Festivus has passed, but this grievance cannot be contained until next December.
It is wet and filthy. And it is with American public toilet innovation.
In case you’ve never had the opportunity to assist a 3-6 year old girl in a public bathroom, I must provide a context for my disgust. These independent little ones have a way of making certain that every inch of their hands and bottoms touches the toilet as they shimmy themselves on board the potty. If I wasn’t afraid some foul toilet particle might leap into my mouth, my jaw would drop in horror at the scene.
I once had a kids-in-public-bathrooms conversation with a friend, who agreed with me that keeping a toddler potty in the back of the car for girls until they are tall enough to squat over a toilet without touching, was a fine idea. She told me a story about her daughter who insisted on going solo on a rest stop visit. Her daughter said, “Mom, I’ll wash my hands.” My friend’s response, “Oh, honey, that does not wash off.”
Most public toilets are cleaner after I visit. I am armed with antibacterial wipes, and perform a full seat and outer bowl cleanse, as my daughter stands at attention. She knows not to let any part of her body come in contact with surfaces including bathroom stall doors and walls. Thankfully, we are small, flexible people. With the grace of modern dance partners, we maneuver around one another within that tiny space.
Automated annoyances are part of modern life, but on one particular day, they congregated in a small bathroom at a prestigious art institution.
As soon as we entered the stall my daughter said, “Is this an automatic toilet?”
Sadly, it was, which made her groan, since we have experienced their frightening, unexpected flushing.
This particular one flushed four times. That does not include the time I had to push that tiny button when we were actually done. Handles are so much friendlier to the foot flush. The balance and leg extension gained from years of dance training have provided unexpected tools for avoiding contact between my skin and public facilities.
We survived the stall experience and proceeded to the sinks. These consisted of automated faucets, soap, and no paper towels. The counter was covered in soapy water, leaving my daughters armpits soaked in the filth rinsed from the partially washed hands of hundreds of other people.
Enticing the faucets to dribble water was frustrating, and the water came out so weakly and for such a short time that I needed to restart them over and over again. I looked like I was playing some convoluted version of Fruit Ninja.
My daughter is terrified of the Dyson jet-engine dryers, and was forced to leave with wet, soapy hands. Actually, so was I, since I can never figure out how to get them to work. Holding my hands a couple of inches away from the machine, I went over every surface of the dryer, like a magician trying to prove there are no strings attached to an apparently floating object.
The only saving grace is that there was an elbow-punchable handicapped accessible button to open the door. I usually don’t like to make use of anything meant for the disabled, but I’ve tried to open that door manually before. It is extremely heavy, and without a paper towel to protect my hand from the petri dish of a handle, I might as well wipe my hand on the bottom of a toilet seat before I leave.
I shared my experience with my husband, who shared a bit about the “upgrades” to men’s bathrooms. Apparently, urinals no longer flush. Sadly, they also don’t drain well. Yuck.
The conclusion: We will soon walk into a public facility that consists of a bucket in the middle of a room, situated over a drain for overflow, next to a bottle of hand sanitizer, toppled over, with the pump in a puddle of gross.
I think someone had the environment in mind when they designed the bathroom my daughter and I visited, but they definitely did not consider that people would be the ones to use it. Even on solo missions, automatic toilets always flush at least twice during my stay. I can’t imagine that two to five flushes from an automatic toilet use less water than one from the old-fashioned kind. I don’t know how much energy is used by the jet-engine dryers, but since I can’t get them to turn on, I guess that does save power. I can understand the desire to save paper, but then please remove the counters so that the only water catcher is a rounded sink lip. I can use my wipe to clean that off.