The hem of my blouse didn’t exactly provide ideal protection. But it was all I had to grip the door handle. When I entered the Chevron unisex toilet, the putrid stench alone had overwhelmed me. Even worse, not one inch of paper product existed, and God only knew what bodily fluids went into the cocktail spread upon the floor.
I’d had to use it. No other option existed. After circling the block in one of San Francisco’s busiest neighborhoods ten times with a full bladder, gratitude filled me when a Mercedes pulled out of the station. I sped right into the vacant spot. In my forty-odd years, I’d learned that life didn’t always offer clean solutions. No matter what it looked like, I’d just have to grit my teeth and use it.
But once inside, attempting to take in a breath proved nearly impossible. I certainly couldn’t leave the door open for air. The characters who slumped against the wall outside looked like relatives of Charles Manson.
Thankfully my quadriceps were strong enough that I could pee while squatting above the toilet, because seat liners were nowhere to be found. The one lone Kleenex in my purse managed to suffice as toilet paper, but it left nothing to dry my hands on. I soon realized however, that I needn’t worry. When I turned to the sink, I found someone (probably a Manson cousin) had stolen both the hot and cold handles. When I finished, I carefully turned the doorknob, and kicked the door open. It banged against the frame.
To my surprise, three of the loveliest 20-somethings, decked out in pumps and summer dresses waited outside. Professional blond highlights, polished complexions and just a hint of expensive perfume. Like rare orchids sprouting in a Walmart parking lot.
They smiled at me the way privileged people do at the help. The tallest one used her manicured finger to slide rhinestone-framed sunglasses up the bridge of her nose.
“Why hello,” she said, the way an older person might. The beauties didn’t so much as stand there as they seemed to float in place. Water lilies on the surface of a polluted pond, they remained oblivious to the filth that waited inside the open door.
“Ladies, I should warn you,” I said. “You don’t want to use this restroom.”
The glimmering young things facing me now would surely be traumatized if I let them enter without full disclosure.
The petite one in front—cute as a button with perfect Anne Hathaway teeth—just shrugged. “It’s fine. This was the only place with parking. And we really have to go.”
“That’s right,” said a modern-day Stevie Nicks with expensive-looking earrings. “We drove all the way here from Santa Barbara without stopping.”
“Our friend is getting married,” explained Anne Hathaway. “Her bachelorette party is tonight, but we can’t get into her apartment yet because she’s not home from work.”
Ah yes, bachelorette parties. I remembered those. Champagne, laughter, silly games and naughty lingerie. I’d experienced a few in my youth.
I eyed the three of them, so young, bright-eyed, with designer purses hanging from their shoulders. My grandmother would’ve called them “high fallutin’” and accused them of putting on airs. But looking at them was like peering into a time capsule of myself from twenty years before. I too, was once convinced that I had the world figured out. Costumed in my 80’s shoulder pads and big, teased hairdo, my bright future stretched out ahead of me. I wondered if these budding young angels pitied the middle-aged female they saw before them. I once pitied older women too, who stopped caring about fashion and hairstyles.
Now in my old denim skirt, home-trimmed bangs and comfortable shoes I felt certain I must appear past my prime. But I found I pitied these girls too, for all their confidence and poise, I knew the hard realities that awaited them in life. Such squeaky-clean things with perfect lipstick, if they stepped inside that hell hole, they may just gag.
“You don’t understand,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound like a bossy mother. “It stinks like you wouldn’t believe, there is zero toilet paper or paper towels, and you can forget about a mirror.”
They all giggled and began rifling through their bags. How could I make them understand that Armageddon had come to the restroom they were about to enter?
“I guess it’s a good thing I brought this,” Stevie Nicks said, and withdrew a roll of bathroom tissue from her purse.
“I wish I’d thought of that,” I said. “But there’s no way to wash your hands. No soap. And the sink’s faucets are even missing.”
The tall woman removed her sunglasses, and slid them into her purse. When she removed her hand she held a small plastic bottle.
“May I offer you some hand sanitizer?” she asked.
I stared, open mouthed. These women were way more together than I’d ever been twenty years ago.
“My goodness, “I said. “You’re all so prepared.”
I never used expressions like ‘my goodness,’ but these women looked like charm school graduates who grew up with maids. They’d probably gasp if I uttered my typical, “holy shit!”
Had I used my grandmother’s typical response, “holy mother-fucking shit,” there’s no telling what they’d have done. I held out my palms, grateful for a squirt, and rubbed them together. “Well, there is one more thing,” I said. “Take a deep breath of fresh air before you step in there. It smells like something died. Not much you can do about that.”
I watched in amazement as Ann Hathaway pulled out a spray can of Lysol.
“Holy shit,” I said.
All three burst out laughing. I couldn’t contain myself, I laughed too. I had to wonder then, if I wasn’t becoming more like my grandma than I wanted to admit. I’d completely misjudged them.
I bid them goodbye and navigated my car out back into the traffic. I watched them grow smaller in my rear view mirror, and thought this younger generation would face life’s hard realities just fine.