Monthly Archives: November 2011

Remember Old Fashioned Hand Dryers?

People debate evolution as it pertains to life on Earth, but there is no questioning evolution as it pertains to the hand dryers found in the restrooms of schools, restaurants, and rest areas off the New Jersey Turnpike.  Hanging on the wall of some biology classroom there is a chart showing a slimy amphibious hand dryer crawling out of the primordial soup, a few matzoh balls still clinging to its metal chassis, and its fins and crank evolving into feet and a blower.

Yes, kids, the hand dryers that populate my sepia-toned memories of public school boys’ rooms in the 1980s have unadorned metal cranks that rolled out brown paper towel that could do anything except dry one’s hands.  We would wet the paper towels and wrap them around our foreheads in imitation of the pop starlets of the day.  One time my grandfather asked me why I was doing this, and I told him it was because the paper towels were not good for drying.

“Ah, you kids today are so spoiled,” he said.  “I remember when we had to dry our hands on dried animal skins.  Sometimes our hands would come away filthier than before, with grime and dried blood.  Have you ever gone out to dinner at a five-star restaurant with the parents of the girl you’re dating, and come back from the restroom with dried animal blood on your hands?”

Mixed in with the lavatory tin lizzies were electric hand dryers.  This marvelous invention was a white fixture with a stunted chrome proboscis and circular button by which one could trigger the stream of lukewarm air.  The circular button looked at if it had once looked magnificent dressed in a shiny chrome finish.  But that finish had been worn off by thousands of wet hands, forearms, elbows, and even feet banging the button.  Did anyone ever gently push that circular once-chrome button instead of banging it?  It was an unspoken that only real washroom users made a fist and pounded it into the button to start the dryer, like the Fonz starting the jukebox at Arnold’s.

The really funny thing about those old hand dryers is the word “dryer.”  I don’t remember ever getting my hands dry on the first time through, or even the second.  I would have to stand there for a good ten minutes, banging away the last flecks of chrome off that poor battered circular button while a line of irate men with wet hands formed behind me.

That would never happen today.  Those hand dryers from the Industrial Revolution have been replaced by turbo-speed hand dryers that blow the skin right off your hands.  And you don’t have to bang any buttons, either.  The dryers are triggered by infrared sensors that can see wet hands before them as well as Taliban commandos in the Afghanistani night.

The configurations of the hand dryers are different, too.  Instead of blowing air straight down, I’ve seen dryers that are folded over, and you place your hands inside a crease and the turbo-speed hot air dries your hands from both sides.  In the future you’ll place your hands inside a teleportation chamber.  The wet hands will be transported to a galaxy far, far away, where a swarm of miniature winged drier-fairies, that fly about your hands and dry them, not unlike the people that work at car washes.  Once dry, your hands are teleported back to the chamber in the rest room.  And you won’t find it strange at all that your hands are missing.  Due to the principles of special relativity, no earth-time passes at all while your hands are being dried light years away.

The circular chrome buttons are a thing of the past.  Somewhere in a junkyard there is a giant pile of circular chrome buttons from old-fashioned hand dryers.  Families bring their children to play on the piles, and on the way home, perhaps at the obligatory stop off at McDonald’s, the children ask the parents how the piles got there.

And the parents smile, and maybe tell the children the truth, that technology changed so that people could have drier hands, and the circular chrome buttons had to sent out to pasture.  But more likely they’ll tell their children that the chrome buttons got lonely, sitting all alone in this restroom or that, and congregate to one place where they could be together.  Forever.

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Remember Elementary School Teachers?

Today I have the distinct honor of guest posting at Lessons From Teachers and Twits, the blog written and hosted by Renée A. Shuls-Jacobson.  As anyone who visits this site will know, Renée has been one of my most loyal readers and diligent commenters, and is one of the main reasons that my first year of blogging has been so much more rewarding than I thought it would be.  Her fun personality and support encourages me to keep going when I might have given up and bought a Playstation or something.  And so I am excited and proud to finally be able to contribute to her blog, which is totally awesome and way more popular than mine.  Please check it out by clicking the graphic!

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And Now, A Few Last Minutes With Andy Rooney

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Andy Rooney passed away Friday at the age of 92.  I would not say he was my idol.  It is hard to idolize a curmudgeon who became famous primarily by writing short humorous essays complaining about the thousand slings and arrows of modern life.  But as an amateur practitioner of the genre, I can say that Andy Rooney is one writer who is indispensable.

One of Andy Rooney’s last published books was Out of My Mind, a collection of short humorous pieces complaining about a variety of ailments, such as unreliable repairmen, deafening loudspeakers at the Super Bowl, and the semicolon; he really had it out for the semicolon.  These are just a few of the many enemies, real and perceived, against which Andy Rooney led his charge.  As a service to the reader, the pieces in the collection were organized by topic.  I guess it as important to organize your complaints as it is your socks or silverware.

Andy Rooney explored modern-day annoyances the way Shakespeare explored the human soul.  Nothing was left unscathed by his irascible tone.  Degrading airport security measures, unconscionably priced concessions, opaque tax laws.  But amidst all of the complaining and wishing, Andy Rooney’s writing is full of acceptance for the ways that life had changed since he was a boy in the mid-14th Century.

He accepted the changes in the English language: “High School English teachers are still insisting on ‘dived’ instead of ‘dove’ and ‘hanged’ instead of ‘hung.’  They’re fighting a losing battle.”  He accepted changes in our healthcare system:  “[E]veryone wears a stethoscope.  They used to be doctors, but now even the people who empty the wastebaskets wear stethoscopes.”  He even accepted that the America he loved was not number one in everything:  “Not only is French food better than ours, but so is their national anthem.  But that’s as far as I want to go being nice to the French.”

True, a lot of his writing was more complaint than humor.  He even complained about the word “humor” (“I wish we spelled it the way the British do: H-U-M-O-U-R.  It’s a better word with the ‘U’ in it.”).  After reading a dozen of his essays in a row, one might wonder, “Does this guy like anything?”  But he was doing us a favor.  By diligently highlighting the empty half of every glass—and suggesting the suspect who likely drank from it last—Andy Rooney was showing us that he too shared our pain, and that laughing about it was not only possible, but necessary.

Of course, it was not always easy to tell if he was laughing or just insane.  “What I want for my president is the smartest person in America,” he wrote.  “Forget whether that person is experienced in politics.”  He suggested that they design cell phones to “emit the pleasing sound of a solid brass knocker on a solid wooden door,” and that the President should appoint “a Secretary of Time” to shift doctors’ office hours to weekends.

But the piece that stands out the most for me is titled, “The History of History.”  In it, Rooney observes that his children know more about World War II than he did about World War I.  He attributes this disparity of knowledge to the fact that there are more and better records of World War II, particularly film.  He ends the piece with a wish:  “I hope that when future generations are exposed to the history of our era they get something besides Iraq, Watergate and Monica Lewinsky.”  And they will.  They will get a lot of complaining about our era.  But thanks to Andy Rooney, at least the complaining will be funny.

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