Assistant Manager of the Universe

I have no vest, no name tag, but I’ve realized I am the assistant manager of the universe. Apparently I have the permanent, nondescript visage of a jaded employee, one who can solve unimportant problems but really just wants to take a quick lunch break. There’s no paycheck with this position, just endless pestering, a stream of questions from lost souls who think I know what I’m doing, wherever I happen to be.

“Where’s the bathroom in this restaurant?”

“What aisle is the fat-free nondairy creamer in?”

“Can I take this fat-free, nondairy creamer into the bathroom?”

I’ve learned many things from the deluge of questions wherever I go, but the main thing is this: People are weird and they’re always looking for a bathroom. Even the Laundromat isn’t a safe place; I’m often asked about the best detergent and full fold-and-fluff services or, more often, “How do you work this thing?”

In my younger days, I chalked it all up to the fact that I worked at the information desk in a small-town chamber of commerce. Our little town is charming and colorful with steep hills topped by Victorian homes. It’s also eccentric enough that meds should be pumped directly into the water; perhaps a delightful Prozac/fluoride combo that would mellow out the locals, yet still give them great smiles. Mix that with a bustling tourist trade, and I have answered some very bizarre questions over the years, including how stretchy the laws are about first cousins marrying and if that giant statue on the edge of town is natural or manmade (also, is there a restaurant in the head?).

Just like fast-food employees reek of that French fry smell, I theorized that I gave off powerful information fumes when I left the job at the end of the day. I would walk into a grocery store past a couple studying an area map, and my all-knowing scent would waft into their nostrils and they would chase me down the potato chip aisle for directions to a country music show. Occasionally I would be backed up against a wall with an odd rant about parking, to which I would reply, “The bathroom is right over there,” and make my exit while they looked at me with the same stunned look as a grizzly bear finding a salmon singing “The Sun Will Come out Tomorrow.”

For the really tough cases, I would jingle keys in my pocket, look thoughtful, then point out some random person wearing a tie and say, “Oh, there’s the manager, you should talk to him.”

Once my young Info Desk days were done, and I settled into the snarky, comfortable life and sedentary body of a writer, I believed my days as an assistant manager at large were done. Alas, this was not the case. Back then I was young and cute and thought I knew everything, but now I’m middle-aged, wrinkled, and scowl enough that people suspect I must know everything, otherwise, why would I be so cranky?

But, as always, I end up helping them, just like I do when I’m still asked how to use the triple-load washers in the Laundromat, or how to find the embarrassing ointment aisle in Walmart. With each encounter, my patience gets a workout. Perhaps maybe I should just focus on job satisfaction.

When two fresh-faced yuppies stop their hybrid car to ask me about vegan restaurants while I’m speed-walking and dripping in fat-lady sweat, I should realize that these people trust me enough to involve me in their day. They’re saying, “Hey, you don’t look like a serial killer,” which should be taken as a compliment considering the state of the country today. I usually do know where all the bathrooms are located in any place at any given time, because I’m at the age where restroom proximity is need-to-know stuff. So I guess I can accept my status as the “ask her, she looks like she works here” woman. I’ll continue to answer questions about where you can return that hideous blouse or when the restaurant closes. It’s not a bad gig.

But I’m not touching that cleanup in aisle nine.