By Michelle Railey
Hypothetically, allegedly, someone might have ventured out into the pandemic public of 2021. Yes, masked; yes, aware of risk; yes, quite guilty-feeling.
Still, in Greenwood, Indiana, the, uh, gathering impulse seems to be quite strong and if observation is anything, well, everyone is feeling guilty (very tense shoulders, many surreptitious glances) and everyone is still out. As long as you’re masked when you’re not seated, no harm, no foul, right? (Probably wrong. Hence the community guilt.)
So. Dateline Greenwood, Indiana on a Friday night in the year of our lord, pandemic 2021.
We have no jet packs. We all have masks. There’s more hand sanitizer than you can shake a stick at (and who are these people shaking sticks, we wonder).
It’s early February so pint-sized Brownies and Girl Scouts are out front, peddling over-priced cookies and being cute little burglars (seriously, have you seen how few cookies are in the damn boxes now? Robbery, I tell you. Fraud.).
But it’s a funny, funny night out in Greenwood, if we were out in it. And we’re admitting nothing.
For one, there’s the tiny Brownie in tie-dye snowsuit sulking twenty feet away from the others. She’s too smart for this shit. She knows it’s cold. And she is a perfect little spitfire.
For another, there’s the other tiny Brownie, in a pinker tie-dye snowsuit (it’s expected to be so very cold here and the wind is a bitch right now). She leans against a pillar with a small Starbucks cup. (Starbucks!) She tells you, petulantly, when you ask, that it’s not coffee. It’s hot chocolate. You tell her, sagely (or so you think) that that’s because coffee stunts your growth. But then you laugh. Because you were once she; and all the adults said the damn same thing. And Starbucks is awful fancy for an 8 year old. Or, maybe, just maybe, she just looks so knowing with that cup, you kinda want to rewind time and push even more innocence into innocence.
But, hypothetically, maybe you’re just being a maudlin prude.
That’s probably it.
Anyhoo, if , if, you were hypothetically, allegedly out in public in the year of our lord, Pandemic 2021, in Greenwood, Indiana…
You might have overheard people casually mentioning “bathroom attendants”.
And, oh. My. Bathroom Attendants! You had maybe almost forgotten that was a thing.
I mean. Hypothetically, the first time you might have encountered a bathroom attendant was in Chicago, in the 1990s and you were, hypothetically, a female.
And…flattered, floored, confused.
You went in. You did your, um, thing. And then. Then. A lady offered you a tray of towels, gestured towards the soap. Gave you a mint. Shrugged and pointed towards an empire of colognes, hairsprays, and perfumes.
If, hypothetically, you had never experienced all the glory that is a Bathroom Attendant, you were flustered. Confused. Embarrassed. And you might have forgotten your purse, in which case you couldn’t dig for a tip.
Bathroom attendants to the uninitiated are, um, mysteries, and goals, and beacons and fairy godmothers.
Hypothetically, young ladies, if you venture into certain parts of certain metropolises, take your stupid purse. You are going to need to tip.
There’s something so genteel (if exploitative) about bathroom attendants. They’re so elegant (if all you’ve experienced is your basic swing-door stall with faucets). If you’ve ever been to old auditoriums or movie theatres with the old-fashioned ladies’ lounges, this is what bathroom attendants belong to: a world where “ladies” go to touch up their make-up, use the necessary, breathe, maybe adjust their corset. Smoke.
And, if they’re very lucky, sample the perfumes and hairsprays from the bathroom attendant’s tray. Take a mint. Wash your hands. (Not in that order.)
We are not sure bathroom attendants still exist. We fear that the great Ladies’ Lounges of, say, Radio City Music Hall or Auditorium Theatre have vanished. (Hell, the Markland Mall movie theatre in Kokomo Indiana, once upon a time, had in its ladies’ room, separate stalls with washstands inside; full little rooms for gentle folk. But alas, no bathroom attendants.) We think that maybe the velvet chaises and banquettes in tiled, open, candelabra-ed spaces have probably gone away, mostly.
And bathroom attendants are probably few and far between. Even more so now than, hypothetically, in the late ‘80s, the 1990s.
The weird thing is, there’s a version of ours or somebody’s life that would want to be the bathroom attendant, purchasing and displaying the lotions, the towels, the mints, the hairspray.
For 2.13 an hour plus tips, in the right place, that might be okay.
Of course, that is also 8 to 10 hours in a bathroom, with all the noises and the smells and the monotony.
Still, hypothetically, there would be something to being the wizardess of the washing room, the benefactress of the latrine.
Ok. No, there wouldn’t. But hypothetically, if we had ever encountered a bathroom attendant in a bigger city than we live in, it would have been a wonder. Probably.
If we were in public and had been reminded that bathroom attendants were/are a thing, we’d be kind of grateful for the reminder.
And then we’d pull our face mask up higher and feel very guilty for being in public at all.
Still, it’s time for the Girl Scouts and the Brownies to get their “we’re leaving now” Starbucks.
And, allegedly, hypothetically, we might be feeling a little funny about our memories. About time, and money. About jobs and innocence and the capitalist value of things like hot chocolate and bathroom attendants.
Hypothetically, we’d parse it, all of it, grate it fine, lay it on a slab, make some charts. We’d come up with something to explain America, the difference between 1988 and 2021.
Instead, we admit that we are (hypothetically, of course) grasping at impressions and feelings, memories and a lifetime of a really, truly, legitimately shitty minimum wage.
And even though it’s gendered-problematic, we really did love the days of the occasional holiday velvet ladies’ lounges, and the bathroom attendants with their quiet dignity, their assortment of colognes, the free mints.
I mean, we would be if we’d been in public tonight, seeing these things, living this life, overhearing someone mention “bathroom attendants.” Hypothetically.
(And, seriously, McDonalds or gas station hot chocolate isn’t good enough for suburban Brownies now? Geez. Don’t spoil the lasses. They’re perfect, already.)
See also, I guess: “The Rise and Fall of the Women’s Restroom Lounge” (Bloomberg) and “Bye-Bye, Bathroom Attendants?” (The New York Times)
And, just as a postscript, if anyone wants to work on a group project regarding the collective overpriced, over-capitalized pyramid scheme that is “Girl Scout Cookies,” hit me up.
But we are going to admit: the thin mints, the shortbreads, and the peanut butter things (Rodeos? Hi-de-Hoes, Skip to My Lous, whatevs) are killer. We love ‘em.
And we love the little spitfire girls in the cold selling them.
But oh my god, we have questions and concerns about the whole cookie thing and the economy…
And you know what, nevermind.
I wasn’t even in public tonight. Mask or no mask. And neither were you.
POSTSCRIPT: DIY Girl Scout Style Thin Mint Cookie Recipe
-Get some Ritz crackers (store brand are fine)
-Get some peppermint oil. The purer the better, but we’re not judging.
-Grab some of that Quik-Chok, block milk or dark or semi-sweet chocolate. Chips if you must. Blocks if you can. Bars if you’re rich.
Mix chocolate and peppermint oil.
Dip the damn Ritz.
Lay on waxed paper or newspaper or shove directly in your face-hole.
Voila. Thin Mints.
You’re welcome. (And yeah, Ritz. I said it. I meant it. And girl, you know it’s true.)