Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hang Onto Your Skin

By Leighann Lord, © 2007

As cold and flu season approach, we are urged to frequently wash our hands to prevent and fight the spread of germs. Simple enough but it gets challenging in the nefarious and uncertain world of the public restroom. The washing part is easy – when you finally figure out how to turn on the water – but the drying part can get a little dicey.

Given the choice I prefer paper towels to the increasingly ubiquitous hand dryers. I hear the environmentally conscious among you crying, "Heretic!" But before you light your torches and storm the gates I implore you to think of all the needless carbon dioxide you'll be releasing into the atmosphere.

My distaste for hand dryers stems from their gross lack of uniformity. With no clear industry standard you can find yourself facing anything from the very basic to the intimidatingly high tech. The easiest ones sport a big "Press Here" button. The dignity of simplicity in action.
The more advanced models require you to wave your hand near an unseen sensor. Depending on it's sensitivity, or lack there of, you can find yourself full out dancing to get it to recognize you. This is annoying but if you've missed the gym, consider it your exercise for the day.

Temperature is another variable. Sometimes the air is too hot. Sometimes it's too cold. And sometimes, like Baby Bear's porridge, it's just right. Duration is also a mystery. One wave and the air could be still be blowing long after you leave. Usually though, most are so short that you have to press the button repeatedly, wave at the sensor more vigorously or dance more enthusiastically to get your hands thoroughly dry.

I thought I had the vagaries of bathroom dryers down to a science. But then I stuck my hand underneath a new one at my local Barnes & Noble and I got a blast of air so strong it blew off bits of nail polish, hang nails and some color. It was a wind much like this that transported Dorothy and Toto from Kansas to Oz.

My environmentalist friends should be very concerned. What would happen if in a crafty terrorist plot, all these powerful hand dryers were pressed simultaneously? Could they collectively cause cataclysmic climate change? Blow away an entire civilization? Now I miss paper towels even more. They harken back to a simpler time of the plain white box hanging on the bathroom wall. You reach up, grab a paper towel, dry and go; fingers, manicure, and melanin intact.

I guess it could have been worse. What if I were an elderly woman caught unawares by this localized tornado? It could have knocked me down, broken my hip and blown off epidermis to the marrow. But who am I kidding? I'll be one of those old ladies who carries paper towels in her handbag, right next to my rain bonnet, stale peppermints and crumpled Kleenex.

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