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Penkava: Restroom protocol for the common man

When I was growing up, there was a ritual my mom and I had after I used the bathroom. It went like this…

“Michael, did you wash your hands?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Did you use the soap?”

“Ummm …”

“Go back and wash your hands using the soap.”

“Yes, Mom.”

And thus, through the years I learned proper bathroom protocol. But Mom, as smart as she was, never asked me one other important lavatorial question, which was, “Did you dry your hands with the towel?” If she had asked me that, I would have made many extra trips back to the bathroom. That’s because little boys never needed towels to dry their hands … that’s what pants were for.

Fortunately, I have since learned proper hand-drying techniques. Sure there’s the occasional trouser swab during a TV commercial or driveway pickup basketball game, but basically I’m pretty much towel-trained.

Now, that works fine at home or when we visit friends. It’s when we’re at public places that washing and drying get a little out of hand.

Back in the day, a visit to a public restroom involved touching a lot of stuff. You had to push the flush handle of the toilet and turn on the faucet of the sink. To get soap, you pressed the little knobbie of the soap dispenser. Then there was spinning the paper towel container’s little crank. It was almost as if you went in, did your business and then went around the room trying to touch as many things as possible.

But thanks to new technology, there’s hardly any touching at all. Toilets flush automatically, faucets are triggered by motion and soap magically falls into you hand. But, when it comes to the drying process, those industrial hand dryers are another story.

First of all, it can be a challenge to simply locate the sensor that will activate it. One must wave his hands like a symphony conductor before it comes to life. Sometimes I just nonchalantly hang around the washroom until a guy leaves before his blower stops so I can slip in and steal some of his air.

But, on the other hand, have you noticed these machines have evolved into some kind of wall-mounted fusion-powered Star Wars blaster? I don’t know about you, but it seems to be a bit of overkill to dry my hands by sticking them under an orifice blowing 135-degree hot air at 400-plus miles per hour. All of this while my ears are being greeted by a 90-decibel auditory assault equal to the sound of a hovering helicopter. Sure, on the bright side, after 10 to 12 seconds of this process your hands are completely dry … minus the upper epidermal layer of skin that has now been efficiently airblasted.

But, then again, if you use a standard hand dryer, you have to go through so many cycles of the blower to get your hands dry that you eventually give up and default to the old, dependable pants drying mode. I swear the instructions on that kind of machine should say:

1) Activate blower

2) Place hands under vent

3) Remove hands and dry on pants

But there is a bit of irony with this whole procedure. Let’s say your hands survived the “Mr. Fusion Hand Turboblaster” or you had enough patience to outlast “Mr. Light and Breezy.” You still have to get out of the bathroom, right?

So there you are with sparkling clean hands, staring down at the door handle. You know that on it are all the germs from every guy who didn’t wash his hands and then some. But do not despair, for there is an easy solution to this conundrum.

All you do is grab the door handle, open the door and exit. Then just wipe your hand on your pants. Mission accomplished. Sorry, Mom.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. His wife suggested he carry a cloth in his pocket for this situation. She said he could call it his “Man Towel.” He said he’d rather use his “Man Pants.” He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net. 

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