Modern Problems


In a lot of ways, I'm old school. I'd rather meet for coffee than drink a cup of joe while chatting through Instant Messenger, texting, or emailing. I still buy books made of paper and love the sound of pages turning. And I’d rather travel the world than zoom in to foreign lands with Google Maps.

But once I get the hang of progress, I sink my teeth into it, and it becomes habit. A convenient, quick, labor-saving habit.

My problems come when I have to switch between old methods and new methods. We the people need to pick one and go with it, if only for my sake, in case I am the only one in America having issues. In the midst of all the progress, I am often forced to regress.

I walked into the restroom stall in a local movie theater, took care of business, and stood there waiting for the toilet to flush. It wasn't flushing. I stared at it as if it were about to perform magic tricks. Still nothing. I looked for the little button on the wall that is for malfunctions. There was no button.

I couldn't exit the stall because the ladies room was crowded, and the next person in line would rush into my stall after I exited and think I'm a pig for not tidying the bowl. Then, of course, she would be the stranger sitting next to me in the theater when the movie started.

A silver handle on the side of the toilet caught my eye. Where was the upgrade, Flusher 2.0? I'm no longer accustomed to labor-intensive trips to public restrooms. I pushed the handle, left the stall, and walked to a long line of sinks. I glanced at my watch. Thirteen minutes of previews had passed; T-minus two minutes until the featured presentation would begin. In my world, it is a cardinal sin to miss the beginning of any film. Gone are the days when I could stay in the theater to catch the second showing if I’d been tardy for the previous one or just wanted to watch the entire movie again.

I pushed down the chrome spigot of a pump-style soap dispenser, lathered up, and held my hands under the sink faucet to rinse. No water came out. I waved my hands more to activate the water, looking as if I were ecstatically greeting the lavatory. Still nothing flowed from the faucet. Moses had better luck striking a rock with a stick.

I slid over to the sink to my left. The faucet was as dry as a bone in the Atacama Desert.

I wonder how long I can leave dried soap on my hands without irritation, I thought to myself. Of course, if I had left with unrinsed hands, my eyes would have itched during the quietest scene of the movie. Rubbing my eyes vigorously with soapy-film-covered hands, the equivalent of pouring contact lens cleaner in my eyes, would have left me screaming, “Call 911! I can’t see!” as I stumbled over people seated next to me, my eyes clamped shut, searching for the nearest body of water.

Then I saw my salvation. A silver lever. Perhaps it works like the one in my kitchen. I pushed it up toward the mirror, and water rushed out. Archaic.

Finally, with 30 seconds left until show time, drying would be a breeze, literally. With relief, I saw a black box on the wall. I silently thanked God I'd been spared another encounter with one of those new-fangled jet-engine hand dryers that make my skin ripple like Old Glory in a windstorm.

Again, I greeted an appliance in the restroom, but waving at the towel dispenser yielded nothing except stares from two pubescent girls who have never had to navigate this world without a GPS in their hands. No paper towel came forth. Again I tried. Maybe I waved too quickly or too slowly or with my head tilted at the wrong angle.  I waved in slow motion. Nada.

With a sigh of desperation, I complained, "Really? Maybe I'll catch the credits rolling at the end of the movie."

A woman averted her eyes from mine and walked to a dispenser the furthest distance away from me. She reached up and turned a wheel on the side of the dispenser, which promptly spit out a string of paper towels.

When I got back into the theater, my friend Lylas said, “I was getting worried. Where were you?”


And so it goes, far beyond the confines of restrooms.

Last week, I clapped to make the lights come on in my living room. It would have worked beautifully if I'd ever purchased and installed The Clapper.

I picked up my cordless phone to call in a prescription. It was as dead as the skin on my heels. No dial tone, nothing. After screaming the number for Walgreens at my phone for a third time, I realized my landline is not voice activated like my cell phone. I had to waste precious time pushing the “ON” button to get a dial tone and dial the number manually.

One Saturday, Flash was going on and on about his list of things to accomplish in a mere 12-hour period. It’s the same every Saturday. A marathon of projects he hopes to accomplish with super-human abilities: mow the grass, install a new storm door, do a brake job on my car, dig a moat to handle all the rain we’ve had in the last week, build on an extra room, leap tall buildings. I’m stressed out just hearing his agenda, every week. I grabbed the remote, pointed it at him, and pressed MUTE before I realized what I was doing. But I think I’m on to something for a future patent. We will own His and Hers models, and one for each dog.

I’m quickly losing my ability to interact with others. Flash called me from work the other day; I answered the phone saying, “Press 1 if you will be home on time. Press 2 if you are calling to say you love me. Press 3 if you are bringing dinner home. If you wish to speak to me about anything stressful, please hang up and call Dr. Phil.”

Last Sunday, I was late for church. I arrived in plenty of time, but then stood outside for seven minutes trying to get the doors to open. I stepped forward, close to the double glass doors, then back, then forward, then back. Like the hokey pokey, I kept putting my whole self in and taking my whole self out, but the doors wouldn’t budge. About that time, a man with a concerned look on his face walked up and pulled one of the doors open by its handle. I’d forgotten I wasn’t at WalMart with its automatic doors.

Why must I live between two worlds? I say we take a vote. A war of the worlds: Old world versus new world. Whichever gets more votes, we stick with those methods. It will be beautiful. No more inserting my credit card for its chip to be read when the register still demands I swipe. No more assuming fundraising calls are prerecorded before I realize the live human on the other end heard my choice words about his calling me for the fourth time in one week.

In the meantime, I’m building in an extra 30 minutes for every errand I run, every appointment, every bank transaction, every trip to the restroom. User error will no longer ruin my schedule. My plan cannot fail. As soon as I figure out how to wind my smartwatch, I’ll be on my way to a new, more efficient life.