Making a Living in a Restroom
They deal with drunks, dirt and unpleasant odors with patience and politeness. Such is the life of bathroom attendants. El Diario La Prensa’s Zaira Cortés reports on the challenges faced by women who keep the bathrooms clean in nightclubs, cafes and restaurants. The article below was translated from Spanish.
They work in restaurants and nightclubs, but they deal with the worst part of the fun times. They work long hours cleaning and putting up with unpleasant odors in exchange for tips, but they are used to clients looking down upon them. That is what life is like for many women whose workplace is a restroom.
“When somebody drinks too much and gets everything dirty, it’s a real nightmare,” said María with an unexpected smile. She works at a popular nightclub in Queens, but requested that her name be changed for this story out of fear that her boss would get upset.
María described in detail what happens when female patrons drink too much. Their party ends in the bathroom.
“When those things happen, there is normally a long line of people waiting to use the restroom and I have to clean up the chaos very quickly,” she said.
Martha Botero, 22, cleans the restroom at Mama Juana Café in Queens on the weekends from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., and has had similar experiences.
“Cleaning bathrooms might seem like an easy job, but it requires patience to deal with people, especially if they are difficult. I always have to be respectful and keep the atmosphere calm,” said Botero.
A night of getting wasted…
Gossip, drama, infidelities…In this line of work, the women who clean public restrooms find out details about their clients’ lives that perhaps not even the clients’ best friends know about.
Botero said that the bathroom is “a therapy room” where “you hear and see everything.”
“There are women who talk about unlucky romances, others about problems at home and work.”
Botero explained that she has to be focused and maintain a sense of control, asking clients to wait their turn when the restroom is full, and kindly pressuring those who are taking too long to finish up.
For her part, María said that besides listening to many of the clients’ dramas, she often has to help fix dresses that are perhaps too tight.
“I carry a needle and thread to help sew a ripped dress,” she said.
Understanding the business
The tasks that they don’t expect, like recognizing what their clients need, is part of the secret to making the most out of their line of work.
“I’ve earned up to $10 in tips for sewing a dress,” said María. “I also sell gum and offer the women perfume after they’ve been sweating from dancing.”
Botero said that on a good night, she is able to earn up to $70 in tips.
But her work isn’t always appreciated.
“Some clients feel uncomfortable because they don’t bring their wallets with them into the restroom, and they don’t know what to do when it’s time to give tips. Others blush a little out of embarrassment, but my job is to be polite to everyone.”
María said she is able to earn up to $350 over three days from a combination of tips and wages.