Imagining a world with better faucets and cleaner hands


I’m about to break into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” in a public restroom when — oh no! The faucet is one those where you push down the handle instead of turning it. Then the handle, which can’t possibly know how dirty your hands are, decides how long you should wash — and it’s never very long.

I’m determined. I soap up my hands and lean on the handle with my left elbow while I rinse off my right hand; then I lean on it with my right elbow while I rinse off my left hand. I’m bruising my elbows and soaking my clothes and I’m not even sure I’m washing for 20 seconds because I don’t feel like singing anymore.

When I’m finished, I march up to the manager of the business I’m in, put my dirty hands on my wet hips and say, “I hope your employees go next door to wash their hands. They touch my debit card!”

No, I don’t. But I might in the future. From now on, I’ll see complaining about dumb faucets as my civic duty and I hope you will too. Together we can usher in an age of hygienic faucets everywhere.

That’s one positive thing that can come from this nightmare. Here’s another. No one will ever be cavalier about handwashing again. Before the pandemic, I occasionally witnessed a women hurry out of a public restroom without even a glance at the sink. I suppose some men skip handwashing too, but I can’t be sure because I never go into men’s restrooms — on purpose. And when I’ve done it accidentally, I didn’t stay around long enough to make sure everyone washed his hands. 

I will now though, and I bet I won’t be alone. I picture an all-volunteer, handwashing patrol policing public restrooms everywhere. If anyone heads to the door without washing, they’ll get a friendly reminder from one of us. I’m sure they’ll appreciate that.

We’ll probably start reminding people not to touch their faces too. Won’t that be helpful? Estimates vary, but some say we scratch our noses, rub our eyes and wipe our mouths as many as 23 times per hour. Honestly, I don’t see how we get anything else done.

Touching our faces significantly increases the risk of infection, but it’s hard to stop something we aren’t even aware we’re doing. I’m confident that after enough gentle reminders, we’ll all sit on our hands or take up knitting to keep them busy. In the post-epidemic world, there will be less illness and more handmade sweaters.

Even then, we’ll still have to cough or sneeze occasionally. But after all we’ve been through, we’ll know enough to do it into a tissue or the elbow of our hand-knit sweater. And if we don’t, some civic-minded person will call us on it — because they care.

With everyone following these steps and being gently reminded when they don’t, fewer people will get sick. And those that do won’t be judged harshly for staying home as has often been the case in the past. Instead, they’ll be considered responsible and civic-minded for taking a sick day—unless it’s to go fishing. That won’t be considered civic-minded at all unless they share their fish.

Calling this a difficult time is a giant understatement, like saying I get a few spam emails every day or I kind of miss eating out. But I’m an optimist—some days. I believe businesses will return, retirement portfolios will recover, and stacks of toilet paper will dwindle in the garages of hoarders and they’ll have room to park their cars again.

Not only do I think we’ll get through this, I believe we’ll be stronger, kinder and smarter after it’s over. Retail employees will no longer lick their fingers before they count out our change. Worthless faucets will be replaced. “Happy Birthday” will echo from public restrooms everywhere. And we’ll all be able to buy toilet paper again.

Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books including “Alexa’s a Spy and Other Things to Be Ticked off About, Humorous Essays on the Hassles of Our Time.” Contact [email protected]

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