I flashed a smile at the horrified-looking middle-aged woman, who had flung open the door of the bathroom (labeled “Men”) in the Harlem McDonald’s. I was, well, wiping my ass.
“Sorry!” she said, as she made a quick exit.
The nice thing about being a blogger is that no matter what happens, the first thought is, “Well, this will make a good story for my blog.”
How’d this come to pass? Yesterday (Monday) was a be-a-dad day. Time to move my daughter out of her NYU dorm in the East Village. Which meant that I needed to take the Mtro North train to Cold Spring, a lovely town on the eastern side of the Hudson River, where my car has been staying with relatives. Then drive the car back to the city, pick up my daughter and her stuff, drive her and everything back to Cold Spring, where she and her things will spend the summer, and then take the train back to the city. (“What a lot of schlepping!” a friend emailed me yesterday.)
During my sabbatical, I rent at room at 93rd St. and Broadway. There’s a train station at 125th St. and Park Avenue, in Harlem. So I decided to take the subway up to 125th St. and walk over to the train station. I missed the train I wanted by 30 seconds–it was just starting to pull out as I reached the track, having run the last two blocks. OK, I hadn’t had breakfast, so I went off to find a place, in this yet-to-be-gentrified neighborhood. (A friend said to me, despairingly, last week that the Albany Symphony’s Spiritual’s Project was supposed to be outreach to “people in Harlem.” “They don’t even know that there are no black people left in Harlem!” he said. Well, yes there are.)
Weren’t that many places to eat, especially ones that weren’t chains (Popeye’s, McDonald’s, etc.) But I did find Jimmy’s Burgers (I think it was called that, but I’m not finding it on Google), a counter with a couple of booths, that had a full range of breakfast items, cooked to order on a grill. Got a Western omelette and grits (a breakfast my dad would have loved). I was the only white guy in the place. 20 or 30 years ago, that might have made me uncomfortable; now that sort of discomfort just seemed like a bad memory. It was interesting to overhear conversations that were definitely something from a subculture other than mine–liberal use of the “n word,” discussions of who was packing, etc.
The food was good.
The guy next to me just sat there the entire time I was there. Didn’t eat anything. Finally the man at the counter told him he had to leave. I wasn’t sure what to do, as he sat there. I had a hunch he didn’t have the money to buy something, and I wasn’t going to eat my toast. Do I offer it to him? Would that insult him? Or upset the guy running the place, if I was encouraging a kind of panhandling?
The thing I like least about New York is that you have to harden your heart to panhandlers. I live near a “hotel” for very-low-income men. There’s always several on the street, especially at night. There’s a young woman who sits in a subway station, reading, with a sign, “unemployed and pregnant.” I want to give money to each of them–but if I did, I’d go broke in an evening. So I am doing that don’t-make-eye-contact thing, ignoring another human being as I pass him on the street. I don’t like that.
Anyway, as I finished breakfast, my bowels wanted to move, and there was–as is the case in so many NY places–no public restroom. But I was 99% sure that the McDonald’s I’d passed would have a men’s room. McDonald’s and Starbuck’s (didn’t spot a Starbuck’s up there) are bathroom oases in Manhattan (although not every Starbuck’s has a bathroom).
“MUST SHOW PROOF OF PURCHASE TO USE RESTROOMS” proclaimed a large sign between the two bathrooms at McDonald’s. I was going to buy a cup of coffee or something, but a woman was coming out of the one labeled “Men” and she just held the door for me. I noticed there was no lock on the door.
Hmm. Maybe it locked automatically from the outside, like the dressing rooms at Wal-Mart, where an attendant has to let you in. (Once, after not being able to find an attendant at Wal-Mart, when I wanted to try jeans on, I just picked up the key on the counter and unlocked the door for myself. I immediately heard security paging an attendant. Cameras everywhere there.)
Or maybe someone would walk in on me. It was one of those one-person bathrooms. I’m not particularly shy or modest. Noticing the lack of a lock, mentally prepared for a possible crappus interruptus. So when it happened, it amused me more than anything else.
The lady who walked in on me? She has to live with the mental image of me on the toilet, holding a napkin in my hand (there was no toilet paper, just a stack of napkins), looking to see what I’d just wiped off, for the rest of her life. I could hear her outside the door, talking about how there are no locks.
I bet she knocks next time.
Me? I’ve had a great time telling the story. And, even though I used the restroom, I didn’t buy anything from that McDonald’s.