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Potty Party 

The man behind the smallest club in Charlotte

Going to the potty has never been so fun. At Cosmos, where Kenneth Watts works as a bathroom attendant, relieving yourself is not a private affair, but a cause for celebration. In the last 17 years in Charlotte, Ken has funkified this traditionally proper, butler-like profession.

It all started 10 years ago with a shoebox-sized GE radio and some mix tapes. At first Ken just played the music for himself to keep from getting bored. Then one day, a client slipped him a twenty and said when he returned, he wanted to see a bigger system.

Ken updated. He got a bigger stereo that he rolls in every night in a suitcase. It blasts music from its spot perched on top of a booster chair. Above the stereo, a small screen shows music videos, and above that he keeps paper towels and other knickknacks.

Black and Tans cost a buck, the same price as one roll of ChapStick, two Blowpops or three cigarettes. Condoms cost two dollars, but if anyone decided not to buy one because of the price, Ken says he would give them away for free. For women, who sometimes knock on the door knowing Ken is inside, he keeps hair spray and tampons. His stalls come accessorized. Car cup holders hang over the median between the urinals, which can each accommodate a urinater with up to two cocktails.

Ken is the only big thing in the small bathroom of shiny silver walls like the inside of a space ship. Always with a smile, he greets strangers with a pound and pats friends on the back. He slides his hands to the hip-hop while holding paper towels, and he swivels his heels while using his extendable arm tool to pick up garbage on the ground.

"People like to say it's a club inside the club," he says of the sausage fest. "You've never seen anything like this. You can go all over the world and nothing like this exists." No doubt he's right. Men wearing polos tucked into khakis jig from side to side while urinating, to the point where they are risking an accident. A few more fellows, some pre-pee, others post, bust moves on the little space there is between Ken, the door and the urinals.

When Ken talks to me over Outkast, his belly pokes me in the arm. "My father always told me, 'Do what you enjoy doing, and whatever you do outside of that, make sure you are the only one who can do it better than anyone else.'"

When I ask for clarification -- did he really mean to say he loves spending 20 hours a week in the loo? -- he doesn't hesitate. "Oh, yeah. I love it. I love the impact I have on people. They come in here, they enjoy themselves. They're happy that I'm here. They get peeved if I don't show up. I've never had a job where I've had such an impact."

He's been asked to attend bathrooms at clubs and restaurants all over the country. There is one other place, he admits to me later, where you can find a similar potty party: the Buckhead Saloon. Ken doesn't feel ripped off by the copycat attendant, even though the attendant at the Saloon pulls in more dough with the gimmick. The surplus cash he believes is due to the fact that the Saloon's bathroom is coed. The Buckhead Saloon attendant plays music that Ken mixed for him.

Ken starts and ends every night with Stevie Wonder. Then it's '70s music, soul, and funk, like Al Green, Rick James, and B.B. King. When it gets a little busier, he switches to old-school rap and later infuses newer hip-hop into the mix. His goal for the last six years has been to create the ultimate disc, which he says he's recently perfected.

He wears a tuxedo vest over a white collared shirt that has begun its gradual transformation to beige. When he started in the business 17 years ago he only had one outfit, but battle wounds began to accumulate. Drinks are frequently spilled on him, which he says isn't as bad as other fluids. About once a month, he inevitably will be hit with some vomit. No matter how careful he is, the vomit finds him. Usually, it's a glancing blow or harmless splash back, but he recalls an incident on a crowded night when he stood behind the door and a patron erupted directly on him. Now he has three sets of attendant uniforms.

Roughly one out of two bathroom users gives him a tip, which is just above the percentage of guys who decide to wash their hands. On a typical night he pulls in a couple hundred. Last New Years, his best night of the year, he made $500 in only four hours of work. The biggest tip he's ever gotten is a hundred dollar bill. It's happened three times, and he admits alcohol consumption may have played a roll.

The weirdest thing he's seen is a woman using the urinal. I ask him if he's sure it was a lady, and he nods, still with a bit of disbelief on his face. He couldn't stop her because she stormed in too fast. The only thing he could do was politely divert his eyes.

What happens when the attendant has to use the bathroom? Does he attend himself when he gets out? No. He gets another Cosmos employee to watch his bathroom kiosk while he uses the facilities.

Once L.L. Cool J came into Cosmos, and Ken knew it was just a matter of time before J had to pee, and he would get to meet the rapper. But it wasn't in the cards; Cool J must have come in with an empty bladder and left before it had filled. He's bumped elbows with Tone-Loc. Ric Flair has come in a couple times. The last time Flair was in, he rubbed Ken's belly affectionately and gave him a five-dollar tip.

"I used to go out to clubs," Ken tells me. "But now I have so much fun here, what's the point?"

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