I’ve done a lot of traveling over the past couple of weeks. First, it was back to southern Alberta to spend some time with my family, then up to Edmonton for a speaking engagement, then over to Hepburn, SK for a whirlwind visit with my brother and his family, then back to Lethbridge to spend a week with Naomi’s folks, and then, finally, the long trip back to Vancouver. And then, after only a brief period at home, we were off again—this time to Galiano Island to spend a delightful couple of days enjoying the laid-back island life with friends. We just returned tonight and are now going to settle down around home for the month of August (and try to get some of the work done that I have been putting off for most of the month of July!).
As wonderful as our holiday time has been, and as much fun as it is to explore new places, there was one little thing that proved to be a constant source of frustration throughout my travels (actually, it’s been bugging me for a while—maybe the extended time away from home finally sent me over the edge!). What is it that is vexing me so, you might ask? Quite simply, it is bathroom technology.
I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent fellow. I’m certainly no engineering genius, and my mechanical know-how is meager, to put it mildly, but I think that if I put my mind to it I can deal adequately with most of the situations and minor crises that pop up in an average day. Well, I have discovered that figuring out how to accomplish the mundane task of using a public washroom and emerging unscathed in a reasonable amount of time does not fall into this category. I could assume responsibility for my inability to accomplish this simple task, but not only would that be highly embarrassing, it would deny you all the “pleasure” of the rant that follows. No, it is not I, but the manufacturers of bathroom technology that are to blame!
We begin with the task that brings me to the washroom in the first place. Is it too much to ask for a public washroom to simply have a toilet that is flushable with a clearly designated lever, button, or other instrument designed for this purpose? Do I really have to be filled with trepidation every time I near a public toilet, wondering if I am going to be scared silly by an unsolicited flush before, during, or after the business at hand? Do I really have to be reduced to peering bewilderedly at the toilet when I’m done, wondering if that flashing red light has already registered my presence or if it is waiting for me to position myself in just the right light, at just the right angle, having applied just enough pressure on the seat to “know” when I’m done? Do I have to frantically wave at it, wondering why it won’t do what I want, desperately wishing for a simple metal lever, but being presented, instead, with an array of flashing red lights and sinister looking monitors—united in their mockery of the ridiculous figure who wants so badly to get on with his washroom adventure, but can’t until he has “solved” the riddle of the toilet?
Assuming that I find a way out of the above predicament, the problem that next presents itself to me is that of not only washing, but drying my hands without either a) getting every article of clothing that I am wearing wet, or b) slinking pathetically out of the bathroom, my hands still slimy and wet from the soap and water that, despite my best attempts, I was not able to dry off.
I approach the sink and puzzle over the contraption that greets me. I sigh, and look plaintively around for any assistance that my fellow confused bathroom patrons can offer. Discovering that they are just as helplessly befuddled as I am, I resolve to tackle the mystery of the tap on my own. Do I push the hot/cold knob down, wait for it to dispense its predetermined amount of water, and feverishly scrub my hands in order to get rid of the soap before the water runs out? Or is there another red light flashing in front of me, demanding that I wave my hands around like a fool in order to be rewarded by a short, inadequate burst of water?
I have long since resigned myself to the fact that those in charge of manufacturing these things have decided that I, the ordinary washroom patron, cannot be trusted to decide how much water I need or at what temperature I need it, but I am, again, wishing desperately for two simple knobs, one labeled “hot” and one labeled “cold” which I could then employ as I saw fit. Again, it is not to be…
Finally, as my ordeal is drawing to a close, I approach whatever engineering marvel it has been decided is best suited for the complicated task of drying my hands. Is it an automatic air dryer? Do I wave at it or just hold my hands underneath it? Does it have a button that I am required to push? Am I expected to turn this device off? Will what comes out be a warm, feeble breeze or will I be greeted by a blast from a fiery furnace worthy of Nebuchadnezzar?
Or perhaps I am in luck and there are paper towels available. Am I to wave at the little red dot in this apparatus as well? Apparently so, but it is not releasing its precious contents… Did I not wave correctly? Is it offended? Did I not get my angles right? Do I have to do the hokey-pokey and turn myself about? Or—I gulp and dare to dream!—can I just pull down on the towel and it will come out?
Eureka!! It worked! I now have in my possession the coveted single paper towel. But one is not enough… No problem, I will just grab another one. Ah, but now there is no paper sticking out of the bottom because it is one of these machines where the paper towels are perforated to absolve me of the responsibility of choosing how much of the product I need. “No, dear patron, we shall decide what will meet your requirements. And should you manage to extract one of our paper jewels, the rest of our product will remain inaccessible to you because we have engineered our machine to guard its treasure after the first towel has been dispensed by getting caught in the teeth of the machine!! You thought you could just pull down as many towels as you needed! Ha! Such naivete! But you’ll learn, simpleton, you’ll learn…”
And so, twenty minutes, who knows how many litres of water, and more than a few inappropriate words later, the ordeal ends. I have managed to accomplish what needed to be accomplished, but just barely. Chances are I have not emerged unscathed (I fought the bathroom and the bathroom won!). I am angrier, wetter, and more humiliated than when I entered.
And so, to all you manufacturers and implementers of bathroom technology, to all you benevolent souls who leave no engineering stone unturned in your relentless pursuit of making my visit to the mens room less physically taxing, less time-consuming, more environmentally-sensitive, and more hygienic I have a simple confession to make: I Give Up! I thank you for your concern for me and for the environment. I laud your creativity and ingenuity, but admit that I simply cannot solve your riddles. Perhaps you should consider simplifying things a little for imperceptive clods such as myself. Might I suggest a giant hole in the middle of the floor and an automatic pressure washer at the door? Just hose me down with soap and water head to toe and let me go. I realize that I will depart a bedraggled and pathetic looking creature, but given what’s transpired in the preceding minutes, there’s likely not much left of my dignity anyway.