Cafe Joan to their valued customers, March 6, 2010

Your $2-3 purchase entitles you to the very best.

Dear Valued Customers,

Our bathrooms are for you and only you.

Please help yourself to our freshly cleaned toilets, well-swept floors, and sumptuous 3-ply toilet paper after distinguishing yourself from the general street riffraff by purchasing a latte, an iced tea, or a magnet with an Impressionist painting on it.

Your purchase will be rewarded with an automatic air freshener dispenser, a functioning lock, and multiple stalls so there is never a long wait. Even a small purchase gives you access to endless hand soap and paper towels. We will bend over backward to ensure your bathroom-using experience is easy, delightful, and, we like to think, elegant. As someone who has identified yourself as not too poor to afford a bottle of water you don’t really need, we think you deserve it.

If you see a non-customer attempting to use one of our bathrooms, please know that you may shoot to kill. This isn’t fucking Starbucks.

Sincerely,

Your friends at Cafe Joan

Analysis:

The practice of “Customers Only” bathrooms is a more recent one than you might expect. In feudal Europe, for instance, most bathrooms were either the woods or a field, which are much harder to regulate than modern lavatories. St. Thomas Aquinas famously wrote of trying to discourage a bear from using a forest near his house, only to be chased away. The incident shook the young monk’s faith, and it was only after he saw his own dog use the front lawn of a hated rival that he believed again.

Today, of course, most facilities do not allow non-customers to use the restroom. Legally, though, what constitutes a “customer” has always been shaky ground. A man named William Harris purchased a McRib sandwich from McDonald’s in 1988 and has been using the receipt to use McDonald’s bathrooms ever since. Eventually, the McDonald’s Corporation sued Mr. Harris, claiming that only purchases made in the same fiscal year would entitle one to “customer” status. The Supreme Court, however, ruled in favor of Mr. Harris, with Justice Scalia writing the majority opinion:

It is not unreasonable for a consumer to expect to be considered a “customer” for long periods after the initial purchase. In this specific case, the “customer” status is constitutionally valid for a minimum of 7 years or the amount of time it takes to digest a McRib sandwich, whichever is longer.

Tragically, Mr. Harris died before he could make use of his beloved McDonald’s restroom again. He had a heart attack while attempting to return a Hi-Fi system he purchased at a Lechmere in 1982. Still, his name lives on among those whose bladders force them to stop the car every 30 minutes to “swing a Harris.”

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