I desperately need the loo in a shop called Anthropologie. I’m with my wife Holly – as opposed to my wife Leah, or my wife Rachel – and we are browsing ahead of her birthday. She’s flicking through the racks to hint at what she might like me to give her as a spontaneous present.
At first I was rather excited about the prospect of Anthropologie. For why might this not also be a trip to find myself some cool clothes? But the misspelling of ‘anthropology’ is not the only painful thing about the place. With brazen disregard for the most basic Greek vocabulary a shop trading off ‘anthropos’ only sells women’s clothes. Deceived, deflated, devastated, this excursion is going to be all about Holly after all.
Worse are the rumblings deep within. Why oh why is it that while one is browsing that one’s biology is so often obtrusive? But ‘fret not!’ I tell myself. This is America. And, mercifully, American stores are far more likely to have customer loos. I don’t know whether this is down to the superior customer service. Or whether it’s just because the facilities are that much bigger. But Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, Walmart – they’re all kitted out with spas, saunas, jacuzzis. So I ask a sensationally smiley sales assistant if she could possibly tell me if there might possibly be a loo I could possibly use. ‘Of course’ is the immediate reply. But instead of pointing me in their general direction she proceeds to ask me whether I could just wait one second while she finds someone to assist me. Assist me?! She doesn’t hang around long enough for me to proudly assure her I am toilet-trained. And that the stabilisers have been taken off my tricycle.
A couple minutes pass. Before another assistant emerges and calls out across the store. ‘WHO NEEDED THE RESTROOM?’ Oh Lord the shame. Because I can’t hide – the staff would be sure to find me. And I can’t leave – Holly isn’t done hinting. So I own up, and am duly led off across the store.
But rather than just accompanying me to the elusive customer loos, it now seems I am to be ushered into the staff loos. This is customer service par excellence. Behind the Persian-patterned skirts and matching rolling pins we head backstage.
Clambering over staff bicycles and cleaning equipment and old stock we finally find the loo. But as I’m being dropped off I am suddenly seized with a new fear. For if – as has become apparent – I need to be supervised to get to the loos, will this sales assistant have to wait while I’m in the loo? Because it might be a while.
Forty-five minutes later I finish up and wash my hands. Feeling two stone lighter I emerge from the staff restroom, glancing around furtively. No one in sight. Phew! So I sneak back into the store – hoping against hope that I had in fact been left to my own devices – and pretend to take up where I left off: “Yes, sweetheart, these $150 mugs are distinctive.” But alas: I soon catch sight of my guardian discreetly slipping back onto the shop floor as well. Having just taken her out of action for the better part of an hour, I nod appreciation awkwardly. She smiles as if to say ‘no problem at all.’ Where do they find these saintly people?