Toilet Tales 02
Having given up a so-called proper job to become a writer I reviewed my end-of-year accounts where in the In column I had fifty pounds which I’d won on the premium bonds, the two tickets I’d won to an American podcast recording in a science-fiction bar, and the two I’d also won to a National Theatre play. And that was all. I’d once been disillusioned about the paltry sums earned by writers, but even so this was going some.
As I considered the outgoings I realised that my so-called new annual income had been more than eclipsed with what I’d spent on hot beverages in a certain well-known high-street coffee shop where I, laughingly, claimed to be renting office space. To be honest I think I can see where the problem lies and I’m pretty sure this means that now would be the proper time to cancel the staff Christmas party and to put myself in the hands of the receivers to see if they can find a buyer before the asset strippers move in and take my kidneys.
Very early on in my writing career I’d learnt to short-circuit any worry I may have had about the money I was spending in Costa Coffee as I looked on the price of a large Americano, or a pot of hot tea, as an investment in one square metre of the future. This was an investment which saw me, on a good day, sitting in the pride of place on the end of the comfy sofa pushed up against the wall for a couple of hours, with a view of every happening, as if I were a proper customer; although during busy periods I’d find myself in my rightful position on the solitary table outside the toilet in-between the fridge where they stored the milk and the open emergency exit door. Some monks self-flagellate themselves as a bodily penance, rightly punishing themselves for their sin and what they’ve descended to in life, and similarly I can work on a leaning table that appears more like a drawing board with the heady aroma of urine which sometimes drifts up from the drains. I knew my place in society and it was in the gutter.
Once a proper old dear, about as tall as she was wide, rocked up to me whilst I was sitting there coolly reading French literature, like a proper bohemian; the only thing missing was a glass of absinthe and an on-the-go black cigarette. Whilst she was waiting to spend a penny she interrupted me to tell me how Costa did a really good cup of coffee. I politely agreed and tried to carry on. “They do a good pot of tea too,” then, after a pause, she continued; “don’t you?” I then realised that this women thought that I worked there. The assumption obviously being made is that the order of rank in Costa sees black shirts for the staff, beige for management, and some sort of magenta for the super manager who doesn’t lower himself to get involved with the likes of the milk steamer or a coffee bean grinder and instead just sits idly in the corner all regal and purple like a lonely Roman Emperor.
Not finished, she carried on: “You have good muffins, don’t you?” Not wishing to comment on the state of my muffins, exquisite or otherwise, I decided it was time to disillusion her, but she wouldn’t listen to a word I said and instead just kept wittering on over everything that fell out of my mouth until the toilet door unlocked and she departed from my realm none the wiser.
It’s not a unique experience as on another occasion I also got mistaken for being the boss. At least I assume this was what I was supposed to be, but then what other sort of worker would be sat about miserably, on his own, on a table facing the wall at the back near the toilet? Once I would have found this funny, but the person in question looked like an on-the-edge rough-looking figure and so, when he asked, I gave him permission to use the facilities. Well why not? When he emerged from the toilet he thanked me politely and, before entering into deeper negotiations, he paused and asked: “You do work here don’t you?” When I broke to him the news that I actually didn’t he seemed quite perturbed and immediately cut me dead before going off to find someone who did. I may well be spending way too much time in there, in my seat in the gutter of society, but at least I could still say that the tramps still seemed to look up to me.
Further evidence that I’m not yet the lowest of the low in there, even if it isn’t that far off, can be judged by the fact that I have witnessed a large incensed woman banging on the toilet door, shouting at the man within to hurry up, before abusing him when he got out, and have heard tales of another drunk who wet themselves whilst trying to get in, before turning his soggy ire on the staff. I may be sitting in the gutter, but at least I’m looking up at the stars, from my vantage point which gets enveloped in a cloying cloud of acetone at the end of the day when the Asian nail bar next door flushes their waste solvent buckets down the gutter out back: an act which causes the drains to back up and allows me to reminisce about the worst days of trench warfare.
Still, looking on the bright side, being the chemist I once was I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of nostalgia for a life once led, as I choked and sputtered. And, if nothing else I thought, at least it might mask the smell of urine if only for just a bit.