This morning began with the alarm clock – I promised my wife I’d be out of bed by 7:00. By 8:00 I’d put gas in the minivan, bought coffee and picked up a relatively new employee to join us on the way to New York. When I pumped the gas I noticed how cold it was out.

By the time we were passing Armonk, New York, I’d taken off my light jacket and noticed that the climate control fan was running a bit fast. So fast it was making a racket. Wonder of wonders, I had to turn on the air conditioning so the damn thing would slow down a bit. They say it’s more efficient than opening the windows and placing drag on the vehicle (but I’ll admit that I like air conditioned air).

We picked up our final passenger at his apartment building on the East Side by 11:30. Our destination was Panang, a wonderful Malaysian restaurant on 2nd just south of 83rd Street. Sure enough, a metered space was available. It ate six quarters (for a paltry hour’s time).

The particular blocks on 2nd Avenue right around the lower 80s are chock-full of restaurants; all of them open at 11:30, except Panang. There was a fellow inside mopping the floor and he motioned to us all ten fingers and then two; they opened at 12:00. Not very competitive if you ask me. You see, the problem was, I’d had two cups of coffee on the two hour drive from West Hartford, and man, to put it delicately, I was floating. Ready to burst. Had it not been that we were on an Avenue, I might’ve tried to ditch into an alleyway and relieve myself. All I wanted of this beautiful, sunny day was some time to walk around, free of the, er, discomfort I felt, so that I could enjoy the outdoors to its fullest.

Well, I walked into one restaurant, a Chinese one, and asked politely (in Mandarin) where the bathroom is. They replied in English “customer only!” I told them I wasn’t hungry, but I needed to use a bathroom and I’d be glad to buy a soda… “Customer only!” I guess buying a soda doesn’t make me a customer. On the way out I took a take-out menu and wrote “shit-list” on it.

The next place was a sharp-looking Italian spot. “Are you alone, sir?” The others were walking around outside, enjoying the weather. I responded in the affirmative and said that the others would be following me right away, and that I’d avail myself of the bathroom first. “Our restrooms are for customers only, sir.” What did I look like, anyway? I was wearing pressed slacks, a pressed shirt open at the collar, and a supple leather coat. Perhaps it was the ponytail that’d scared these two. Surely the place next door, a very glitzy Asian-Fusion spot would understand.

No luck. Not even with Mandarin. I was laughed out of the place, in fact, when I offered a $5 bill just to use the bathroom. Did they think I would use it to take a bath? Maybe they thought I’d use it to shoot up.

We passed a bar that was open. In I went, the barkeep asked me “what’ll ya have?” When I asked where the toilet was, he pointed in the direction of a corner of the room; workmen were tearing apart the men’s room and re: the ladies’ room,  he asserted that “the water’s shut off; you’ll have to wait.” I made a note to call the Health Department.

Finally, the witching hour arrived. Panang was indeed open. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last! I made a bee-line for the loo, whilst the other three were sat at the same back table we’d visited maybe three or four times, recently.

A pounding came at the door.

“Yes, just a moment please!” I tried to sound as pleasant as possible, given the circumstances.

More pounding.

“I’ll be finished in one minute!” Now I was getting angry.

Finally, the pounding sounded more like explosions in the small room than a polite knock. Before I washed my hands, I unlocked the door. There stood a small fellow in a white shirt and tie. “Customers only use washroom!” His voice was screechy.

Out I walked and I tried to go around the corner to our table. My wife, our employee and our banker giggled but said nothing as the little fellow started to show me out of the restaurant!

I cried out to them “okay, c’mon, the joke’s over!” They giggled but said nothing. The man had put me out the front door and mumbled something in Maylay that I’m sure was off-color. I stood outside for a moment, enjoying the weather, and then realized that it was probably time to put more quarters in the meter. I’d show them, the dirty bastards. I walked past Panang again, looked inside, and nobody made an effort to get up. Soon I was once again met with the angry glare of the boss’s face.

That was it. Yet another bar had opened for business. I plodded in, sat down, and ordered a Campari and soda. I was sipping away when the barkeep said, “That’ll be $8.”

My wife had my coat; in my coat was my wallet. All I had on me was about $2.00 worth of change. I tried to explain to this guy what was going on, and he wouldn’t hear it. He took the drink away from me, and said “now ya just get outta here and don’tcha come back!”

The thought crossed my mind to find a cop and put an end to this nonsense, at least by retrieving my coat. I had the car keys, and could’ve driven away in the minivan and spent some quality time alone parked along the river, or in Central Park.

Upon my return to Panang, the gig was up. The boss was extremely apologetic and wondered why my wife and friends would play such a trick on me. I responded by asking him why he’d jump the gun so fast and assume I wasn’t a customer, and pound on the bathroom door. His face turned bright red and he told me “they gave me $10 to do it; I am so very sorry sir.” I responded, “not as sorry as I am.” I ordered a Tanqueray martini, up with onions, this time.

(Oh, by the way, the meal was fine, as usual. And I went back and paid the bartender the $8 and guaranteed him a bad writeup in The New York Times. I think he believed it because the other three joined me whilst I paid up.)