On Monday night I took part in a velvet revolution at the Javits Center.
I, along with approximately 4000 other people, was there to attend the benefit gala for the Robin Hood Foundation, the NYC anti-poverty charity founded by hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones. The evening was in full swing. We had already devoured our cream-filled cupcakes, and the room now buzzed with anticipation of "Rah Rah Ooolala." Every year the benefit closes with a blockbuster musical performance. This year, Lady Gaga had agreed not only to perform but, as Brian Williams told us, to forego any fee for her performance, a testament to Robin Hood's success and her undeniable greatness.
If I was going to make it to the bathroom before the show, this was my opportunity. I asked someone at my table where it was, and she gestured vaguely to my left. Nothing was visible beyond a sea of spot-lit tables, but I headed purposefully in that direction. When I reached the last row of tables, I followed a crowd of people filing through black curtains out of the main room. We found ourselves in front of a two-story trailer accessed by a set of rickety aluminum stairs. I froze: porta-potties. They looked very... nice, as porta-potties go. I'm sure they were clean with various luxe accessories -- hand sanitizer, hand moisturizer, maybe even individually-wrapped peppermints in silver bowls. After all, the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Martha Stewart might have to use these porta-potties. But there was a line. A pretty long line. If I'm going to wait on a line, it's not going be for a porta-potty, I resolved.
"Where are the other bathrooms?" I asked a man with a badge hanging around his neck. After a considerable walk, I spied a white tiled wall in the distance, glowing lavender in the spotlights. Finally! Before I had gotten within forty feet of the bathroom though, I encountered the line. To the left of the entrance to the women's bathroom was the entrance to the men's for which, of course, there was NO LINE. That's right: no line at all. I watched enviously as one suited man after another entered only to emerge mere moments later. Meanwhile, the approximately 20-person line I was on seemed not to be moving at all. I started to worry. I imagined my ten-year-old son asking me about Gaga's performance the next day and my having to tell him I had missed "Born this Way" because I was in the john. "Why didn't you go before?" he'd admonish me as I always do him.
I looked up and down the line of lovely, sparkling, frowning ladies and realized we were all looking in the same direction... at the men breezing happily in and out of their bathroom. We were all wondering the same thing, the same thing women wonder at any well-attended event: why, why, why am I waiting on line for the women's bathroom when there is no line for the men's? This is unfair, unjust; this is just poor logistics.
Obviously, this was an insane allocation of bathroom real estate. Robin Hood is the charity darling of the hedge fund world. Wasn't there someone involved with the organization who could build a model to determine the equitable distribution of toilets, taking into consideration the number of women and men in attendance, the average glasses of alcohol consumed by each sex, average number of each sex's bathroom trips at a social event where alcohol is consumed, number of men who will use a urinal, etc.? Surely, someone could figure this out. They just hadn't tried.
This disastrous distribution of stalls could rob us of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I began to hear snatches of discontent percolating all around me, "[grumble, grumble] Never a line for the men's room, [grumble, grumble] we should just go in [grumble, grumble]." As our bitterness mounted, so did our discomfort, and I noticed some begin to shift uncomfortably from Jimmy Choo to Jimmy Choo. We glared at the men filing past us like scabs crossing a picket line. Some of them hung their heads to avoid eye contact, others smiled sympathetically and shrugged slightly as if to say, "Hey, sorry." Then I heard a man hiss seductively as he sauntered past, "There are free stalls. Lots of free stalls."
We looked around at each other with raised eyebrows. Had we just been invited to invade? Had we been given permission? Women began to do recon, conducting whispered interrogations of men as they passed: where were the urinals? Could you get to the stalls without passing them? Were there really free stalls? I had recently moved forward several feet and was assessing how much longer it would take to get into the ladies' room when, from somewhere behind me, a woman marched forward leading a phalanx of six other woman. The leader, clad in a simple black-and-white sheath, somewhere in her forties, headed straight for the entrance to the men's bathroom with the purpose of Norma Rae, her head held high, her arms swinging akimbo. She did not scurry in, hoping that no one would see her, as would have been my strategy. We all watched, stunned silent, as she and her foot soldiers disappeared behind the tiled wall. Seconds passed as those of us still standing on line glanced at each other in tacit confirmation.
And, then, yes, Gentle Reader, the rest of us stormed the men's room.
Amazingly, we met no resistance. In fact, we were greeted with sly, conspiratorial smiles and hearty chuckles. They seemed to be wondering what had taken us so long. And the urinals were mercifully tucked in a corner away from the stalls and out of sight. Of course, my-sisters-in-arms and I were our own line so even though there had been vacant stalls before we'd occupied the men's room, I had to wait a couple of minutes once inside. As I watched for a free stall, an oafish man in pinstripes stepped in front of me, arms outstretched, to block the entrance to the urinals. "You can't have these," he announced in slightly slurred speech. "You can keep those," I said to myself.
Moments later, I entered my hard-won stall. As I peed, I listened to the pleasant blend of men's and women's voices. "So this is where the action is," I heard one man say. Exiting the stall, I stopped for a second to appreciate the scene reflected in the mirror over sinks. It was a new day: men and woman washing hands and preening side by side. I washed and dried my hands quickly and exited the men's room behind a tall, slender woman in a form-fitting, black sequined dress. As she turned to greet friends outside the bathrooms, I caught a glimpse of her face and recognized her immediately as Gisele Bȕndchen. I had stormed the men's room with a supermodel!
Navigating in the dim light through the hundreds of tables back to my husband, flush from my social transgression and bladder relief, I wondered, like the good Jewish girl I am, "Mah Nish Tana Halai Ha-Zeh?" What made tonight different from all other nights? Why had we taken our rightful place at the surplus stalls on this night? Were we driven by our desire to see Gaga, or was it even more, to get a little Gaga ourselves? I was still pondering this question when I finally located my table and sat down. Shortly thereafter, they carried Lady Gaga past me cradled aloft in her pod, and I smiled, thinking that she would have taken great pleasure in our coup for it was, after all, what she would have done, wasn't it?