Old And New

A Fool In NH Column Heading

I had just finished doing my business in the men’s room of a building I had never been before.
Being old school, I reached for the familiar handle I had known since childhood that would flush my business out of sight. There was none.
It took me a few seconds to make the connection from that old world to the new. When I first encountered one of these toilets a few years back, I spent a good embarrassing minute helplessly searching for the proper handle that I would have to pull in order to leave my spot feeling like a civilized human being. After my fruitless search, and seeing no one else in the restroom with me, I sheepishly walked away, head down, only to be revived by the familiar sound of the flush.
It was my first encounter with a hands-free, new age toilet and I was, I must admit, impressed.
Over the years I became more comfortable with this invention. Still I often found myself, like on this day, reverting back to old habits for a second or two, but quickly realizing the age I now lived in.
I washed my hands at a sink where the water flowed simply by waving your hands underneath the faucet (it never even got quite hot enough before shutting off) and then I placed them under the automatic towel dispenser. Another great new twenty-first century invention and I picked up on it right away. I knew that if I just placed my hands underneath it would deliver to me the proper amount of paper to dry my hands, eliminate waste and, more importantly, keep my hands from touching where others, unknown to me, had touched.
In that few seconds I waited for the proper placement of paper to be placed in my palms, I thought of some of the other inventions over the years created to make my life easier which I had learned to adjust to.
There are automatic doors, now a staple of sedentary life here in America. Still, it didn’t seem like that long ago that this aging writer can recall having to push or, heaven forbid, sometimes pull a door open to enter and exit the local supermarket. This all changed with the automatic door. All you needed was a little body weight and the chore of shopping suddenly got a bit easier.
It took a while to get used to automatic doors. Many of us spent years still going for the push or pull only to be caught off guard by the “Open Sesame” effect. Today, we all are used to and expect automatic doors, often thrown off guard when entering a store that doesn’t have them. We might even stand at the entrance for a second, waiting for that magic entrance to happen, only to realize it is not to be. Then we have to think back to what our ancestors taught us and use now atrophied muscles. You can expect a little soreness the next day.
We are all now used to the scanning machines at checkout. Gone are the days of the cashier ringing in the price of each item separately into a cash register. (Yes, kids, you heard me correctly.) Now we watch as items are speedily swiped over a red light, followed by a beep and then put into a bag so we can be done with our shopping faster providing us with more valuable time to accomplish such things as binge watch an additional episode of our favorite show on Netflix.
In the old days (boy, do I sound like my grandfather now), we could watch each price as it was painstakingly entered and then point out, right then and there, to the cashier that a mistake had been made. Today, it all happens so fast that we don’t even realize an error was made until something inspires us to stop and look over the receipt after we have already paid and on our way. (This usually occurs just as your body weight has triggered the automatic door and causes a small backup of now irritated shoppers who you are keeping from getting home to Netflix.)
My mind came back to the process at hand. I looked down and saw the towel dispenser still hadn’t delivered anything into my palms. I shook my hand a few times, hoping to activate it. I then noticed that even though the machine continued to whir and spin, there was no paper. A human had forgotten to fill it.
I pushed open the door of an unoccupied stall and grabbed at some toilet paper to finish the job. I backed away and the toilet unnecessarily flushed.
I didn’t dare go back near the sink.
This is the twenty-first century and I don’t always feel like I’m in control.

Visit Brendan’s website for information on his books and speaking engagements at www.BrendanTSmith.com