There is a problem with the bathroom-to-human ratio in my area.
Well, the problems run much deeper than that, but the lack of accessible restrooms is the outcome that most directly impacts me.
This issue wouldn’t exist if it were socially acceptable for people to piss on the ground like 99.99% of the rest of the mammals. Who’s the 0.01% left over, you ask?
Sea mammals. Orcas only piss on the land in the rarest, most dire circumstances.
My dog, Lemmy, doesn’t care about the world’s pee-related rules, nor much else I write. He pees where he wants and ignores my timeless wisdom wrapped in comedic gold. Plus, unlike most of us, Lemmy doesn’t mind if everyone sees his penis at 2:30 pm on a Tuesday. He certainly doesn’t respect the “Pet Free Zone” signs gently reminding humans to direct doggos elsewhere for relief. He reads those signs and laughs.
And more to the point, if a cop saw my canine son urinating on a bush in front of an elementary school during afternoon pickup, nothing would happen. The cop would go back to reading the Daily Stormer in his cruiser, and Lemmy would continue living 100% in the moment.
But when I have to pee, numerous social constructs and laws limit my options, including my reticence to show my penis to unsuspecting passersby. I’m a gentleman, after all. I reserve my penile displays for my OnlyFans page.
Diet Pepsi Drinker And Hell Raiser
To understand this essay fully, you should know: I am an avowed convenience store enthusiast.
I go to 7-Eleven multiple times every day, usually just to purchase fountain Diet Pepsi (not bottles or cans, as the inferior carbonation-to-syrup ratios are offensive to my sophisticated palate). If Lem Lem is with me, I have to also buy beef jerky. Coming back to the car without beef jerky is akin to, let’s say, showing your penis to a cop in front of an elementary. Sure, it gets a funny reaction, but it’s ultimately ill advised.
I drive all day for a living these days, which has made typing this piece surprisingly difficult and dangerous. And given my propensity for drinking several cubic meters of Diet Pepsi per day, I have to pee somewhere other than my home as frequently as you might deduce. Probably more often than that, actually. Despite my 6’3” frame, my bladder is significantly smaller than a Big Gulp cup.
Thus, my habits, my anatomy, and local/species-specific urinary limitations all intersect to place me disproportionately at the mercy of a particular group of people: convenience store owners.
An aside: one employee at two 7-Elevens I frequent is actually named Lemlem, which makes her exempt from all critique herein. Anyone named Lemmy, Lem Lem, or Lemlem, gets a pass due to an exceedingly narrow carve-out in my randomly generated moral code.
Some 7-Elevens have restrooms, including the two at which Lemlem works.
Scratch that. All 7-Elevens have restrooms. It’s just that most do not allow riff-raff—other than people employed by 7-Eleven—to use their facilities. Speaking as riff-raff, I am deeply offended.
I get it, though. Convenience stores are usually staffed by one or two people during any given shift. Those people are paid minimum wage, which by definition means if the owner could legally pay them less, he would. Hell, if we’d just get rid of all this damned “big government regulation” and the so-called “13th Amendment,” think of how high the profits could be!
But until that day when America is, as 40% of the population hopes for, “Great Again,” allowing people to wander unchecked through the back forty is an invitation for fuckery. Lemlem isn’t in the “risking her life to protect the owner’s back stock of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and White Claw” business, nor should she be.
And to be fair, there is another risk to having an accessible bathroom in the city. Our nation has chosen to deal with homelessness and mental illness with the classic American plan of not doing a goddamned thing about it.
The reality? Having an open restroom in an urban convenience store is an invitation to host impromptu shit-shower-shave sessions. And two of three of those activities will occur in the sink.
Which two? Ah. Well that’s the age-old question, innit? I wrote that with a cockney accent and coyly tipped me scally cap as I walked away for dramatic effect.
Oh, and lest we forget, we are in the throes of a pandemic.
To most of us, that means increased social distancing, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, blocking former friends and family members on social media, and wearing masks.
To your husband’s dipshit cousin, it means the DEEP STATE is trying to implant microchips into his bloodstream in order to track him. Specifically him, you see. There’s no telling what Dr. Fauci and Bill Gates would do if they could calculate the precise ratio of Grizzly-Long-Cut-to-Miller-Lite that sustains Ol’ Cousin Dale. They’d probably create a race of communist super soldiers, each of whom almost joined the Marines back in ’89.
But to “convenience” store owners, facing a pandemic means they can increase profits even more by staffing less people, closing the bathrooms, and posting signs blaming the now-ironic reality on COVID-19.
Watch And Learn, Grasshopper
Sometimes, as I’m perusing the aisles, alternately touching every single item and my face, I watch the other people in the store.
I observe patrons opening cooler doors as they rifle through the sodas to get to the cold ones. Those are conveniently placed behind the hot sodas that just got stocked. Forgive the staff: it’s especially hard to rotate inventory when you’re working inexplicably solo during the busiest hours of the afternoon, and some dude just took a sh…ower in the sink.
I watch customers buy the finest, cheapest cigars the Mid Atlantic has to offer, yelling directions at poor Lemlem as she touches every package. “No, down a row. No, go back up a row. Okay stop. Left. The other left. No, the OTHER left.” The readers of Gas Station Cigar Aficionado get agitated as their plain English directions fall on Lemlem’s English-learning-yet-still-Amharic-attuned ears. As everyone knows, when speaking to someone who doesn’t understand your language, it helps to take off your mask and raise your voice. You need to really project to get the words and spittle past the plastic barrier and the recipient’s alternative language schema. English is easier for non-native speakers to understand when loud and moist, after all.
Lemlem takes a quick stroll around the store to spray and wipe down some high-contact surfaces. Sure, she’s been watering down their last gallon of sanitizer for weeks, but I guess a quick spritz of stagnant water is better than nothing. Sanitizer costs money, after all. Customers aren’t walking around with sanitizer strips to test the PPM, anyway.
Like all the people before me and all the people to come, I lovingly caress all the Big Gulp lids to find one that isn’t inextricably stuck to its former sleevemates. I reach into the straws to grab one, my fingers inadvertently touching eight others. A few get knocked out onto the counter, so I round them up and put them back, because I’m not an animal. I already addressed that fact in re: not being allowed to pee on the ground. Stay focused.
I try to enter the restroom by grabbing the handle, as one does, only to find out it’s locked. Pretty sure a thousand people have arrived at the same tactile conclusion since the last time the doorknob was baptized with fake sanitizer.
Oh well, guess I’ll hold it.
In the early days of the Pestilence, I would seek out the hand sanitizer dispenser at every store, especially after grabbing a door handle.
Unfortunately, 7-Eleven recently changed the hand sanitizer formula to one that smells like bug spray, but with the inviting viscosity of semen. If this (as far as you know) effective product is just disgusting enough to dissuade its use, the owner provides required safety measures AND saves money when no one ever uses it a second time. Genius, actually.
Time to get back on the road. I buy my soda, which Lemlem manually rotates 270° as she searches for the UPC code. She’s wearing gloves. The same gloves she’s been wearing for the last 328 customers’ purchases. But these are magical gloves, that when combined with just the exact right lack of training, prevent the wearer from knowingly sickening every single customer.
My total is $1.81. I don’t (ever) have any cash, so I use my debit card. I enter my pin in the card reader, which hasn’t been cleaned since Lemlem sprayed it with “sanitizer” three hours ago. My likely-virus-encrusted index finger dials the digits. I wait in tingly anticipation to see if I have enough funds to cover the tab…and…SUCCESS!
I lean forward and push the door open with my shoulder. Wouldn’t want to touch the door and expose myself to germs, you know. There’s a pandemic, ya know!
What’s Your Point, Oh Sarcastic One?
Glad you asked, heading that I just wrote.
In other, less snarky words, the restroom—even if it’s dirty—is quite possibly the least likely part of a 7-Eleven to give you COVID-19. If anything, access to a bathroom with running water and (fingers crossed) soap would make the store a little cleaner than it otherwise would be.
“But the problem, it would seem, isn’t really the restroom at all,” said the overly hydrated red herring.
It’s not the locked restroom with the bullshit “CLOSED DUE TO COVID-19” sign.
It isn’t the poor inventory management, the stuck-together lids that no one “unstuck” for the customers, the watered-down “sanitizer,” or the untrained employee who doesn’t speak the same language as her customers.
It isn’t even the man experiencing homelessness, taking a minute to clean himself.
The problem is a different, arguably more detrimental pandemic.
Profits Über Alles
The real problem, albeit a more insidious, less obviously lethal one, is the widespread American deference to profit motive above all else. Our default focus on profits over everything—and Americans’ internalized acquiescence to that credo—causes every other problem I’ve laid out in this screed.
When you combine our national tendency toward unquestioning reverence for capitalistic endeavors with a widespread disease that elevates our need to accept inconveniences, you’ve got a near-perfect moneymaker for unscrupulous entrepreneurs.
But haven’t you heard?! Surface sanitizer is in short supply!
Except it’s not. Hasn’t been for months. The average person doesn’t buy concentrated sanitizer, so they just assume that makes sense. Why ever would a businessman lie to us, after all?!
Hint: it’s because most of them are fuckwits.
But you can imagine how difficult staffing is these days!
Well, your turnover is only high because you underpay and overwork people. You overwork them because you understaff each shift to save labor dollars. You hire fresh-off-the-boat immigrants who’ll accept the crap conditions and lowest-allowable wages due to lack of alternatives. You then send them to the front with no training, so they’re berated daily by impatient customers who can’t see the REAL culprit of their oxymoronic inconvenience at hand—namely because YOU aren’t there.
And if the staff members themselves were actually the problem (which they are not), it seems like the 11 million unemployed and countless more under-employed people in our nation would provide you with an ample candidate pool from which to replace your weakest links.
Nice try, fuckwit. What else you got?
But restrooms are breeding grounds for disease!
Are they? Plenty of other places host sparkling clean restrooms, namely because those places staff enough humans to keep them tidy and sanitized. And they set the priorities for those humans to include “keeping the restrooms from becoming disgusting.”
Seems like you’re talking about a symptom of the REAL problem at hand, hoping we’ll all just give you unearned deference “’cause you’re a job creator.” Nah.
See? Told ya. Fuckwits.
I Know That Of Which I Speak
When I owned my restaurant in downtown Washington, DC, I made it perfectly clear to my staff:
People need to eat and drink, and people need to use the restroom. Those are human needs, and no one on my payroll is ever allowed to deny anyone either of those things. I don’t care. If they are human, the answer is yes.
Someone forgot their wallet? Give them their meal, tell them catch us next time if they can. They almost always come back, and they are blown away by the kindness.
A person you believe to be experiencing homelessness asks if he can have some food? Absolutely, and treat him exactly like every other customer. Throw in a piece of bread and a soda to round out his meal. No payment needed, we make plenty from all the other customers.
He asks if he can use the restroom? Yes, of course sir. It’s right down at the end of the hall. And it’ll be there tomorrow when you ask, and we’ll answer just the same.
I met hundreds of my neighbors experiencing homelessness during my time in DC. I fed most of them many times over. All of them used my bathrooms. Some used my bathrooms multiple times a day, as they came to know my spot as a friendly refuge in an otherwise unwelcoming part of town.
In that time, I only banished one man: he smeared feces and blood all over the walls and fixtures of my bathroom. But rather than close the restrooms to everyone and blame COVID as I inconvenienced thousands for one man’s apparent mental illness, I put on my gloves. I helped the shift supervisor clean the restroom top to bottom. And then we went right back to business as usual. A customer arriving 15 minutes later would have never known what had happened.
And lest you think I’m self-righteous, know this: I cussed Bloody Shit McGee up one side and down the other, fully understanding he was likely suffering from unmanaged schizophrenia. I knew where to find him. He was a constant occupier of an inlet between Starbucks and the Clara Barton Museum, and I walked past him every day. I gave him the stink-eye—borne of his actual stink—every day from then on. My compassion only goes so far before it runs headlong into my true assholish nature.
Sure, other than that one-off, a few of our guests got the bathroom a little wet while they washed their faces or shaved in the sink. And my well-trained staff and I cleaned the bathroom after them just like we did multiple times a day anyway.
People didn’t stop needing to pee or wash their hands just because there was a pandemic on the loose.
So rather than lowering my standards for my own benefit and making my customers pay the price, I did the opposite. I sacrificed on their behalf to make them feel as welcome as possible while the world turned upside-down all around us.
I thought it was all the more important because we were in a pandemic.
Back To The Grind
As I’m landing this literary plane, my little buddy is sleeping on the couch behind me. He woke me up today at 3:45 am to go potty. That’s out of character for Lemmy; he’s on a pretty predictable potty schedule. So when he sat next to my bed, whining at me and doing the pee-pee dance, I took him at his word.
I didn’t tell him that, due to the early hour and cold temperatures, I was unable to provide a service to which he was otherwise entitled.
I didn’t farm that unpleasant task out to an untrained immigrant, though admittedly there were none available. It was really early.
I didn’t tell him that o-u-t-s-i-d-e was closed due to COVID-19.
And if I had told him any of that nonsense, it’s fair to assume he would have seen through it and eventually pissed on the floor. He wouldn’t try to convince me of the error of my ways in 2000+ words. Nope. He’d just raise a leg and laugh. He’d do so regretting it all the while, tinged with a lot of “I tried to tell you” spite.
He’d be justified.
Perhaps I should take my cue from Lemmy. We really do learn a lot from our animal friends if we’re open to what they’re teaching.
I’ll be on the road in a few hours, and inevitably, I’ll have to pee many times throughout the day. I’ll probably face this very issue before I go to bed tonight.
The next time a convenience store owner self-servingly bars me from the facilities and blames the pandemic, I’ll just shut up and follow Lemmy’s example.
Please have bail money ready, thanks.
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