The following pieces of writing are excerpts from the journals of Frank Malinowski, a men's room attendant from Queens, New York.
Mr. Malinowski compiled a diary throughout his entire career, never intending it to be made public. However, when young journalist Charles Koontz interviewed Mr. Malinowski, whilst studying the decline of the bathroom attendance occupation in 1984, he requested the rights to the diaries. At first, Mr. Malinowski was reluctant. However, after a few weeks of arduous persuasion from Koontz, he gave in.
These diaries are to be considered a historical landmark, an in-depth look into a little known occupation, and, for Mr. Malinowski, a release of the stress that was built on the trials and labors of the toilet attendance profession.
Mr. Malinowski has since retired. After his retirement, he was replaced by an electric hand dryer. Koontz, after speaking to Mr. Malinowski in 1991, asked him how he felt about the replacement, to which the then 78-year-old responded, "I suppose I ought to feel badly about it, and I would, if that machine weren't better than me at every aspect of the job."
The following diary entries are taken from the month of February, 1975.
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"There's nothing finer in life than a clean toilet."
-J. Edgar Hoover
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 1975
Today was a lonely day. I stood in solitude in a perfectly clean bathroom for what must have been about eleven hours. It was sad—being alone with my thoughts, that is. Then, at quitting time, I realized I had accidentally locked myself in when I had arrived that morning.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 1975
"I'm sorry, sir. That young man earlier, he took all the towels," I said. He just frowned angrily like I'd admitted to killing his dog.Today I decided to play a joke on the toilet users (and abusers). Basically, as well as the red waistcoat every men's room attendant in the world is provided with, a blue waistcoat is also supplied. Looking at both of these waistcoats hung next to each other gave me an incredible idea for a gag. My plan was to wear the red waistcoat when people entered the bathroom, and then, after they entered the cubicle—if they did, of course—change into the blue before they came out. When they returned and saw me wearing a different color it was bound to result in some form of hilarity.
So, today, I went in to work and waited in the bathroom, perkier than usual, excitedly anticipating the first entrant. Then, a young man—a business man, presumably—entered, and, to my luck, went straight into one of the cubicles. I hastily changed into the blue waistcoat and waited for what was sure to be a spectacular climax to the exquisitely planned practical joke.
After a few minutes, the man left the cubicle. I stood there with a big smile on my face, desperately resisting the urge to burst into uncontrollable laughter, leaving that for after the recognition so that the man and I could laugh it up together.
He glanced at me as he walked over to wash his hands, not saying a word. Then, he slowly washed his hands, with me watching getting ever more excited. He turned to me and I dried his hands for him, and, very slightly, I started motioning downwards towards the waistcoat with my head. I would look down at the waistcoat and then back up at the man, grinning intently. He gave me a bemused expression before turning and leaving. I was disappointed, but it was early.
Humor is the best laxative.After about twenty minutes—I had already changed back into the red waistcoat—another man, this time older, entered the room. I felt his age may have matured his sense of observation, and the thrill which I had felt at the time of the first man's entrance consumed me once again.
The man entered the cubicle. I hastily changed into the blue waistcoat and patiently awaited his return. He left the cubicle even faster than the first man had and walked straight out of the bathroom without washing his hands or anything. He didn't even look at me. Disheartened, but optimistic, I waited for more visitors to my white-tiled fortress.
However, the reactions of the first and second man seemed to set the tone for every single other person that entered the bathroom. They would act like the first, the second, or even a composite of the two, and nobody, not a single man, noticed the change. Nobody so much as looked at the waistcoat with a confused expression. With each man ignorant to the change, a little part of my soul would exit with them, and, by the end of the day, the practical joke had almost destroyed me. However, my mother always said, "If you ever quit at anything, ever, then I will no longer be your mother and you will no longer be my son," so I kept going, with the intention of continuing until the bitter, bitter end.
It was around seven ‘o clock when the man entered, eight being when I leave. He was middle aged and had a spark of humor in his eyes. He was bald and wore hefty glasses like Woody Allen—a sign, I thought—and his mouth was wide as if ready to smile at any moment. His eyes were dark and he looked as if he'd had a tough day, but this look of weariness only made him look as if he needed something to cheer him up, as if a joke would suddenly transform his wide mouth into a geyser, omitting laughter in a blast both powerful and consistent.
I envisioned the practical joke in action; I pictured him in fits of laughter, I pictured him patting me on the shoulder with admiration, and I pictured him thanking me for the funniest thing he had seen in a long time. If I have ever been absolutely certain of anything in my entire life it was that this man was going to get the joke.
The excited anticipation of the morning returned. He entered the cubicle, and I switched the waistcoats with the very same enthusiasm I had had when the first man was there. I waited and I waited, the humorous tension growing and growing. He was in there for a fairly long time, about 8 minutes maybe, and when I say maybe I mean exactly because I kept glancing at my watch every thirty seconds. Then he emerged from the cubicle, slowly stepping outside, and pausing in his step while he looked at me. We stood in silence for a moment while he looked at my face, then his head slowly began to work its way down to the waistcoat. I was watching his eyes—response is always first in the eyes. They widened, and then very slowly began to change, not to happiness, however, or sheer joy… but rage—pure rage. His face began turning red and the anger radiated from him, and his whole body started trembling in its inability to control the sheer uninhibited fury. He marched over to me and grabbed me by the collar, then he tossed me on to the floor behind him, and, as I fell, I cracked my shoulder off one of the sinks and then smacked the back of my head off the tiled floor.
As I regained what little composure I could, I looked up at him. He was standing, staring down at me, the rage still vibrating through his body, his clenched fists uncontrollably shaking and his face such a red that I have never seen another man turn that shade. He was the angriest I have ever seen any human being in my entire life.
"WHAT IS THIS!?" he yelled in the kind of voice you imagine a vengeful God would speak. "WHAT IS THIS!? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!?"
"I… I…. It's a… a joke," I managed to stutter with my wavy, fearful voice.
"YOU'RE SICK! THIS IS ABSOLUTELY SICK! YOU CALL THIS A JOKE? MESSING WITH PEOPLE'S LIVES LIKE THIS? SIR, IF THIS IS YOUR IDEA OF A JOKE THEN YOU DISGUST ME TO MY VERY CORE! PEOPLE LIKE YOU SHOULD BE KILLED, ENDED, FINISHED. NOBODY MESSES WITH LARRY SPHINX LIKE THIS—I'M A DOCTOR FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, AND YOU THINK YOU CAN TREAT ME LIKE THIS?"
"Please," I said quietly, trying to dispel any ideas he might have about me arguing against him. "It was just a joke. I didn't mean anything by it."
"YOU'LL REGRET THE DAY YOU SCREWED WITH LARRY SPHINX, MY FRIEND. OH YES. YOU'LL REGRET IT."
Then he paused for a moment, staring at me in a state of complete madness, as if trying to collect himself, or understand something, certainly not attempting to calm down. What I do know is, I was absolutely terrified. He then stormed out of the bathroom shouting:
"LARRY SPHINX HAS GOT FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES. OH YES. OH YES."
And, still shouting, his voice gradually fading into nothingness, he vanished from my day, and hopefully from my life.
All I know is, I'll never play that joke again—never.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 1975
Today, when I arrived in the bathroom, there was an entire cooked chicken in one of the urinals. It was still warm. I couldn't understand it. It was just placed neatly in there.
It saddens me to say that I ate that chicken.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 1975
Today I was accosted by a young gentleman who entered the bathroom waving a gun about. I told him to put it away and he grabbed me and led me to one of the cubicles. He was Hispanic, I think, and must have only been about 21. He put the gun to my throat. I said, "I knew it. I knew when I took the job it would all end like this."
Then he said, "Quiet, old man, I just want the cream, you know, the paper—the moolah. Hand it over, now."
And so I told him, "But it's only nine ‘o clock. The only money I get during the day comes from my tips. I've only got about four dollars over there in that saucer. You can HAVE that if you want. You could get a sandwich or something, maybe a bagel."
"Shut up, old man."
He knocked me down so I was sitting on the toilet staring into the bowl. Then I looked up and saw him take the four bucks. Then he took all of the towels, too.
"No," I cried out, "not the towels. NOT THE TOWELS."
But he was already gone.
I was pretty shaken by the whole event and stood in my spot crying for half an hour. Then, after the half an hour of weeping, a man stepped out of the cubicle next to the one where I had been struck and robbed in. He had been there the whole time. He had this big grin on his face, too. He was wearing lots of chains and had an enormous afro that, at times, scraped the ceiling.
"OOOOOOOOH," he said. "Those toilets are comfy."
Then he leaned close to my face and whispered, "Sometimes, at work, I go to the toilet and sit on it all day long."
Then he yelled, "WHOOOOOO, baby."
Then he suddenly leaned close to my face once again. "Sometimes I even drink from the toilet," he said.
And he spun around like he was on stage. He did a little dance, presumably in celebration of his toilet excursions, and then suddenly stopped. He put his hands out and we both stood in silence for a moment.
"I'm sorry, sir. That young man earlier, he took all the towels," I said.
He just frowned angrily like I'd admitted to killing his dog. "Oh baby, hell no, you should be ashamed of yourself. You a towel man with no towels, Jack. Now that's what I call a bad worker. Go on worker bee, fly back to your hive and cry to your queen."
I had no idea what he was talking about. But he looked at me as if in wait for a moment, as if he was literally expecting me to fly back to some kind of hive.
Then he burst into laughter and danced out of the bathroom, spinning three hundred and sixty degrees on his heel before smoothly walking backwards out of the door.
I nearly quit today.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 1975
Today, Friday, was and always is my favorite day of the week—mainly because it's cigar day. On cigar day, I blaze up a fine Cuban cigar, the ones I get from Higgins up the street. I light it at twelve and it usually lasts the whole hour. Today it may have lasted a little longer.
After I stubbed out the cigar, a young man entered the bathroom. I said hello but he didn't say a thing, just went into one of the cubicles. I thought it was fair enough and slumped back against the wall, waiting for him to come out so I could attend to my duties and then relax.
But, he didn't come out.
I kept looking at my watch, waiting fairly patiently, used to various bowel problems. But, after the wait and more wait, and, after that, even more wait, he still didn't show. He must have been in there for about five hours. People came and went and yet he remained. I waited and waited and waited till it was eight ‘o clock and I couldn't wait any longer. I knocked on the door and there was no reply, so, fearing that he may have choked on his own urine (I've seen it before and I'll see it again) I kicked the cubicle open.
What I saw completely took me by surprise. Basically, he had managed to get a tiny little wooden stool in there, somehow, and he was sitting on it facing the toilet. On top of the toilet, of which the seat was down, he had a portable television to which he was listening through big black headphones. On the television screen, there was some kind of war film; Charlton Heston was running towards what appeared to be a group of Nazis—I don't know, I only got to look at it for a moment, because, due to my violent entrance, the door had scraped across his back and he turned around to face me looking like a deer in headlights. He threw the headphones off, quickly shoved his hand into a baggy denim pocket, pulled out some mace and sprayed me in the face with it before sprinting out of the door and, presumably, into the night.
I'll never know why he did what he did. But I got a free TV and some headphones, so I don't really care.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 1975
Today I diagnosed twelve cases of genital warts. And people say that this job is pointless.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 1975
Today, in the bathroom, something happened that I will never forget. I was standing there reading the New York Times, smoking a cigar (it was about twelve thirty), when suddenly, in through the door, a four foot chimpanzee strolled in. It shuffled over to the urinal, unzipped its fly, and began doing what most human men do in that situation: it kept going and going before suddenly, midway through, he turned to me. He looked at me for a moment, studying my face, and then he said to me something that will remain with me till the day I die, the most beautiful thing I have ever heard and ever will hear. It was funny and tragic at the same time, and it made life make sense.
He then left.
MONDAY, FEBRURARY 24, 1975
Note: Personal studies prove that members of the Asian community spend longer on the act of urination than people of African descent. Do they hold more liquid within their exceptional bladders? Or, is it simply a level of Asian discipline that the Africans cannot compete with? These findings may eventually prove useful. Then I'll show them. Then I'll show everybody.
TUESDAY, FEBRURARY 25, 1975
I spent most of today leaning happily against the tiled wall reading The Koran.
It was around lunch time when the man came in. He went straight into the cubicle without a nod, and it wasn't ‘til after about five minutes that he made a re-appearance. Watching him re-emerge, I thought of the second coming of Christ, and then wondered, whilst drying his hands, if that was sacrilegious. I ended up deciding that it was his facial hair that made me think of Christ, averting intelligently any deep contemplation of my own religious beliefs.
After drying his hands, quite perfectly I thought, he turned to me and said, "Sir, you will now dry my moustache, please."
And I said, "Well, it's not in my occupation, but sure. Did you use it when you were in there?"
And I motioned over to the cubicle as I began delicately drying the ‘tache. He didn't reply to my question but I assumed I was right as the ‘tache was soaking wet. Then, after finishing, I stood back like an artist looking for the first time at a completed canvas, proud of my work. He began fingering the moustache, smoothly moving the tips of his fingers across, left then right then left then right, etc.
Then he said abruptly, "Sir, your job was not sufficient, it seems. I just found a droplet on the starboard side."
"What are you talking about?" I replied.
"My moustache," he shouted, "it's still moist, man. Fix it."
"No," I said. "Not at all. I will not do that."
"Fix it," he said. "Fix it or I shall hit you. I shall hit you until you cease to live."
It was then that the pent up rage I had been carrying within my bowels for some time emptied in a series of short bursts in which I frantically attacked his face and body with my speedy fists. It came from nowhere; before I knew it I was feeling flesh and moustache-hair collide with powerful impact against my angry, angry knuckles. He kept saying "Oof," "Ouch" and other various cartoon-esque phrases like that.
Then I delivered the final blow, knocking him back into the wall on the opposite side of the room, when, upon hitting it, he slumped forward; he then put his hands forward to hold his weight as he fell, but they buckled under the pressure and he went down onto his face.
I then watched in silence as he slowly raised himself to his feet. When he got up he pointed at me in a violent manner before stumbling out of the bathroom yelling, "Vengeance, my friend. Vengeance shall be served. I know Larry Sphinx!"
Men's room attendance is a violent profession.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 1975
Today I made a mistake. I shamed my attendant forefathers by, as one would most likely call it nowadays, "having a go on my own urinal." I gave in to the pressures of the world and allowed my personal desire to urinate come before my desire to serve the community as a proper and decent attendant of the men's room.
The trouble is that using the urinal isn't the worst part.
It was around two when I decided to do it, fulfilling my private urges and bringing shame upon the history of the occupation. I, of course, unzipped the old fly, stood in front of the old urinal, and began doing the old act (the oldest act, one might argue). And it was at that moment, around mid-leak, that a customer, a visitor to my palace, entered. The man who stood for a moment at the door may not have known the deep shame embedded in what it was I was doing, but I could tell in his eyes he understood something was wrong; and his understanding of the wrongness reflected in me, and I found I couldn't even finish. I dried the man's hands before he left, mustering up all the dignity that I could, but he could clearly see the tears welling up in my eyes, just as I could feel them.
Now, the future is unclear. Do I live this down? Move on with life and continue, making up for the deed with hard work and service to the men's room; or, the other option—hari-kari (honorable suicide), the ancient tradition held in the cultures of the samurai, and, of course, the men's room attendant. Is it the only way to find redemption?
Well, no matter what choice I make I can always remain focused on the inevitable to keep myself grounded in sanity. Time remains consistent throughout whatever crises a human must go through and I must remember this at all times. The sad month of February has drawn to a close and emerging on the blue horizon is the sad month of March. White tiles prevent the earth in all its glory from reaching me, yet I still feel in sync with the months and the seasons and the days and the minutes. I am a men's room attendant; another inevitability I can always depend on is the men's room, something that needs, and always will need, attending. If I decide to end it all, who will replace the urinal cakes?
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The complete diary of Frank Malinowski is available in hard and soft editions under the title "Diary of a Men's Room Attendant: Reflections from a Toilet" by Frank Malinowski, edited by Charles Koontz.