Entitlement Programs for the Rich and Shameless

Given my evident interest in all things potty, a friend of mine asked me this week if I was going to try to acquire Paris Hilton’s now infamous Bavarian toilet seat.
For those of you who actually have lives and thus do not keep up with celebrity potty seats, here is what was reported.
While riding this spring in a helicopter over Germany, the “Simple Life” star and hamburger spokesbimbo had to make wee-wee. (I have written roughly 2 million published words in my life, but I am quite certain this is the first time I have ever gotten to use that expression. I can now retire happy.) Her chopper did not have a bathroom, however, and apparently mommy forgot to ask the hotel heiress if there was any business she had to take care of before climbing aboard.
This is, of course, the first question my wife and I always asked our daughter when she was a little girl before we embarked upon long car rides or got inside helicopters that lacked bathrooms.
Well, it seems that nature started seriously calling Hilton once they were airborne and wasn’t about to be put on hold. And so Hilton ordered her pilot to touch down in the outskirts of a Bavarian village, where she entered a farmhouse, asked the family to step outside, and used their bathroom.
The enterprising farmer has since announced his plans to auction off the seat where the heiress sat.
Now, to answer my friend’s question: I have no desire to own the Official Paris Hilton Potty Seat.
What I find most disturbing about this story is not the farmer’s presumption that anyone — even me — would actually covet a used toilet seat simply because Paris Hilton once sat on it. Given the stuff one can acquire on eBay, I’m surprised the farmer isn’t also selling off the bathroom’s hand towels and mirrors, and draining his septic tank in search of … never mind.
No, what I find noteworthy is the colossal sense of entitlement that marks this little escapade. Obviously, there are a great many film and pop stars on this planet who believe it is within their rights to ding cars in parking garages, throw cell phones at one another in nightclubs, and receive the very best tables at the very best restaurants.
But having a helicopter detour to a farmhouse in Bavaria? That is mighty impressive on the Hubris Meter.
Supposedly, Bill Bradley — former U.S. senator from New Jersey, Rhodes Scholar and Hall of Fame basketball star — once asked a waiter for a second pat of butter at a restaurant, and was told there was a strict policy: one pat per person.
“Do you know who I am?” Bradley is said to have asked.
When the waiter admitted that he didn’t, Bradley informed him.
At which point the waiter asked Bradley if the senator knew who he was.
When Bradley admitted he didn’t, the waiter answered, “Well, I’m the guy in charge of the butter.”
When I was told this story about Bill Bradley, my first thought was, “That restaurant has one sorry policy when it comes to butter.” Then, however, someone reminded me of its real point when she sagely observed, “No good is ever going to come from beginning an exchange with, ‘Do you know who I am?'”
She’s right. Certainly, everyone desires a little special treatment now and then. Everyone craves a little privilege. Most of us, however, have to settle for that single pat of butter at dinner. At the same time, we are considerably more likely to get a second pat if we ask politely than if we play the “Do-you-know-who-I-am?” card.
I don’t ever want anyone to cause themselves irreparable kidney or bladder damage in a helicopter or soil a pair of $180 Juicy Couture sweatpants.
But nor do I want to contemplate this sort of mind-numbing self-importance. Do I believe this tale of the toilet actually occurred? Seems plausible. And if it did, then someday when Hilton really has to go to the bathroom at a gas station, I hope she asks an attendant if he knows who she is, and he responds, “Yeah. I’m the guy with the key to the restroom.”
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on July 2, 2006.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.