We're Coming In on a Wing and a Flush
The trend (how I hate that word) started more than a decade ago when TV and movie directors, bored with ordinary sets, moved the action into the men's room - very different from "powder rooms." where gossipy ladies correct their makeup.
Men's room scenes played gritty, for shock value. I can still see Jimmy Smits of "NYPD Blue" standing at the urinal, hips thrust forward, mumbling to another detective. Soon, a zipper sound track was added. Lots happened around the toilet in "The Sopranos," including one gory murder. This went on and on to the point that a john shot (including co-ed, a la "Ally McBeal") was de rigueur.
I assume public reaction was being tested and the public merely shrugged. Art pushes boundaries.
Coincidentally, I have watched, bemused, as technology invaded the ladies' loo.
I travel frequently. Navigating an airport restroom between flights isn't pleasant. Starting this week, when some airlines will require passengers to remain seated most of the flight, the rush will intensify. First, is it safe to leave a carry-on outside the stall, or must it be squeezed in? Should an able person use the wheelchair-accessible stall if it's the only vacancy?
I use it, which solves the carry-on dilemma.
Flushing is a toss-up. No international pictogram exists for self-flush toilets. (Cute that the pictogram for women is a skirt, when not a lady within wears one.) So I hunt for the handle to depress or button to push when all of a sudden - WHOOSH. What, I wonder, sets it off? Look around: An electric eye? A motion sensor? Weight detector? Timing device? Gremlin?
Anyway, as Lady Di said about her marriage to Prince Charles, sometimes it feels like there are three of us in here.
At least that user/toilet confrontation plays out in private. Washbasins can be a public humiliation. Will the water spray automatically when hands pass beneath the faucet? For how long? Hot or cold? Should I apply soap first to avoid waiting for the reset? What if the faucet doesn't reset, forcing me to wander from basin to basin with soapy hands dragging my carry-on, in search of a rinse? What the hell's going on?
Drying can be even worse. Long ago, some genius decided that paper towels were too messy. He (must be a guy) invented the despised air dryers, which drive women back into the stalls for toilet paper, which makes more mess than paper towels. Eventually, paper towel dispensers were reinstalled. Coaxing a length of paper from the newer models is like coaxing a cat off a power pole.
Is the dispenser empty? Stuck? Out of batteries?
This means, as I was horrified to observe, some airport restrooms now station a uniformed attendant who hands you a towel in exchange, hopefully, for a tip. There's the jar, right by the enigmatic soap dispenser.
That reminds me of hotel restrooms during a big event. The attendant (can you imagine standing in a public bathroom all night?) not only offers a towel, but hand lotion and a lint sweep - but I never carry money in my tiny evening bag, so I must flee as a cheapskate.
Girls, we gotta help each other. The place: Durham Performing Arts Center, that gorgeous new venue with state-of-the-art sound equipment, lighting, wine bar and, thank goodness, paper towel dispensers.
I know how to crank down a towel, but where's the crank? I tried to grab an edge by reaching my wet hand underneath the rim. No towel came forth, and no stalls were open to provide toilet tissue. Finally, with a knowing smirk, a dry-handed lady pointed to a waving hand painted on the front of the dispenser. "Wave bye-bye at it," she instructed.
How silly will that look? I thought. But it worked. One wave, one towel. One giant wipe for womankind.
I should ignore this final rest-room affront - but there it stood, big and bold and colorful enough for little girls to notice in the ladies' room of Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal, my frequent destination: a vending machine dispensing flavored condoms.
That's it, folks. Enough surprises. Too many uncertainties. From now on, those new body scans will confirm that I'm flying on an empty tank.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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