According to a front page article in today's New York Times, the era of the washroom attendant is nearing its end. In an unrelated story, Windows 95 has been described as "a bit buggy."
Seriously, though, it's about bloody time. I'm not exactly sure--and the article doesn't say--when the era of washroom attendants began. Probably during the more sybaritic days of the Roman Empire; somebody had to clean up after Caligula. But this is the twenty-first century! We've long since passed the time when people in otherwise good health needed "attending" in a bathroom.
On those rare occasions when I do encounter a washroom attendant, I feel nothing so much as acute unease. Who is this guy? Is he going to be listening? Am I actually supposed to give someone a tip for handing me a paper towel?
Thankfully, I don't get "stage fright," as some people do--and for those poor souls, an attended bathroom must be a special kind of Hell--but I am instantly flooded with feelings of middle-class guilt--feelings unmitigated by the fact that I am likely in a high-end establishment and have just eaten a meal that may have cost about as much as this poor fellow's entire nightly wages. While I myself can enjoy the occasional visit to the "high life," this man spends every night exposed to the digestive endgames of the one percent. So I feel guilt, which makes me wish the attendant weren't there--which makes me feel guilty for wishing the attendant weren't there! After all, I fully support and celebrate the working man (and woman): Anyone willing to do a job, however distasteful--hell, especially distasteful--deserves some respect.
And herein lies my discomfort: What will become of the dwindling numbers of washroom attendants when this profession ultimately goes the way of mastodon wrangler and newspaper reporter? Because, let's face it, a person who goes into the bathroom-monitoring industry probably didn't start out with a whole lot of career options: "Well, Mike, you've narrowed your choices down to molecular biology at Tufts or handing out towels to people who have just defecated. What do you think?"
(All right, all right. In fairness, the Yale Washroom Attendant program did provide solid career training as well as a rich grounding in the liberal arts until it was discontinued in 1972.)
I suppose a place exists for the bathroom attendant, particularly at large and loud clubs--where the job calls not so much for a connoisseur's knowledge of soaps and colognes as for the ability to prevent people from doing drugs or having sex in blacklit stalls. Still, I will not miss those moments--however rare--when I come upon a tuxedoed gentleman waiting to hand me a washcloth or a toothpick or--a specialty of one Manhattan restroom attendant--a handful of Reese's Pieces. Sure, after I drop a waffle, I crave peanut butter as much as the next guy. But I am a big boy now: I can get my post-poop candy myself.