BRIGHTON BEACH — A pair of trash cans swaddled in bright pink fabric flank the entrance to the women's room near Brighton Second Street on the Coney Island Boardwalk. These, plus the sound of upbeat music wafting from the doorway, are the first indications that this is not an ordinary restroom.
Inside, mirrors are bordered by thick garlands of silk flowers, and bottles filled with fruit-scented hand soap sit on white sinks festooned with colorful plastic skirts. Portraits of Janet Jackson, President Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr. hang between hand dryers and ventilation fans.
The unique decor is the work of Hazel Chatman, who for the past 18 years has spent summers cleaning the women’s room in this Brighton Beach comfort station by day. At night, she works year-round as an aide for special-needs patients.
The adornments were originally a way for Chatman to deal with a job she didn’t want.
“I don’t know anybody that wants to work in a bathroom,” Chatman said. “That’s why I started decorating.”
An avid gardener, Chatman, 64, started with fresh flowers and soon added curtains, posters and even a wall clock to the mix. She spends her own money on the supplies, but does not take full credit for the end result.
“It is not only me — it’s the staff, the girls here,” Chatman said of her coworkers. “We are a team.”
Chatman said her fellow Parks employees are like a family — a fact made clear by the snapshots and portraits covering one wall of the bathroom. Alongside them, several handmade memorial posters hang in remembrance of coworkers, as well as beach-goers, who have passed away.
Her warm personality, unique style and respect for those around her has earned Chatman fans in her community of seasonal colleagues.
“Hazel is a wonderful person, she has always looked out for us,” said lifeguard Rafton Glean. “She is very caring, very loving and she makes sure that everyone who comes to this bathroom, including all the workers, that they are all taken care of.”
Despite her original misgivings about the work, Chatman said she has grown to love her days at the beach and hopes to continue the work even after she retires from her regular job.
"It makes me foold good," she said. "It makes me feel that I could make somebody else feel good."