provides the service."

A lot of this has to do with exposure. While a number of clubs — Vessel, Harlot, Trigger — reportedly have similar services, bathroom attendants aren't common. Lawton had never encountered one before landing his job, just seen them on TV, and he describes the position as obsolete. "Each generation wants their own type of representation," he says. "So naturally anything they think of as obsolete just doesn't apply to them." At the same time, Lawton acknowledges that a genuine amount of surprise plays in his favor, and patrons admire that the service is still on offer.

Whether bathroom attendant work at the nightclubs provides enough income is unclear. In a place where people pack singles, like the strip clubs, the tips are expected to flow more freely. That's fine with Lawton, who doesn't like the more amphetamine-infused nightclub culture as much, having had close family members ruin their life over addiction.

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