In my first few years of work at the Martin, I was occasionally assigned the men’s room. With the drape of my black-suited back to the white tiled wall, I took note of the ways and means of the men around me.
It struck me as unusually busy for a Tuesday morning. I selected my stall. As I stepped out, a man, strongly disapproving of his phone, walked straight into me.
“Oh!” he exclaimed.
“Not at all,” I said. “After you.”
The man was short and his jaw hit my chest with a toddler’s meaty determination. He bowed slightly to me. “Sorry,” he said.
Men are more honest in public restrooms. There is a tenderness. Men charge the world but for a few minutes each day when we find ourselves in a public restroom, a new space envelops us and we are careful. Several times when working the men’s room in my earlier years, I heard the groan of men suffering any number of ailments as they labored away in locked stalls, only to emerge with a smile, even a tip for me. I never encouraged it.
I washed my hands with the same speed and efficiency I once used to tidy the sink and wipe water away from the white marble countertop. The real gift of the Martin shines through even—especially, perhaps—in our restrooms. The reliable gleam of our doorknobs. The calibrated silence of our faucets. The exacting angles of our pressed towels. The grip of antique locks.
After I wiped down the sink, yielding to force of habit, I received a tip from the man who had run into me.
“Great job,” he said. “That’s a great job.”
“Thank you,” I said. I slipped the bills into my pocket. It doesn’t bother me.
Back into my old ways now, I nodded and bowed to passing guests. And I observed again how we pace ourselves in private places, the careful steps to the side, the calibrations.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Good day, sir.”
“Your towel, sir.”
The smallest, most modest room at our hotel starts at seven hundred twenty-eight dollars per night, before tax and gratuity, and the average stay is three nights. We have a strict application process that all guests must submit to. The waiting must stretch to over 13 years now. But for these efforts, our guest is, I think, sufficiently rewarded.
He drinks, and is at home with a bourbon or scotch to hand, one cube, and perhaps just a sip of water on top. And many nights I have seen a slurring guest in control of millions walk away from the very contents of his pockets. Our guest is forgetful. Wallets. Keys. Credit cards. Mobile phones. Some men feel very strongly the need to unload these burdens from their person at the moment they enter a stall, or the restroom as a whole, or even just the lobby. A wallet and wad of keys come out to adjust a sports coat, to check it’s fall, to inspect a widow’s peak. His phone is observed and placed down on the counter. Now the hands are washed, dried, the side of the nose is regarded, and, occasionally, the man departs, retrieving nothing. People walk away from things.
So, in short, ours is a wealthy, drinking, forgetting man. Of course, these people are everywhere. Equally, there are exceptions. But they are nowhere in greater numbers, in such high concentration, as in the best hotels of the world.