“Here ya go pimp,” Omar Renfro says as he squeezes scented beads of liquid soap into the hands of a man whose Budweiser consumption has led him to the men’s bathroom at Sherlock’s Pub on a Saturday night.
“Everything going all right out there?” Renfro asks as the man lathers his palms and runs them under the tap. “If you need anything else, let me know, man. I got you covered like paint on a Cadillac.”
Like many bathroom attendants working the lavatories in clubs and bars across San Antonio, Renfro, sharply dressed in a tuxedo vest and slacks, takes pride in his job. The 27-year-old is one of the managers of the Houston-based company Touch of Class, which provides water-closet services to more than 70 clients in Texas. According to Renfro, it’s the “behind-the-scenes-people” like him that keep the party going until last call. “We are just making sure that everyone’s taken care of and having a good time,” he says. “We try to keep everything neat and clean.”
One way bathroom attendants cater to their clientele is by offering an assortment of toiletries and other small indulgences. Lined up across Renfro’s long bathroom counter, high-priced colognes, Aspirin, and several flavors of chewing gum entice guests as they make their way from the urinals to the sinks. Most customers decide they need more than just a splash of soap and water to complete the Sherlock’s Pub bathroom experience.
“We try to keep everything like a store,” Renfro says, pointing to packs of cigarettes, bottles of hair gel, and full dishes of peppermints, Blow Pops, and Jolly Ranchers. A plastic pitcher on the counter collects tips. “It’s like a little Wal-Mart in here. If someone asks for something and I don’t have it, the next night I’ll get it for them.”
Downtown at Polly Esther’s on the Riverwalk, Rayon Hopkins, 19, is paying his dues in a much smaller restroom equipped with fewer items for club patrons to choose from. A bathroom attendant for less than a month, Hopkins is just getting used to the highs and lows of his service industry.
“Everybody doesn’t tip, but you can’t get discouraged about it,” he says as the sounds of the ’70s vibrate across the dance floor. “You just gotta keep a focused mind and keep doing your job — sometimes ’til 2 in the morning.”
Hopkins says the most challenging part of his position thus far has been keeping up with the unpredictable nature of people’s bladders.
“This job comes in rushes,” he says. “You might have one person in here one minute, the next minute you might have five or six dudes waiting in line. You gotta be prepared.”
Despite his smaller work area, Hopkins deals with the same issues Renfro does, including inebriated customers entering the bathroom with a lot more problems than just their inaccurate toilet aim.
Playing the part of a fly on the wall, Renfro says he has seen it all, including fistfights, guys passing out inside stalls, and one instance when someone came in to urinate into a shot glass so they could offer it to an unsuspecting friend for a nightcap.
“This guy has to put up with drunks every night,” comments a regular Sherlock’s visitor. “If you can put up with drunks, you can do anything in life.”
“There should be a reality show about bathroom attendants,” Renfro quips. “Everyone would be tuning in every week to see the shit I put up with.”
After deep thought, Renfro even comes up with a name. “We could call it ‘Pissed Off,’” he says, laughing with others who have stopped to listen to him talk about his nightly duties. Soon, another zipper pulled and commode flushed prompts Renfro to go back into professional mode.
“Here ya go player,” he says as he hands off a couple of paper towels from his own roll. “Don’t worry about it, man. I got you covered like gravy on a chicken-fried steak.”
And he does. The job, says Renfro, is more than wipes and clever similes.
“Some guys will want to talk to me about their relationship problems. I guess they just don’t have anyone else they can talk to. But that’s cool. I just listen to them and try to be the best little friend I can be.”