The Shape Of Things To Come?

Staying at a new hotel often can give you a glimpse into the future. If the hotel has recently been constructed or refurbished, the rooms are likely to involve new design configurations, furnishings, fixtures, and space-saving approaches that look to summon the future rather than reflect the past.

I’m staying in a new hotel in Washington, D.C., and the future here looks . . . well, square. Everything in my room is very angular and cornered, from the desk, chairs, and lamps, to the bed frame and, finally, to the bathroom sink and toilet. In my room, the hotel vision of the future involves a lot of right angles and sharp edges.

I was especially intrigued by the square commode, pictured above, that thoughtfully includes both right- and left-handed toilet paper dispensers. After decades of using standard toilets and training new generations of humans in their operation, can square toilets be in our future? Fortunately, this one works like the others. The only real difference is that the square design provides a lot more of a seating area.

In Passionate Pursuit Of Privy Productivity

Do modern workers spend too much time in the bathroom, causing the businesses that employ them to suffer decreased productivity?  A company in the United Kingdom is making that claim and has developed a new toilet to combat the alleged problem — which it says is getting an enthusiastic reception from American companies that may leave the commode creators feeling flushed with success.

defaultThe company, StandardToilet, asserts that workers spend 25 percent more time in the office bathroom than is strictly necessary, causing employers to experience missed employee time on the job and a hit to the bottom line as a result.  It’s not entirely clear what study, if any, substantiates the 25 percent figure, and it sure seems like determining precisely how much time people really need to take care of business in the bathroom would be extremely difficult.  In any case, the theory articulated by the trade group the British Toilet Association is that employees are spending more time on the seat because they aren’t just performing essential bodily functions, but also are checking social media, sending texts, visiting news websites, and otherwise multi-tasking on their personal affairs in there.  Apparently it’s just another way that the smartphone has affected life as we know it.

StandardToilet’s brainchild is a toilet with a seat that has a 13 percent downward slope, causing employees to need to use their legs to firmly brace themselves against the risk of sliding off and thereby making it uncomfortable to use the toilet seat as a perch for extended bathroom breaks to stay in touch with whatever’s trending on Twitter.  The tilt is supposed to cause leg strain after five minutes, incentivizing employees to wrap up their use promptly.  And it’s not just about businesses, either: StandardToilet hopes to market the new toilets to roadside rest stops and public restrooms where users might be tempted to linger and clog up the efficient use of the facilities.  Incidentally, the company also claims that the new design “helps in reduction of risk in swollen hemorrhoids,” which certainly is a worthy goal — you might call it goal number two — as well.

Are employers concerned about extended bathroom breaks to the point where they will install new toilets to replace old ones that are working perfectly well?  The next time you’re using the facilities outside of your home, you might want to check the slope before you sit down and start liking Facebook posts.

Toilet Technology

Technology has moved forward by leaps and bounds in many areas, but there’s one device that really hasn’t changed all that much:  the toilet.  And in many areas of the world, even the standard toilet found in American bathrooms in the year 1900 would be a huge leap forward.

Proper waste disposal is crucial if the human hopes to deal with disease and health areas in underdeveloped areas that don’t have toilets and sewage systems and water treatment plants and other waste-related infrastructure that Americans take for granted.  So I applaud Bill Gates for taking the lead in trying to spur new approaches to toilet design and sludge disposal, with the goal being to break waste down into its constituent entities, conserve water in areas where potable water is scarce, and deal with the bacteria, microbes, and other disease carrying entities that are associated with human waste.  You can read about some of the new approaches, and the efforts made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in this area, here.

The linked article suggests that advancing toilet technology could save the world more than $200 billion every year.  I’ll let others do the math, but I think the key is to use technology for more than just room-sweeping robots and better selfie quality.  I’m glad to see that people are trying to tackle a basic problem that could produce immeasurable benefits in the quality of life of people who live in underdeveloped parts of the world.

What Are The Odds?

Last weekend, while Kasey and I were out for a walk, we passed a toilet that had been placed out by the side of the road, with a sign on it that read “Free Toilet — It Works!”  When we passed by the same place a day or two later, the toilet and its tank were gone.

IMG_0559It was, of course, a nice gesture for the prior owner of the toilet to put it by the side of the street and offer it for free to any toilet-needy person.  But, what are the odds that a person in dire need of a new toilet would come by at that precise window of time, see the available toilet, and take it away before it was carted off by the authorities offended by the presence of a discarded toilet on a residential street?

It seems like it would be very long odds.  But what if it did happen?

Ben, a driver in a battered pick-up:  “Myrtle, I know I promised we could get you a new toilet to replace that lime green commode back when we installed the green and yellow shag carpeting.  That toilet has served us long and well.  But I invested all of our money in those courses from Trump University.  I’m afraid we just can’t afford a new toilet right now!”

Myrtle, his long-suffering wife:  “I know, Ben, but I have faith that the training you received from Trump University will help us become enormously successful one day.  I’m sure the payback will be huge.  Huge!”

Ben:  “Still, I feel like a failure.  What kind of husband can’t give his wife a new toilet when she wants one?  It makes me feel like a man with small hands!”

Myrtle, looking embarrassed and desperately wanting to change the subject:  “Say, I’ve always wanted to drive through German Village.  What do you say?”

Ben:  “Fine.  This street looks like a nice one.”

Myrtle:  “Ben, wait!  What’s that flash of white porcelain up ahead!  Could it be?”

Ben:  “Oh my God!  It’s a toilet! And the sign says it’s free and it works!”

Myrtle:  “And it’s white, too!  We’re moving up, Ben!  Hallelujah!  With the Trump University training and a new, free, high-class white toilet, nothing can stop us now!”

Sure, the odds are incredibly long that this scenario happened.  But with what’s going on in politics right now, I’m convinced nothing is impossible.

The Curious “Courtesy Flush” Concept

Recently I was in the bathroom of a coffee shop — give me a break, I’m a 58-year-old guy whose bladder capacity for coffee apparently has shrunk to thimble size — when I noticed a sign above the toilet paper roll that stated, in pertinent part:  “If you must go #2, please courtesy flush — DO NOT OVERLOAD TOILET, IT WILL BACK UP!!”

There’s a lot to digest in that one, somewhat menacing sentence.

IMG_7558_2First, apparently “#1” and “#2” references have moved from childhood to the adult world.  I haven’t heard someone use “#1” and “#2” to describe bodily functions since our sons were little boys, and I wouldn’t expect to see them used in a sign in an adult establishment.  But is there really universal understanding of these slang terms in the United States — much less the world?  In France, for example, do parents speak to children of “nombre un” et “nombre deux”?  What would a coffee-loving foreign visitor to our shores make of the sign’s likely baffling statement about “going #2”?

Second, the sign tacitly assumes that there is some element of choice involved in “going #2” in a public bathroom, as if people decide to do so on a whim, or to enjoy a comfortable seat and a rewarding view, rather that in response to an imminent biological imperative.  Retail businesses should understand that no rational person would want to plop down on their public toilet seat unless there is no immediately available private alternative.  In short, people who unfortunately have to “go #2” in a coffee shop bathroom inevitably “must go #2″ this instant — and having avoided disaster no sign is going to discourage them from doing so.

And finally, there is the curious concept of the “courtesy flush,” which is a phrase I’d not heard before.  The context suggests that flushing should proceed in stages, with a dainty-sounding initial “courtesy flush” to be followed by the ultimate, keep-your-fingers-crossed-and-hope-to-avoid-a-clog final flush.  The concept seemingly presupposes an element of bodily control beyond the capability of all but trained ninja warriors, who probably wouldn’t understand the “#2” reference in the first place.  Or perhaps the “courtesy flush” notion asks the user to initially disregard the adage that “no job is finished until the paperwork is done”?

The New Toilet

Yesterday was a red-letter day in the Webner household: our new toilet for the downstairs bathroom was installed.

There had been a working toilet in the downstairs bathroom when we bought this place, but flush with the thrill of our new purchase we deemed it aesthetically unacceptable. I’m now not quite sure why — ’70s design? Low-slung seat? Appalling color selection? — but we had to wipe the slate clean and the ex-commode had to go. So we were toilet-free on the first floor during our first week in this place, which isn’t an ideal arrangement for a guy with a 57-year-old bladder who might have to sprint up the stairs to answer nature’s call on a moment’s notice.

Now that issue has been rectified. We have this bright, shiny toilet, conveniently located and blessedly functional, with the graceful lines and design flourishes that you would expect from a modern bathroom fixture. It makes you want to have a seat and take it for a spin.

The Perils Of Plunging

Let’s face it — plunging a clogged toilet is one of the worst jobs in any household.  Even under the best of circumstances, it’s dirty and disgusting.

Imagine, though, how you would react if a few strong strokes with the plunger caused a five-and-a-half foot giant Columbian rainbow boa snake to suddenly surface in the toilet bowl?  That’s what happened to an unlucky woman in a San Diego office building.  She noticed elevated levels in a second-floor toilet, fetched a plunger, and got an unfortunate surprise for her good Samaritan effort.  Understandably, she then ran from the room.   Authorities retrieved the snake, which then bit a handler.

Of course, an odd story like this raises questions.  And to answer two of them, no one knows how the snake got into the toilet, and no one has stepped up to claim it.  But, obviously, the most Important question is why the woman put herself in that position in the first place.  If you needed to answer the call of nature in a public building and noticed elevated water levels in a toilet, would you find a plunger and tackle the problem yourself?  Or would you scuttle out of there to find another facility before someone came in and assumed you were responsible for the clog?

On The Value Of Free Public Toilets

What separates a “first world” country from a second or third world country?  Free and sanitary public toilets would be high on the list of distinguishing features.

In Mumbai, India, a campaign is underway to try to shame public authorities into establishing free public toilets for women.  Currently, women have to pay for the privilege of using a public toilet, while men can do so for free.  Moreover, there is a huge shortage of toilets, both public and private, in India.  Indeed, a recent survey showed that half — half! — of Indian homes do not have toilets.  As a result, it is commonplace for people to relieve themselves in public.  In a nation as crowded as India, that reality has obvious public health consequences, to say nothing of its negative effect on the sights and smells of everyday existence.

Americans take the existence of (relatively) clean and accessible public facilities for granted.  It’s hard to imagine what life would be like if they weren’t available — but in many parts of India that is the way of the world.  As India continues to surge forward to solidify its position as a global economic and military powerhouse, it also should focus on basic decencies like public toilets for its people.  You’re far more likely to be happy, productive, and full of self-respect if the call of nature doesn’t require you to squat, embarrassed, by the side of the road.

A Man Armed With A Plunger Is Capable Of Just About Anything

From New York City comes the story of a 49-year-old man who tried, unsuccessfully, to rob a bank armed only with a toilet plunger.

The man entered the bank and threatened a teller with the plunger.  The teller apparently wasn’t all that threatened, the man fled, and was apprehended after a chase.  He was disarmed and then charged with attempted third-degree robbery.

This incident should come as no surprise.  Any guy who has been forced by grim circumstances to use a toilet plunger, thrusting away and staring down, looking for signs and swirling sounds of progress in completing his disgusting chore, is inevitably on the edge of reason.

And if the would-be bank robber had been engaged in repeated plunging exercises, thinking to himself as he did so that in his youth he never pictured himself as a 49-year-old engaged in such appalling pursuits, he might easily have fallen into the abyss.  In such desperate straits, it might have seemed that the only way out of his plunger hell was to rush to the nearest bank, brandishing his plunger, and demand enough money to avoid having to ever plunge again.

We should all show a little sympathy for the Plunger Robber.  There, but for the grace of a clogged toilet, could go you or I.

The Flush Factor

Travel always presents challenges and requires some accommodations.  One little-mentioned point of travel-related adjustment involves the bathroom area.

After all, you’re accustomed to your home commode.  You’re used to the height, the seating, the back support, and the sound that is made when you flush.  So, when you go the road and find one of those new-fangled devices in your hotel room, you have to adapt.

The low-slung, hotel room miracles of modern plumbing are different in almost every way.  They’re down at squat level.  The seat is deeper, somehow.  It’s like you’re riding a motorcycle.

My principal objection, however, has to do with the flush factor.  I know that they are supposed to be low-flow and more environmentally friendly — but I don’t like turning that weird rectangular handle and hearing that uncertain gurgling sound, where you don’t know for sure whether the entire reason for flushing has been fully and successfully accomplished.  I don’t want to send the contents of the bowl on some gentle journey, as if it were taking a languid cruise on the Blue Danube.  No, I want it harshly jettisoned, ejected, and expelled — shot, with unmistakably effective, torpedo-like force, deep into the plumbing, never again to be seen or even contemplated.

I’m all for hotels conserving water.  When I’m staying at a hotel for multiple days, for example, I don’t ask them to wash the towels.  I’m not guzzling tap water, leaving the faucets running when I shave, or taking ridiculously long showers.  I’m doing my part for water conservation — but flushing is where I draw the line.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

When I get back from the morning walk, I go upstairs to see the Leader.  Sometimes I jump into bed.  Other times, I am thirsty.  When I am thirsty, I go into the water room.

I like the water room.  It is a quiet place.  My claws click on the tiles.  I go to the water well, stick my nose under the lid, and slide my head in there.

Inside the water well, it is white and cool.  The water is right inside.  The well is always filled and ready for me to drink my fill.  When I lap the water, it makes a loud echo.  I like that, too.

When I pull my head out, the lid falls back down with a clank.  Sometimes, when that happens, the Leader will yell at me.

Why does she get mad when I use the water well?  I am thirsty!