Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012 | midnight
- Las Vegas Weekly-sponsored book-release party
- January 16 from 6-8 p.m. at Artisan. Readers are welcome to attend. Book available at shoplva.com
Here’s how a mafia protection racket works: A Mafioso shows up at your door and says, “If you pay us a thousand bucks a month, we’ll keep you safe.”
“Safe from what?” you ask.
“All kinds of things,” you’re told. “We can keep your business from burning down, and we can keep your family from getting hurt.”
“That’s never been a problem before,” you say. “I think I’ll pass.”
“Well,” the Mafioso says, “I’ll stop by tomorrow, just in case you change your mind.” That night, somebody shatters your front window with a stone and thwacks your son with a bat. And then you realize, you need protection from the Mafia because the Mafia’s in town.
Same thing with restroom attendants. You go to the bathroom, you wash your hands and then you look around the counter for a paper towel. You find nothing. And then, from across the room, you see a man walking towards you with a paper towel and a smile. At first, you’re grateful. But then you realize, you couldn’t find a towel in the first place because the guy walking towards you confiscated them. He created the problem he’s ostensibly solving, and he did it so you’d give him money.
Still, as I drove to the Crazy Horse III strip club, I wasn’t worried about ethics; I was worried about being demeaned. As everyone knows, restroom attendantry isn’t exactly the most glamorous profession. Then, I started worrying about my worries.
When did I become such a classist?
You can find the Crazy Horse III strip club a mile west of Mandalay Bay. You can find the Crazy Horse III’s men’s restroom between the bar and the wheelchair lift. Just walk past the servers in the black and red corsets, past the tattooed brunettes with the thongs pulled halfway down their butts, past the 6-foot blondes with the two-inch nails, and underneath the mesh lampshades.
As I made that walk, a short dancer with skinny legs and a goofy smile approached and started doing the Running Man—you know, the 1980s dance move. Easily the cutest, most original approach I’ve ever seen at a strip club.
“I’m here to work,” I told her. She frowned and walked on.
Inside the men’s room, I met my coworker for the night, Brian. He’s almost 60, and he used to work as a salesman. He’s friendly, he’s articulate and he relates with everyone. Black, white, old, young, fancy, drab—everybody loves Brian. “This job is about service,” Brian tells me. “I try to provide it the best I can.”
He takes me to his filing cabinet and shows me his business license. “I’m an independent contractor. I pay my taxes. I actually spend a lot on this job, and I’ve got to keep track of that, too. At any given time, I’ve got about $3,000 in supplies in here, and I pay for them myself.”
That’s the second function of bathroom attendants—the one that morally distinguishes them from Mafia protection rackets. Restroom attendants provide patrons with breath mints, cologne and candy—things the patrons wouldn’t otherwise have but for the attendant’s presence.
Brian has the best-stocked restroom in Vegas. He doesn’t just have Peppermint Starlight Mints, Wintergreen Starlight Mints and Jolly Ranchers; he’s got Hershey Nuggets, Tootsie Pops, Peanut Butter Snickers, Marlboros, Parliaments, Camels, several dozen colognes (including four different types of Axe Body Spray), lint rollers and ChapStick.
Most popular snack: Wint-O-Green Lifesavers. Most popular cologne: Acqua Di Gio.
Okay, that’s the clean stuff. Now let’s talk about the dirty:
“What kinds of bad things go down in here?” I ask. “What should I be expecting tonight?”
“The worst things are people passing out in the stalls, multiple men in stalls, drug usage and fights. That’s why we have security.”
I brace myself for the worst, but keep my focus on the bread and butter: “Let’s go over the towels,” I say.
Brian has a simple technique. He folds a stack of two towels in half, diagonally, and hands them out with a friendly, “How’s it going?” He’s got specialized greetings for the regulars. The most common one is, “What the f*ck?” delivered in a low gravelly voice. It’s his catchphrase.
He demonstrates: “Whaaaaat the faaaaaak?”
I mimic: “Whaaaaaat the faaaaaak?”
“Maybe you can develop your own catchphrase,” he suggests.
And with that, I’m ready to begin.
First guy: Very tall, washes his hands, takes the towels, drops a buck in the tip jar.
Second guy: Also tall, also washes his hands, also drops a buck in the jar.
Could it be this easy?
I try a change-up for the third guy: I give his towels an extra fold. Bad idea. He looks at them funny, unfolds them, and then leaves no tip.
No tip from the fourth guy, a preppy-type wearing a fancy shirt and a knit tie.
Fifth guy: Red T-shirt, says he’s from Iowa, leaves a tip before he washes his hands.
Sixth guy: Looks pissed off, doesn’t use soap, leaves a $10 tip.
Brian folds the ten in half and slips it into his breast pocket. He displays the ones and hides the higher denominations.
We’ll get into that in a minute. First, here are some statistics. They’re based entirely on my personal observations of a handful of men, and they’re grossly rounded. But putting that aside, I’m pretty sure they’re 100 percent accurate.
-- 50 percent of men wash their hands after they pee.
-- 50 percent of hand washers leave a tip.
-- 15 percent of hand washers/non-tippers do this thing where they reach into their front pockets as if they’re going to bring out tips, but then their hands never come out. Or they come out empty. Sometimes this move is accompanied by a shrug. Presumably, this is meant to make the restroom attendant think, This guy wanted to tip me but he didn’t have any cash on him. He’s okay in my book!
As the hours pass, I meet a kid who’s desperately trying to look like Al Pacino’s Scarface character. I meet a guy who, effortlessly, looks just like Family Guy’s Peter Griffin. A couple minutes later, a man stumbles into the bathroom with a beer bottle in one hand. The man pees, fumbles with the soap dispenser, sloshes some water around, takes two towels from me, throws them on the ground—unintentionally, I believe—and then puts his hand up for a high five.
I give it. Not my finest moment. I wasn’t thinking. It was instinctual. Somebody asks for a high five and I just go for it. I’m sure there’s some evolutionary basis for this.
Brian lets me use some of his hand sanitizer.
The interesting thing is, it’s the only time I use the hand sanitizer all night. The whole experience is far cleaner than I expected. No stray poop, no vomit, no nothing.
“You came on a good night,” Brian says, “in terms of there being no mess and no drama. But especially in terms of tips. You came on a really good night.”
But did I … or is that what Brian just wants me (and everybody else) to think?
I know this sounds crazy, but I think that Brian wants people to believe bathroom attendantry is—pardon me in advance—a crappy job. Why else would he hide the tens and twenties? I think he’s going for pity tips.
I assumed restroom attendantry was a job of last resort. But the truth is, Brian is doing just fine. I don’t want to get into monetary specifics—that’s the one thing Brian doesn’t like discussing, how fabulously wealthy he is—but I will say that the guy makes more than, oh, the average stunt journalist.
People felt good when they tipped Brian and me. I could see it in their faces. They felt like they were helping out the little guy. Guys don’t feel that way when they tip dancers or waiters or bellman, because it’s expected of them. But when guys tip us, they feel like they’re doing a mitzvah.
And maybe that feeling is worth more than a buck.