Temp receptionist as keymaster… keeper of the bathroom key

Are you the keymaster? Why, yes, yes I am.

Are you the keymaster? Can I have the bathroom key?

The receptionist is keeper of the bathroom key. I prefer the title, “Keymaster,” as it sounds much more badass. This is an important responsibility; without bathrooms and keys to them, nothing would get done around the office after about 11:00 Monday morning. But the responsibility requires very little actual work. There is no rationing or tracking of keys. There is no evaluation process to determine who has worked enough to deserve access. I rarely even touched the keys, unless, I, myself, needed to go. They sat in a wire organizational basket at the corner of the desk, three women’s keys in back, three men’s in front. People took them as needed. Others, like wifey, used their own. The receptionist’s only responsibility is to email the office when the keys don’t find their way home. Being a temp, I didn’t even have to do that.

The job of Keymaster – Bathroom Key Manager on my updated resume – required no physical effort. But it did take up an inordinate amount of brain space. The circumstances surrounding the keys were a little dicey. There’s a certain etiquette to be mastered, a certain awareness required in the delicate two-second encounter that repeats itself all day long. Maybe you’re aware of the subtle maneuvering at every bank of urinals in every men’s bathroom; the front desk key pickup falls into that category. Experienced receptionists master it. Temps, like me, just try to muddle through.

From the front desk, looking out across the lobby, I could sometimes tell when an approaching person needed the bathroom key. They walked quickly, with a purpose. Their eyes said, “don’t bother me, I have pressing business to attend to.” I didn’t pick up on this my first day. I made eye contact and smiled at approaching people, trying to be friendly and make a good impression. I sometimes said, “hello,” and started a conversation. They were walking my direction, so logic and previous work experience suggested they wanted to talk to me. They didn’t. They needed the bathroom key. And I received a few odd looks for my gaffe. Even those who stopped to chat were probably just being polite. Clenching up, they probably thought, “he’s new, I’ll let it slide. But next time I’ll have to jab that key in his larynx.”

The realization that I was grinning at and making small talk with people on their way to the bathroom made me feel totally skeezy. It wasn’t as bad as the homeless guy in the Port Authority who solicits change from people at urinals. But it wasn’t exactly the impression I was going for either. I abruptly changed my approach. Instead of looking at people, I looked past them. That way there was acknowledgment without creepiness. I saw them but didn’t make eye contact. It suggested that I was aware of their presence but not specifically interested in them or their actions. The approach works for avoiding crazies on the subway, so why not in an office with normal people? But then I felt rude. People there were friendly and nice, and they all know wifey. My revised approach was standoffish and perhaps confusing. Occasionally someone actually wanted to talk to me and I appeared to ignore them.

So I tried yet another approach… not reacting at all. I carried on with the phone answering, door buzzing and internet surfing, pretending not to see them. I didn’t look in the person’s direction at all. I didn’t even glance up or shift in my seat. If they wanted to talk to me, they would. And I would respond. This approach seemed to work best, vagaries aside. It got me through the rest of my time, relatively gaffe-free. Mastering the finer points would require a long-term stint is Keymaster. Here’s an example of a typical occurrence. Some people approached the front desk quietly and from behind, startling me and forcing me to look up and break form. I’d need weeks, perhaps months, of conditioning and simulation to avoid this reaction.

I moved on to another bathroom key-related matter… tracking exactly what people left on the desk, seemingly in exchange for the key. (This sentence makes me wonder if maybe I could’ve used my time more wisely.) Because the keys live there, the front desk serves as a way station. Staff and passersby left all kinds of stuff for temporary safekeeping… drinks, lunches, notebooks, pens, packages, gifts, money, purses, jackets, scarves, gloves, and more. Unfortunately, nobody left an armadillo or a space helmet, or something else not typically found in an office. People usually asked for permission, or commented in acknowledgment. Sometimes they didn’t. I didn’t mind either way; they always came back. My favorite remark – “don’t let anybody roofy this” – accompanied the leaving of a cup of coffee. I laughed, as I fingered the knockout drugs in my pocket. They’d have to wait for my next visit to the Meatpacking District.

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One Comment

  1. Kathe Stoepel wrote:

    This was an actual email sent from my previous place of employment. I was laid off over a year ago which stinks but not working at this place is a good thing.

    Ladies, it is unfortunate, but necessary that we send out a plea to gain support for a clean ladies restroom and hygienically responsible users.

    Some of our colleagues are engaging in some troublesome bathroom habits.

    Having to make such a request on behalf of all women using the facility is disappointing and embarrassing…we need to respect each other and clean up after ourselves as this is common potty space for all of us.

    The rules are pretty simple:

    1. Flush; multiple times, if necessary. It’s not so hard. If you’re squeamish about touching the toilet handle, then use your foot. But for the love of all things holy, FLUSH COMPLETELY. If there’s a chance that more than one flush might be required (and yes, you KNOW when those occasions are), hang around and make sure that the job is done. A courtesy flush is a sign of respect to others and appreciated by all.

    2. If your pee or other bodily fluids go beyond the covered seat – please wipe it up. We don’t have a pee cleaning service here you need to clean after yourself.

    3. If you are the cause of a clog, and you KNOW if you are, kindly take it upon yourself to first, attempt to correct it; and secondly, report it!

    4. There are receptacles in each stall to collect sanitary items. Sanitary items ARE NOT to be flushed in the toilet. Again, if you are the cause of a mess that involves sanitary items, kindly take it upon yourself to first, attempt to correct it; and secondly, report it!

    5. Good dental habits are great. Everyone appreciates fresh breathe, however no one appreciates using a sink that has a glob of toothpaste spit in it. Rinse the sink. Use the Clorox Wipes provided, and wipe the sink.

    6. WHETHER AT THE TOILET OR AT THE SINK, CHECK BEHIND YOU WHEN YOU’RE DONE.

    7. Wash your hands after EVERY bathroom event. Failing to do so passes on diseases and is just plain nasty.

    Anything else is unhealthy and unsanitary. We have business meetings with outside guests in the office frequently – as well as donors. If they use the restroom they probably leave thinking that the Association has women working here with very poor hygiene and very little respect for each other.

    We’ve already implemented several measures to assist all in maintaining bathroom etiquette, but as evidenced by the need to send this communication, we are at a loss, truly at how to get this problem corrected for all of us.

    We aren’t going to hire potty monitors…and we don’t have a cleaning crew standing by to clean up after your poor habits. We recognize that most of our staff does not behave in the manner above and is mutually disgusted at the state of the ladies room and the poor hygiene practices that follow some ladies out of the rest room.

    So please, on behalf of those of us who do display respectful potty habits – let’s ALL do the right thing.

    Human Resources and Office Management

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

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  1. […] pick up the key from the front desk, in waves. Busy times are generally around 11:00 and 3:00. (Bathroom key etiquette is complicated enough to deserve it’s own post.) I’ve settled into my own patterns. […]