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Monday, March 11, 2013

The Menace of Public Restrooms

I still recall the first time I encountered an automatic toilet in a public restroom.  Having completed my business, I studied the workings of the chrome pipes trying to find a button or lever to make the thing flush.  There was none.  I pushed bolts and attempted to twist them.  Nothing.  Then, as I was walking away in frustration and hygenic anxiety, whoosh - Niagara.  The electric eye, sensing my departure, flushed it for me. I just about jumped out of my skin, I can tell you.  I thought I'd stepped into a haunted toilet.

Since then, I've grown used to such devices, and almost find it quaint to come across an old-fashioned model with a lever on the side you flush for yourself.  In the meantime, the number of electric gizmos in public restrooms has grown exponentially.  Therein is the problem.  I'm not against progress, mind you.  I think technology is great.  I've got a gravity-operated chicken feeder and a gravity-operated chicken-waterer, too.  They are marvels of ingenuity.  I've go a television set, and it's in color.  Technology is great.  But the higgledy-piggledy way technology appears in public restrooms is a hot mess.

Some restrooms have automatic soap dispensers, some have automatic sinks, some have automatic paper towel dispensers, but oddly none seem to have all of these.  So you're left looking like an idiot trying to find the button to squirt some soap only to learn you need only put your hand underneath an wiggle it, and then you're waving your hands fruitlessly under the faucet to get some water, but it turns out to be as responsive to hand motion as a taxidermied duck.  The soap dispenser, however, helpfully continues supplying soap.  "Someone's waving his hands nearby," the soap dispenser says, "he must need soap.  I'll give an extra squirt."  By the time you realize the sink has a manual control, there's a big enough puddle of liquid soap to lather a Shetland Pony.

Then you proceed to the towel dispenser, and it's anybody's guess what you'll find.  Some you pull out, some shoot out by themselves, some are blow driers.

It sounds curmudgeonly and ungracious, I know, to grouse about such minor things, things which by the way, have been installed for my convenience, to make my life easier.  But I feel silly wagging my hands under the sink, hoping it will perform its little magic trick of giving me water.  I don't recall ever, back in the Dark Ages before toilets had electric eyes thinking, "This business of flushing is such a chore!  If only our top scientists could devise a way to relieve me of this burden.  And then - after I've finished flushing, to have to press the button on a soap dispenser and turn on the water!  And then to turn it off again.  And when I've done with all that, to have to pull out a paper towel.  Work, work, work!  It's relentless!  And they have the gall to call this a restroom."  It seemed to me natural when attending to a very personal matter that I should attend to it personally instead of having a bunch of robot servants waiting for me to make my next move.  And - although I try not to think about it - it's an uneasy thought that while I'm sitting in meditation during that most private and solitary of my daily routines, the toilet's unblinking red electric eye is keeping vigil on my backside, waiting, waiting, waiting.  Waiting for me to arise.

Big Toilet is watching you.

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