Sunday, November 26, 2006

First World Tech, Third World Habits

It's not so often that Big Sam and I get out to a "real" movie theater these days. We've become addicted to the unusual films one can order through one of those major online dvd services, and no late fees! Considering that in the past I've built up some sizable debts owed to the local video store because I can't quite get those videos back by midnight, the online service is a blessing.

But I digress.

A year or two back one of the big movie chains built a new cinemaplex with all the bells and whistles a couple of towns away from us. It has a towering neon sign, multiple screens, an eight quintazillion calorie snack bar, and loads of brand new techno refinements on traditional necessities, especially in the restrooms.

It's amazing to me that one can simply wave one's hand in front of the paper towel dispenser and out come perfectly sized pieces of towel, ready to wipe off those last little traces of dampness. Even the dampness you wipe off is created automatically, because another wave of the hand underneath the faucet delivers a precisely timed cascade of water to rinse off the pre-foamed soap produced by the highly chromed dispenser, the need for which is created by the call of nature answered in the stall.

Ah, the stall. Surely here the high tech luxury stops, right? Wrong! Raise your bottom from the seat and, well, all embarrassing products are whisked from sight before you can open the door.

Now I wouldn't be talking about such indelicate things if there wasn't a point, would I, darlin'?

Don't worry, I'll get there!

The movie we saw was unremarkable, another action epic with multiple explosions of the manufactured variety. Made me think of Iraq, though, which is never uplifting, but Big Sam likes his action movies, that's for sure.

It was a loooong action epic, too, which led to my pressing need to take comfort in the refuge of the ladies room. I walked in expecting the pristine cleanliness that automata of the highest sort leads one to believe awaits. Boy, was I surprised! The paper towels spilled over the top of the trash containers and littered the floor for yards in every direction. The counter was scattered with used towels as well.

It made me rather leery of trying a stall, but the call of nature was insistent, so I began pushing open the stall doors, searching for a clean stall.

Remember, this is not a small restroom. This is a restroom that serves the umpteen screen megacinema, and it has upteen bathroom stalls as well. So I was pushing at stall doors for a good long, and this is what I saw.


Everywhere, filth. If the seat wasn't wet, the bowl was unflushed. Worst of all were the piles of obviously used toilet paper in the corners behind the toilet itself.

Now this town is one that has changed the character of its residents in recent years to favor the newcomers from our neighbor to the south. But surely the cinema has help, probably from the same part of the hemisphere, to clean up. Nowhere was a sign that this had been done, not that I could see. It looked like it must have been hours and hordes of bathroom users since the last hygienic go-through.

How could this happen? I wondered, then remembered what a teacher friend had told me about how the recently-moved-from-south-of-the-border students at her school treated the girls room there.

"Now maybe it's because some overly frugal plumbers down south use pipes too small to carry the paper and waste from the toilet to its ultimate destination", she said, "but most of our girls don't put their toilet paper in the bowl. They drop it next to the toilet, because that's what they do back home."

Thinking about that and surveying the paper-strewn landscape before me, the clean freak part of me shuddered and cringed. The germophobe in me started thinking about whether I'd brought the the little tube of hand sanitizer with me. The coward in me retreated from the abominable scene. I could wait till we got home to use the toilet.

Now I don't know what you all think, but it seems like it must be at least a minor sin in God's economy to combine all that beautiful first world technology with those third world habits of hygiene.

It certainly is a shame, and bad for business.

Monday, November 13, 2006

I know the writer would not agree with me...

In Smithsonian magazine online ( Ellen Gilchrist, novelist, rhapsodizes about the blissfulness of living and writing in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where "...There is a welcoming naturalness to the land, and it is reflected in the people."

Her home of choice, Fayetteville is the ultimate in small towns, where everyone knows everyone else, and the links between lives are marvelously intricate precisely because the town is so small. Previously, she "...had been living in New Orleans, in a world of privilege, and I was never comfortable there. I have lived most of my life in small towns, and I'm in the habit of knowing and talking to everyone."

Her "...ancestors are highland Scots," and the hill country speaks to her. She understands its language and its people because they are so like her.

But the one thing she implies, but does not overtly admit, is that the likeness goes beyond the spiritual resonance to the racial. Small midwest towns cluster groups of us pale folks into comfortable little hives, comfortable because we are so much alike. Fayetteville, with its 84% white, non-Hispanic, population is precisely what the author sought without even knowing she was seeking. The hills of her Scottish ancestors riveted to the small town peace of similar people, like minds; who of us belonging to the same tribe would not find comfort in such an environment?

No wonder she has settled in "'...To Fayetteville, Arkansas,'....'My Paris and my Rome.'"

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Once more, you gotta love those Swedes!

"Christer Fuglesang, who is set to become the first Swedish astronaut to embark on a space mission next month, said Thursday he will bring a decidedly Scandinavian flavor to the food menu aboard the International Space Station."

What will Christer bring for the Christmas meal? "
...dried moose meat, crisp bread and gingerbread cookies, a Christmas favorite in Sweden."

Now I happen to like crisp bread, especially the kind that comes in big round wheels and stays fresh forever, but dried moose meat? Give me a break! Even my Swedish grandmother never suggested that at Christmastide. And of course gingerbread cookies are a clear favorite over the traditional brick of dried out fruitcake.

Dried moose meat. Harumph. He might just as well have offered lutefisk.