A few years back, after attending a meeting in a brand new building on the university campus where I worked, I popped into the lavatory for a break. (Let’s say I was deeply moved by the bureaucratic content I had just been asked to digest.) I passed a fellow at the sink who was washing his hands, and as I settled into my stall in the otherwise empty room I heard the signature “jet-engine” blast of one of those high-efficiency hand dryers. Despite all of the idiotic and unnecessary things in which my employers were presently involved, someone had at least been forward thinking enough to save us all a lot of money and mess by installing the latest technology and ditching the paper towels. I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, the place wasn’t such a mess after all. That’s when the lights went out.
There are plusses and minuses to every technological leap, and when it comes to motion detecting light switches the positive side easily outweighs the negative. No more needless waste of wattage flooding empty decks and patios from dusk ’til dawn. No more evening-empty 40-story office buildings drowning out the stars and stupefying migrating songbirds. And, most important to this tale, no more restrooms needlessly drenched in soft-white vanity light while individuals sit nearly motionless upon the pedestal accomplishing the most basic of biological undertakings!
“Hey!” I shouted. “Turn the lights back on. There’s somebody in here!”
Unfortunately, the fading roar of the hand-dryer ensured my colleague heard nothing beyond his own thoughts as he made his way down the hall.
“Somebody?” I pleaded. “Anybody?”
Silence. Darkness. And a job easily done in the light of day became a harrowing task — a high stakes game of Marco Polo where the commode was home base and the toilet paper dispenser was the silent player hugging the wall just out of arm’s reach.
And while a motion detector may work well for the common area of a restroom, it can’t sense the movement inside a bathroom stall no matter how great the struggle. Making matters even worse, the room had no exterior wall, no windows, not even the glow of an exit sign. The pitch was so complete I couldn’t have seen my hand in front of my face. (Not that I would have wished to put my hand to my face in this particular circumstance.) To float the lowest of puns: I couldn’t see squat!
They say desperation can drive a man to extremes. My extreme manifested in waddling with my trousers around my ankles to the door of my stall which I managed, after considerable struggle, to unlatch and fling open. In that instant, the light flipped on and I gasped a loud and thankful, “HALLELUIA!”
They say that timing is everything, and the guy who walked into the restroom in that same split-second had it in spades.
“Don’t get too excited there, fella’,” he laughed. “I’m just here to take a leak!”
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