What is this place? I wondered stumbling upon the Presidio Heights glassbaby shop. What’s a glassbaby? As usual, my curiosity got the best of me and I stepped inside. Bright was the interior. Walls the calmest shade of white, sterile unlike my grandmother’s favorite eggshell that aged like sepia and reminded me of toasted-urine. Everything was a blank canvas with one sole purpose—to showcase glassbabies. No silly, not glass sculptures of babies, but hundreds of colorful hand-blown tealight candle holders. Each one a vibrant unique color transporting me to that duty-free Murano glass shop in San Marino, Italy I visited in 2002. Blue turquoise brought me back to the reefs off the deck of the beach house we rented in Moorea, Tahiti. A reddish purple the color of blood inside a phlebotomist’s tube. No two were the same and I couldn’t stop picking them up and arranging them into color coordinated trios. What a fun gift? I thought. Perfect for a housewarming, wedding, or glassbaby shower.
“Each is one of a kind,” the young salesclerk said trying to get a head start on restocking some of the glassbabies I pulled out because I’m totally one of those shoppers who needs to leave my fingerprints on everything in the store. It’s my process. I asked about the history of glassbaby and what they’re all about. The gift idea got even better when she told me the company was founded by a cancer survivor who donates proceeds from the sale of each glassbaby to charities that help cancer patients heal.
“Excuse me, but you’re a man,” a woman said, stomping in from the back of the shop, “can you help us?”
“Well I don’t know,” I said, relieved she got my gender right, “that depends…”
The woman looked frazzled and anxious. Her frizzy blond perm was all over the place reminding me of a crazy Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.
“My daughter is locked in the bathroom.”
“Ha! that’s funny,” I said, laughing at the irony. A frantic mother was asking for my help because she probably mistook my handsome muscular exterior for the kind of masculine brute strength that can kick open doors. “Well, I’ll try my best,” I said, “but I not making any promises, because…well…look at me.” I gestured with my hands flamboyantly around my gray seersucker shorts and lilac polo that was two sizes too small. “I’M—A—GAY.”
Once I’d spelled it out for her, she sighed acknowledging my shortcomings, but she was in a shop called glassbaby that only sells hand-blown glass votive holders—I was as good as she was gonna get.
As I walked back toward the bathroom I could hear her daughter humming inside. I kneeled down by the latch to get a better look at the situation. It was a pocket door with one of those little knobs the size of a dime that’s always such a pain in the ass to open because the makers expect you to pinch a lip with your thumb and forefinger that’s only raised an eighth of an inch out from the surface.
I could see the back of the latch screw thingy. There was a narrow channel running the diameter. Easy peasy I thought. I just needed a screwdriver to reverse the latch from within the doorframe catch and the panicked teenager goes free with my masculinity intact.
“So I just need a flathead screwdriver and we should be good to go.”
“OH MY GOD! WHO IS THAT?” the girl on the toilet screamed after hearing my voice; a reaction that’s unfortunately quite common. I held my hands up like I wasn’t doing anything and looked toward the mom for approval to proceed.
“Don’t worry about her,” the mom said, “she’s an embarrassed teenager.”
“I’m just glad she’s not eight years old.” I said to the Glenn Not-so-Close who was now looking at the wall of eggplant and lavender glassbabies. I turned toward the door, “hey, I’m gonna get you out of here okay.” Shit! I thought to myself, realizing I’d just made her a promise I’d have to keep because I was officially no longer a passerby. In minutes I’d gone from observer to being fully invested in getting this girl out of the bathroom.
“Hey!” I said, raising my voice to get the shop girl’s attention, because she clearly thought Windexing my cooties off the glassbabies I’d handled was more important than helping us problem solve the whole customer-trapped-in-the-bathroom shit-u-ation I was dealing with.
“Um—yeah, did you need something?” she asked.
I wanted to remind her that I—a gay Jewish food and travel blogger—was her best chance at getting the door open quickly and then realized that wasn’t much to brag about. So I say nothing.
“I need a flathead screwdriver,” I said. “Probably a middle-sized one because this doesn’t look like more than the width of a…” I stopped speaking because I had no idea what I was talking about, and besides, the clerk gave me this constipated look, like she was just waiting to interject, so I let her.
“Yeah, um, so we don’t have a screwdriver,” she said. Her exaggerated I’m sorry face was irritating. “We threw it over the wall earlier thinking the bathroom ceiling was open to the rest of the shop, and….well…it isn’t.”
We all looked at each other. I at the mom rolling her eyes who was looking at the clerk, who was looking at me, and every permutation thereof until we all sort of burst into laughter. What the hell is going on? Is this an episode of punked?
Suddenly I noticed movement in the corner of my eye coming from the few stairs behind me that led to a back room. It was a pregnant woman in her 20s carrying a newborn in her arms.
“Maybe we should just leave her,” she said, adjusting her shirt because she’d probably just finished breastfeeding.
“SHUT UP! I HATE YOU!” the girl screamed from inside the bathroom.
“Just make sure you flush by the time the hot firemen get here and break down the door.” The pregnant one said.
“Ahhhhhh! So you’re the older sister,” I said, finding this all very amusing. The sister was a natural beauty with soft skin and straight dark brown hair she most likely got from her father. Burping the baby over one shoulder she joined her mother who was now collecting glassbabies in shades of pink.
I should probably mention at this point that I was stoned. And it’s not like I was rolling on the floor laughing as much as I was anxious and unsteady. I was focused on the door, but part of me couldn’t stop thinking about how great a story this would be if I could actually get her out. I’d be the hero. Little old me saving the day. Maybe the mom would give me some cash as a thank you? Maybe the shop would give me a free glassbaby for helping them rescue a customer or something? Or feature me in a customer e-newsletter with the headline glassbaby Customer Saves Woman in Toilet. Who knows, it could have been written up in the local uppity gossip mag circulated to all the Pac Heights millionairesses—a club I would give my left pinky to be part of.
And at the same time, I was shocked that the salesclerk wasn’t freaking out more. Why hadn’t she called the fire department….they’re a candle shop, she should have them on speed dial. Why was she still trying to go about her business as if a teenage girl wasn’t trapped in their bathroom without a screwdriver in sight?
Remembering I was without tools, I tried to use my thumbnail to see if I could twist the latch the other way. But it broke. I’d been on a no-dairy cleanse for the past three weeks and my nails were flimsy. I turned to the sister carrying a diaper bag.
“You have anything in there we could use? Maybe a knife or something.”
She laughed. “It’s a diaper bag. Everything in here is cotton, plushy, or an ointment. Oh and I have some breast milk.” I detected a little sass which was unnerving because I was the only person trying to get her sister out of the bathroom, but I could see it was actually just ironic malaise mixed in with a little bit of sinister joy.
“How about a credit card?” I asked. “I’d use my own, but she’s your sister.”
She went over to her mother’s clutch-sized Filofax of a wallet and fanned through cards until she settled on one. “Here.” It was her mother’s Discover card, but after a few seconds, I could tell that wasn’t going to work either.
“You want to try these?”
Preggers held out a neon set of plastic toddler toothing keys and a baby spoon. I grabbed the spoon just so I could keep up the charade that I was actually trying, but there was no way that was gonna fit and I knew it.
“OH MY GOD AHHHHH!” the captive screeched, scaring the shit out of me. I fell back on my ass from getting startled. My heart was pounding and sweat was gathering across my forehead. I wanted to laugh, but I was actually starting to feel for the girl. We’d been making eye contact through the sliver between the door and jamb and that was the closest my face had been to a teenage girl in years. And I wasn’t the only one starting to panic. In the ten minutes I’d been involved in this shit show, the pitch of her complaints were higher and their cadence frantic. Imagine caging a stray teenage cat immediately after spaying it. Exactly.
“OH MY GOD! MOM I CAN’T!” she yelled. Her voice quivering this time as if behind tears.
“KAITLIN! WHAT’S HAPPENING?” her mom yelled finally as if genuinely concerned her daughter may be hurt. “What’s going on? You okay?”
“SHE POSTED IT ON FACEBOOK!”
“What? What did she just say?” the mom asked me.
A giant laugh spilled out from the pregnant older sister like a dam breaking under pressure. Her mother looked towards her with relief and a smile after putting two and two together. It seemed as if they were getting a kick out of this. Shit, I was getting a kick out of this. Some brat of a daughter/sister was getting her karmic smackdown and I had a front row seat. And for all my attempts at getting the door open—nobody seemed to care. Even Kaitlin in the bathroom was more concerned with what people were saying on Facebook than actually getting out of the bathroom.
“Chelsea. She has that Keats book in there with her doesn’t she?” The mom went back to shopping. The sister confirmed with a nod as she cooed and rubbed noses with her baby. “Maybe it’s a good thing she got stuck in the bathroom today,” she laughed, “she’s got a book report to write!”
A skinny brunette adorned in LuLu Lemon’s latest entered the shop. And instead of joining the commotion she hid behind her Chloé sunglasses and just looked around. I wished I’d done something similar when the mom asked for my help. If I’d only said ‘no hablo ingles’ when I had the chance. The shop girl approached the new shopper to ask her if she needed any help.
“OH MY GOD!!!!!” Kaitlin screamed. “MY BATTERY IS DOWN TO 5%!”
And on that note, I was out. When I realized Kaitlin was more concerned about her cell than about working with me to disassemble the doorknob mechanism from within the bathroom—I was done.
While shopping for a wedding gift, I suggested they call the fire department to send someone to chop their way through the door with an axe. The salesclerk thought that seemed like an over reaction considering Kaitlin wasn’t hurt and had access to water and a toilet. It wasn’t really my problem anymore so I stopped caring.
By then the mom had gone to the next door restaurant to ask for help, and brought back a tattooed lesbian handywoman with greased jet black hair tightly parted on one side wearing a blue canvas smock with a bull-nose ring and gauged earlobes—finally a man had arrived. I’d officially been usurped and stripped of my pride. The lezy applied much more technique and interest in rescuing the teenage drama queen and I was almost certain she’d have the door open in minutes.
I didn’t want to be there to see it, so I picked out three glassbaby tealight holders and brought them to the register.
“Did you want a gift box?” the clerk asked. I hesitated wondering if I had an appropriate sized box at home I could use instead. “It’s free.”
“Oh well, sure.”
“Do you want ribbon too?” she asked.
“The ribbon is two dollars extra.” She said.
To that I rolled my eyes and reminded her that I’d not only lost an hour of my time, but my pride that Saturday; trying to get her ungrateful customer out of their bathroom. And she gave me the ribbon for free.
Later that evening, we ate at Spruce Restaurant and had the most amazing meal. You can read about our dinner experience and see photos of the meal here.