Last year, on one of my vacations to Vancouver, I took on an unique experience. Instead of relaxing or partying, I spent one of the nights working in the men’s bathroom at a popular nightclub. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.
I had already spent two straight nights partying it up in Vancouver when I got a message from a buddy who regularly hustled in the city’s nightlife scene. He routinely worked in the men’s bathrooms of several big nightclubs on Granville Street – you know, handing out soap, paper towels, etc., and earn tips from the patrons. For those of you who have been to nightclubs, you may have seen a black person doing this job. 90% of the time it’s a black person (disclaimer: this is just statistics, not racism).
So anyway, my buddy asked me if I’d like to try a shift at Queen’s Republic that night, since the regular guy was sick. That night was the biggest hip-hop night in the city, and I thought to myself, “if there was ever a time to do this, it’s probably tonight, since it will be busy and I should be able to make a lot bit of cash at least”. I accepted.
5 years ago, there was no way I would have said yes to this. Hand towel man in the men’s bathroom? Go tell that one to the Asian parents! But, the present-day me is a different me. I always keep an open mind, and I will rarely say no to a curious new opportunity (unless breaking the law or direct physical harm is involved).
I meet my buddy at his place at 9pm, and he gives me the mission briefing. Turns out this is more complicated than I had expected. What people don’t understand is that the bathroom man is actually a freelancer – he brings his own inventory to the bathroom (paper towels, soap, cologne/perfume, gum, mints, mouthwash, money-collecting vessel, etc.). All the club does is let him in and pay him a flat rate hourly wage (close to minimum wage). The rest is all up to the man himself. So, my buddy hands me a duffel bag containing all of the abovementioned items – basically the venture capital, for my one-night nightclub bathroom entrepreneurship. He brings another bag for himself, as he was going to work at a different club, and off we go.
I arrive at the nightclub at 11pm sharp, greet the bouncers, and go straight into the men’s room to set up shop. I line my cologne/perfume collection in single-file across the sink counter, stack my packs of gum and mints along the side wall, mouthwash just behind, and money jar just in front. A roll of paper towel stands on the counter beside me, and the bottle of creamy liquid soap in my hand, ready to squeeze. The duffel bag goes under the sink along with my jacket and umbrella. You need an umbrella for Raincouver in the winter.
It took 15-30 minutes before it started getting busy. I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous with my first couple of soap squeezes and paper towel handovers, but I did manage to collect the first couple of quarters and dollar coins. I put a five-dollar bill of my own in the money jar to present as a reference for what people should aim to tip. You gotta mix it up, you know, a couple of bills and some coins. Make it look natural.
My first big take of the night came along with a couple of Jamaican brothers, who came into the bathroom to “check their coats”. Yes, they basically greeted me and tossed their coats under the sink on top of my bag, and then handed me a TWENTY. Surely waiting in the coat check line isn’t worth $20? Time is money, I guess. Especially when you have money. I told the Rastas that I’ll take care of them, we fist bump, and they take off into the club while shouting something enthusiastically in Partois. My first $20 bill of the night, sweet.
The next client to have stuck with my memory was a well-dressed black man who looked like a slightly uglier version of T.I. He came in wearing a grey suit with a white shirt underneath, with the top two buttons unbuttoned. The guy took a piss and then stepped up in front of the sink to look at himself in the mirror. He flexed his shirt collar and spoke to himself in the mirror, “you de man! You de man! Don’t let ‘em tell you otherwise! I love myself!” Interesting pre-game pump-up… After doing this, the guy turned and swaggered his way out of the bathroom. He didn’t tip me. Actually, he didn’t even wash his hands after peeing. I especially did not approve of this second part, and mentally judged him as not actually being “de man”.
I had many other interesting patrons in the bathroom later on and throughout the night. A good-humoured brown brother, who was drunk/high/thoroughly enjoying his night, twice brought me vodka cranberries. I appreciated his generosity in drinks (instead of money), and we cheered and made jokes about life. It was a good time. I also saw a rich-looking Asian brother, who came to piss three times in quick-succession and checked himself out in front of the mirror for a full 10 seconds after each time. The guy had that obnoxiously overboard arrogance about him – the kind that you see with kids who drive their rich daddy’s Aston Martins to school, and to be honest I did not take a liking for him. However, on his final piss, he acknowledged me with a $20 money handshake. Can’t complain about that.
Having read this far, you are probably thinking that being the bathroom man sounds like a fun, exciting, and unpredictable job. Sorry to burst your bubble, but here is the part where I mention all the shitty (no pun intended) parts of the gig. First, people make a mess, like constantly missing the garbage bin, and I have to periodically go pick up all the paper towels on the floor. The later the night, the sloppier it gets, and that’s when you start seeing the pukers, drug users, and the people who cannot or don’t bother to aim at the urinal. Drug users are no issue – they go into the stalls to snort coke, and hand me a five or a ten when they come out. Hush hush, life goes on. The pukers are the worst though.
About halfway into the night, a brother comes in, and goes straight into the toilet stall. A vomit-thon ensued, probably for a good 20 minutes. After that, a few of his friends came in to check on him, and I got to see the damage in the stall. Not only did the guy puke all over the toilet seat, the floor, and everywhere imaginable, he was also passed out on the toilet bowl and even somehow managed to rip the toilet out of its place in the process! It was not a sight for the faint of heart. One of his friends told me that it was his birthday and he was not great at handling alcohol, blah blah, thanks Captain Obvious. But anyway, this friend, who appeared to be the responsible and wealthy type, handed me a $20 to not make a big deal of the gruesome scene. Thankfully, cleaning up puke and replacing the toilet are not part of my job, and all I had to do was to let the next bouncer who came into the bathroom know what happened.
Another character of note was a douchey fella who also made multiple trips into the bathroom. Each time he came in, he appeared more and more intoxicated, and eventually had to puke also. After puking, he returned to pee once more, and seemed a lot more conscious. However, when he came to wash his hands, he started complaining to me about the order by which I was handing him soap. He asked me, in a condescending tone, to remember to let him wet his hands first before handing him soap, and then give him three pieces of paper towel to dry his hands afterwards instead of one or two. It had to be three. He told me that if I do it right the next time he would tip me, even though he has not pulled out a penny all night. Since my duty was to provide customer service and not to punch bar patrons in the face, I simply nodded calmly. What do you know, the douchebag never came back to the bathroom again that night.
This last fella really ticked me off a bit, but thankfully, he was soon forgotten as I got around to count my tip earnings. After laying out all the bills and coins on a large table and counting them one-by-one, I came to a grand total of $430. Four-hundred-and-thirty-dollars! All for five hours of work, not too shabby. It also opened my eyes to just how much money can be accumulated from a pile of seemingly worthless coins. I told my buddy to keep the flat rate paid by the club, which was $10/hour, as compensation for his inventory that I consumed, and fell asleep like a baby.
From this hustle experience, I learned a few things. One, this is not the type of job for me, and I would not do it again unless I am dead broke. It was interesting and financially productive, but I feel that I do not have enough patience to spend another night observing human stupidity. Some of the behaviour I saw really makes me lose little bits of faith in humanity, and I certainly don’t want to become more cynical than I already somewhat am. But at the same time, I can totally see why people would do this job. My African friend told me that he knew people who would work in nightclub bathrooms a few times every week and would then buy a car in cash a few months later. Totally makes sense now.
When I told my close friends what I did that night in Vancouver, they all thought I was crazy. An Asian boy with a post-graduate degree spent a night working in a nightclub bathroom, taking tips from cokeheads? Really moving up in life there eh?! To this day, I still laugh about that. One thing I know for sure though – I have not an ounce of regret for doing what I did. I had a new experience, learned new things, and best of all, made enough money to cover my vacation spending. No laws or bones were broken in the process.