Despite my technological savvy when it comes to newspaper production, I sometimes have trouble with simple contraptions that a 5-year-old child can master. I've considered that this selective incompetence could be a divinely inspired lesson. From time to time, I get to thinking I'm pretty smart, and that I can meet any challenge head-on. When that attitude manifests, an eventual smack with the humility stick is inevitable.
When I was in college, I was with a friend when we dropped by the outlet mall that used to be off the Broken Arrow Expressway this side of Tulsa. The bathrooms were posh: velour chaise lounges, fresh hand towels and elegant fixtures. The usual feminine hygiene products dispenser was there, along with something I'd never seen: a perfume dispenser. My favorite fragrance at the time, Halston, was one of the choices, so I put in my 25 cents and pushed the button, assuming the machine would cough up a foil packet containing a towelette. When a couple of seconds passed and no packet had materialized, I peered into the maw from whence I assumed the packet would drop. Suddenly, there was a loud "PSSSST!" sound, and a small metal nozzle I hadn't noticed earlier blasted a spray of perfume into my eyes. My friend laughed so hard I thought she was having a seizure.
That was a sign of things to come, because it seems to be restroom devices with which I have the most trouble - specifically, those that require you to wave your hand in front of them to achieve results. I long for the days when you could just push a button or turn a knob and get the water flowing from a sink faucet. I fondly recall the paper towel dispensers from which you could quickly pull a couple of pulpy brown squares and dry your hands. But just as manufacturers have designed modern automobiles so backyard grease monkeys can't figure out what's wrong with their rides without paying someone an exorbitant amount to plug them into a diagnostic machine, the geeky goobers who created today's fixtures have turned the act of relieving ourselves and its attendant functions into a major production.
We were recently on vacation in Chicago and then hopped over to Ohio for some roller coaster therapy, and I couldn't count the number of times I made a fool of myself, waving frantically at silent sentinels, praying they would discharge at least one paper towel. I saw a couple of little girls giggling at my wild gesticulations, while young women whispered behind their successfully dried hands. And this was after I found a sink that would spit out a blob of soap and then disgorge its H2O. Sometimes I had to go to three or four sinks with "automatic" faucets before I could get one to work.
Sometimes, instead of the sensor-equipped paper towel gadget, a dryer on the wall would blow warm air at the flap of a wrist - any wrist but mine. I've never liked those dryers, even the ones with buttons. First of all, you have to waste three or four minutes rubbing your hands together maniacally like a mad scientist before they're dry enough that you can finish the job on the front of your shirt. The second problem I've noticed only since I've gotten old and lost most of the collagen in my hands, leaving me with paper-thin, wrinkly skin: If you cup your hands together a certain way under the air nozzle, a noise like a wet fart sputters forth. That happened to me twice on this trip, and the first time, a girl of about 8 giggled and said, "It sounds like you let a toot, only there's no smell."
But that's not the extent of the bathroom bamboozlement. Everyone is familiar with the seat-shaped liners you can pull from a box on the wall and place on the toilet seat so you won't risk contracting a social disease from the previous percher. Midway Airport and several others we've been through have toilets with plastic sleeves over the seats. A subtle motion, according to the instructions, will slide the sleeve around full circle so you can sit on clean plastic untainted by a strange bottom. Of course, the toilets always ignored my command, so I usually gave up in frustration. The only time one worked was at the Will Rogers Airport on our arrival back in Oklahoma. The toilet complied so readily - almost enthusiastically - that I was suspicious enough to take a closer look. This particular toilet had run out of plastic and was just going through the motions.
I don't know if this could relate to arthritis, but I'm willing to consider it. I also have trouble taking lids off jars and bottles, and often accuse my husband of screwing the lids on so tight that I have to struggle until I pop a few capillaries on my face. He usually has to wind up getting involved, and always eschews the blame: "Do you think I'd do something that would cause me extra work?" In his dotage, even being asked to remove a lid is likely to spawn irritation. Most of the time, I am also too clumsy to wield our small battery-operated can opener, which is supposed to grab the can and slowly work its way around the rim until it stops, whereupon the lid may be popped off with no jagged edges. Even if I can get the device to grab the can, I usually can't pop the top.
This type of frustration isn't new. Back in the late 1980s, the Daily Press was one of the first newspapers in the state to begin full pagination: designing newspaper pages on a desktop computer. We were expected to do this on 6-inch MacIntosh monitors, and of course, we could only see a fraction of a page at any one time. For this reason, I resisted the process, even bursting into tears once or twice - I was less crusty and cynical than I am now. Eventually, the publisher agreed to delay full-page pagination for a year or so. When we were eventually forced into compliance, he bought a single large monitor for page design. It was not a flat-screen like we have today, but a 21-inch behemoth with a picture tube, wider from front to back than it was tall, like an ancient analog TV.
Back then, I couldn't have imagined how the industry would evolve. You couldn't have convinced me young people would rely on 140-character chunks of verbiage for information, or that smartphones for 7-year-olds would be as common as ticks on a coonhound. Nor would I have believed large contingents of folks would believe whatever they read on the Internet, as long as the drivel came from someone whose religious and political beliefs matched their own. In recent years, I've had to deal with metadata and digital manipulation (not the kind you oldsters are thinking of), and I've suffered the noun-verb marriage and awkward prefixing that forces us to Google for information. I've also learned to friend and unfriend, and follow and unfollow, and even block - usually with an indignant and retaliatory "so-THERE!" grunt.
The irony is that after rejecting a 6-inch monitor, I'm now back to sifting through data on a screen a fraction of that size. But I can handle that better than an automatic paper towel dispenser.