Can Artist

"Man, that odor can be foul, you just can't believe," laughs 84-year-old John Myrick, who should know.

The Southern-born gent has been quenching nature's atmospheres for years. Call it an occupational hazard of long nights caught between a urinal and a hard place. He's heard the torque and splash of countless bodily functions, heard countless filthy jokes.

For six years, John Myrick's life has lingered in johns at some of Phoenix's foremost adult teaseramas. No, he's not some sick serial inhaler of fetid odors, as some of the clients in those places appear to be. And no, he's not doing an anthropological study on the relationship between the proliferation of uniformly implanted, stamped and molded strippers and the proliferation of uniformly implanted, stamped and molded stucco tract homes in Chandler (though the strippers' implants may have longer shelf lives).

What Myrick does six nights a week is graciously and tirelessly uphold the archaic title of "Bathroom Attendant" at Amazon's topless bar in Phoenix. It's a profession that, for all intents and purposes, has gone the way of the pull-flush and quarter matchbook porn.

Still, Myrick's not just some old dude with exemplary grooming habits whom people regard with the same enthusiasm they would the plunger in the corner. Myrick is treated like some venerable patriarch, a man the club employees and regulars often refer to as "Pops" and "Stud."

He's got seven decades of personal experiences and anecdotes that he tells in a drowsy, Southern drawl and punctuates with slow, octogenarian gestures. This is not the kind of toilet humor heard in seventh-grade locker rooms, but rather dire tales of unfortunate patrons caught out in public with distressing intestinal problems. He tells of Chicago in an era when room and board totaled three bucks a week and whore-mongering club owners had surnames like Capone. His accounts are engaging enough to make customers forget the genetically blessed flesh peddlers onstage and hole up in the bathroom for sustained periods.

Logical thinking says a person born during Hoover's first term ought not work 30 to 40 hours a week hustling toiletries for tips to horny man-boys. Well, sure, but as Myrick points out, trying to live on slim social security checks is a pipe dream, particularly when saddled with a dependent from a marriage that ended tragically in 1972, when his alcoholic wife was murdered in a Chicago bar. Besides, the parade of women in G-strings puts a piquancy in his life that only exists in the pipe dreams of other guys his age.

"It isn't labor and it's about all I am able to do now," Myrick says, "unless somebody pukes all over the urinal or comes in here with diarrhea and shits all over the toilet seat."

Myrick says his family relocated from Arkansas to Chicago in 1921, and he started working at age 12. He labored up and down Rush Street, Chicago's row of tourist trap gin mills, working as a paper boy, a valet and a doorman. He picked up stiffs for an undertaker, worked at the Playboy Club, and stood at the door of a club he claims was owned by Al Capone's bro Ralph and shut down by the feds. He has five children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The catty chatter and bawdy dispositions of Amazon's dancers are anything but new to him. Hell, he was engaged to an exotic dancer in 1936.

In the austere confines of Amazon's john, Myrick carefully counts bills from his tip basket, folding them neatly and sliding them into his trouser pocket. He sits where he always sits, facing the washbasin and mirror, indulging the cigarette habit he picked up back in '45. His slouch is flaccid, his dark skin weathered. His arsenal of antacids, after-shaves and aerosol sprays is spare but arranged neatly on the minimal counter space around the sink. His constants are really just a pair of urinals, a toilet stall and his reflection in the mirror.

White-collar types with cell phones, ties and business cards stream in to let streams out at a urinal.

"Hey, pops, how ya doin'?" they say, or "Man, you're a living legend."

They shoot sidelong, chicks-dig-me glances in the mirror, drop green into the tip basket and head back into the bar.

Multipierced and tatted Korn types bounce in and out, avoiding eye contact, even with the mirror. They don't tip. This act repeats itself throughout the night. Non-tippers, Myrick says, are mere annoyances, but he concedes that some clients tip him just out of an unselfish acknowledgement of his presence.

Without knowing Myrick and his significance to a place like Amazon's, one could see his job as cheap guilt-trip blackmail, a way for an old guy to play the sympathy card to get cash from suckers.

"I'll leave even if a crowd is in here, if they ain't tippin'," he says defensively, as if talking to someone who discounts the worth of his work. "If they are just using up my towels saying, 'Thank you, sir,' I'll take my cab home."

Myrick's not wily, just cheerful.

"I still believe in treating people in the way that I like to be treated," he says.

Consequently, people treat him well. More than three years ago, when Myrick worked at The Jungle, a cabbie named Dorothy started picking him up regularly for his ride home. Now she drops all fares when Myrick calls her personal line.

During the cab ride home tonight, Dorothy tells Myrick that her ears are still open for word on the streets about the whereabouts of his extensive jazz- and classical-record collection that was stolen from his home.

"Somebody's gotta look after that sweet old guy," she says.

Dorothy lets Myrick off at a Circle K across the street from his apartment complex in central Phoenix.

He gets out, lifts his shoulder bag and moves away with that slow grace that a man can only earn.

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith