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Category: women

I'm On a Roll, Baby


I have a friend with a real eye for design—in another life she definitely would have been a fabulous interior decorator if not an engineer creating useful products for better functionality. Often she’ll stare hard at something, point a menacing finger toward the thing and say, “That was designed by a man.” She never means this as a compliment. Rather, she she thinks men tend to design for looks, not function. Including functional flow in houses, on boats, in products we use in our everyday lives. They may think they’re helping, but generally, it seems not (or so my friend contends; do direct your complaints her way, thank you!).

(I Googled “man made” images and this is what came up first!)

I remember years back when public bathrooms started being retrofitted for wheelchair accessibility. It was at about the same time that the salesman for the Giant Toilet Paper Roll Company clearly hit the sales jackpot, because it seemed you couldn’t stumble upon a public loo in the U.S. without a gargantuan roll of the stuff. Which from a male-designed standpoint made some sense: buy big, buy cheap, sure. Buy big, replace less often. Okay, I’m with you. But then the plans things went awry: someone (a male? One wonders…) established standards that seem to have been implemented nation-wide about where to position these mambo-rolls within the narrow confines of a bathroom stall. It had some vague connection to wheelchair accessibility, but I can promise you it had nothing to do with how those in a wheelchair would then be able to access the stuff.

I think it was all about avoiding the handle bar that is installed midway up the stall. So this rocket scientist had a choice: position the paper high, above the bar, or install the paper low. For some reason low made imminent sense (is this because they don’t use the stuff, thus don’t “get” the failed functionality test?). Thus, these mega-rolls are forever installed wayyyy downnnnn lowwwww, requiring the user to lean far to the left and back slightly or forward too much to then get her arm bent enough to be able to reach up into the roll canister to access the stubborn paper that is stuck therein. Once there, you must hard, but argh, you can’t, because some brainiac (perhaps an infrequent user of the product, like, say, a man!) decided it was going to be even cheaper (yay!) to make the paper one-ply (sometimes I think they’ve gotten it down to near zero-ply), so that if you try to pull it–and bear with me because there is physics involved in this and I fail miserably at science concepts–the weight of the 20-lb. roll of toilet paper (TP for short) precludes the ability for the ply-less paper from holding strong against the vigorous force of the pull.

(it seems Bessie the elephant has it easier in the loo than your average woman)

So the innocent bystander (or should I say sitter) in said stall is left, shall we say, holding the square. Because the paper is not going to come off but for sheet-by-miserable-sheet, while you bend over at an awkward angle (and dare I suggest that your average wheelchair-bound woman in a public restroom is likely ill-equipped to be lurching gymnastically leeward to do the TP-twist?).

To compound this dilemma, you have the auto-flush toilet (man designed? you decide…). I once was helping potty train a kid who was terrified of the auto-flush. Poor child burst into tears upon hearing the ominous rumbling of the oncoming flush, a locomotive coming down the tracks. Once, when attempted to help wipe said child, the power flush erupted after having to tilt the kid to one side, and the poor thing literally flipped into a forward roll off the toilet from fright. Leaving me—the one who always cracks up over the wrong things—to laugh till tears streamed down my face.

Okay, so how this fits in with this theme: when you are in the midst of the left-leaning swoop to try to clutch at the elusive weak-willed TP, you then move away from the omniscient laser-beam light that tells the pot it’s time to flush. So while you’re desperately grabbing for paper, that cursed thing is flushing. Again, and again, and again. Because after the first flush you instinctually sit upright to stop the thing from happening, but then darned if you don’t have to reaacchchhhh wayyyyy down to try to get that elusive paper.

Maybe the end-result of this design flaw issue is that women are less likely to use public bathrooms, an added bonus for the provider, who then saves in water usage (except when the auto-flush goes awry), paper consumption (because you can’t get to it and thus you give up even trying), and cleaning supplies (because no one is using it with the regularity of days gone by). Plus you save on all that toilet paper theft.

About that TP theft…I’m sorry! I did it! I was a stupid college student! What can I say?

Yes, I have a dirty little secret: I have to assume some of the blame in this TP quandary. I admit there were times when my college roommates and I would help ourselves to a spare roll or two from the dorm bathrooms and take them back to our apartment. On a college budget sometimes you had to choose between spending spare cash on beer or TP. I think you can guess which usually won the internal debate. I do remember being at a bar one night with three rolls tucked lumpily in my backpack. I have to concede that it would be downright impossible (not to mention awkward) to lug a 10-lb roll of that cheap paper in your backpack. Plus once you got it home, what would you do with it? You’d have to hammer a railroad stake into the wall and dangle the thing from it. (note to students: if you do so, please hang it high enough!).

I have absolutely no idea what this has to do with this blog post but it seemed like such a bizarre image I just had to include it!

Okay, so back to the design thing. I am a female. I know how to do this better. It’s actually quite logical. Put the mega-giant-gargantuan roll of toilet paper up HIGHER, people (i.e. men who have decided it should be as close to the floor tiles as humanly possible). We women will appreciate it, and I have to assume particularly those in wheelchairs will thank you as well. End of rant.

Drowning in a Sea of Communications

When I was a girl, I waited impatiently each day for the mailman (back then it was always a man) to arrive. Not that I was expecting much of anything (short of some important little nugget of heartthrob news from the David Cassidy Fan Club), but the arrival of mail was such theater in my house that the entertainment factor mattered, if nothing else.
I challenge you to not think of the song "I Think I Love You" when looking at this!
When the mailman tried to thrust the fat bundle of letters through the slot of the door, located at the bottom of a flight of steps on the side of our house, our two (and sometimes three) very large (and otherwise sedate) Labrador retrievers would leap down the stairs and into the door, trying to catch the mail as it fell through the slot, thrashing their heads like sharks feeding on a surfers leg. By the time the mail was all stuffed in (the mailman no doubt saying prayers for the safe return of his fingers each time he stuck another envelope through the hole), it was anybody’s guess how much of it was punctured through with teeth marks, sort of their little doggy time stamp. Amazingly most often the letters were still entirely legible.
Insert mail here
Our mailman didn’t exactly enjoy delivering to our house. Once he brought a package to the door and our dogs lurched toward it thinking they could shred that too. My father had to placate the poor fellow and his trembling hands with a stiff shot of Jack Daniels before he could return to his rounds.
My father, a fastidious mail checker, at some point carried over his mail ritual from his office and incorporated it into our home mail system. Each piece was punched with a date stamp, even junk mail. My family could never quite understand why he was even saving advertising fliers for the Gold Circle Stores super savings of the week, let alone preserving record of their prompt arrival at our home. Eventually, the junk mail hoarder became overwhelmed with the volume of the stuff, piled as it was throughout the house. Nevertheless he logged its arrival with the regularity of a laxative.
When the internet came along and with it email, I was entranced. Gone was the need to wait a full 24 hours for contact from the outside world: any time of the day or night communication from someone unexpected might just come my way, and I was ready for it. Maybe Donny Osmond would finally reply to that love letter I sent him in 1970! (Wait, Donny Osmond? Just joking!)
Trust me, there was no puppy love there
Nevertheless, I stupidly habituated myself to check for new email frequently, something easily done when you’re glued to the computer for work anyhow. This habit was only reinforced with a career as a professional writer, waiting as writers do for contact from agents, editors, and responses to pitches for freelance pieces.
Then came the requisite joining of writing groups online, which involved far too many email group chats (known as list servs) in which mundane ramblings about anything from nagging bunions to menopause was twisted like loathsome kudzu around relevant professional information and networking opportunities. This forced me to weed through myriad email conversations about someone’s grandmother’s bedsores in order to glean necessary facts (and not about grandma).
At first, email came in modest spurts, never anything unmanageable. The list serves added a time-consuming component but still, one in which I could remain ahead of the curve. Then along came social networking sites. MySpace gave way to Facebook, which now duels with Twitter for one’s limited time. Back in the good old days, oh, say, about 2005, a writer could just write. But with the onset of social networking came the aha moment for the publishing industry that <span style=”font-style:italic;”>voila! Authors can do all of their own marketing and publicity and save us bundles.</span>
So I found myself dividing my time between writing, sifting through burgeoning stockpiles of emails–many of which were from professional online groups–mingled with jumping to and from other professional online networking sites, then servicing the demanding gods of Twitter and Facebook. It’s to the point that my working day has been subdivided into one in which writing seems to be continually squeezed out by the ancillary demands of a writer. I’ve become my father, minus the date stamp.
Which finds me now under water with internet communications. Drowning in information about which I barely even care at this point, entirely repelled from that which once fostered and now only distracts me. I feel under siege with email, as if I’m imprisoned by excessive information: I’m Gulliver, securely tied down by the Lilliputians. If I’m gone for a day, unable to check and respond to just emails, I’ve got well over a hundred new messages staring me down from the backlit screen of my laptop, demanding servicing ASAP. That doesn’t even include the Facebook friend invitations, group invitations, messages, comments, and whatever lies in wait from Twitter. It’s enough to make a writer want to, um, how about just write? Which seems a luxury of bygone days, sadly.
I look fondly back on the simpler era when my dogs capably chewed up our daily mail. I could await the mailman’s arrival, and then get back to my life. The good old days when electronic distractions didn’t threaten to unhinge a person. Back when I still held out hope that David Cassidy would write back to me with that marriage proposal I was so certain was coming my way, provided it didn’t get shredded beyond repair. Now that I think about it, some electronic dogs to shred my online correspondence sounds like a grand invention, doesn’t it?

All in a Day's Work

This is not me, but the vodka while cleaning might not be a bad idea...
Cliché or not, I want to talk about resolutions for just a minute. And not because I ever bother with any; I don’t. But because I know that there is at least one person around my house who wouldn’t mind if I resolved to try to clean my house occasionally this year.

The thing is, I don’t not clean my house. I just rarely undertake the rigorous all-day effort required to have the whole place clean all at once. Maybe it’s because it only builds up smoldering resentment in me when everyone then comes home and ravages our home in a matter of minutes; or perhaps my psyche can take it better one meager clean-then-trashed room at a time. Or I OCD clean, which takes ten times as long (no hired housecleaner will devote hours to baseboard cleaning, and if I do that, by the time I work my way up days will have passed!).
We do sometimes have folks come to clean, when things get desperate. I’d love to have a regular housecleaner, but I think I might be too populist to have someone doing my dirty work for me all the time, like I feel as if I need to pitch in. I’d be fixing meals for the maid, donning my own pair of rubber gloves when done with that to help scrub things.

this poor maid needs a makeover

Don’t get me wrong, I adore having a sparkling home, but it’s a moot point, as it’s not in the budget for the next, oh, say, rest of my life, anyhow. So I’ve resigned myself to picking up the broom, and yes, even the toilet brush, all in the interest of avoiding COPD or whatever other breathing disorders my family might succumb to if I don’t clean the place.
In honor of my birthday a few days before Christmas, we had cleaners come in. More because we had 18 people coming for Christmas Eve dinner and there was no way I’d have time to cook and clean for that lot. In truth it wasn’t for my birthday, but ended up being an unexpected bonus. See, I cleverly tried to get them to come clean on my birthday as a self-gift, but they refused, saying they were too busy. I had to settle instead for two days earlier (meaning I’d have to re-clean again before company came, because my family would have dismantled the cleanliness by then). But then they forgot to come on their appointed day. Which is problematic, when you spend hours preparing for the cleaners.

See, preparing for the cleaners is almost as hard as cleaning the place yourself. You have to pick up a houseful of stray mess, discard the piles of trash the kids have left lying around, clean up the clumps of dog hair in the corners (too embarrassing for them to witness), wash every dish, put away any hint of your slovenly self. For me, that takes about, oh, ten hours (I’ve been known to dump the motherload of extraneous mess into laundry baskets and hidden it in the garage; out of sight, out of mind).

this is not me doing the laundry, either

So to my chagrin, the cleaners forgot me (which isn’t as bad as the time a surgeon forgot to release me and left me stranded in the recovery unit till he was tracked down by a nurse while mingling at a cocktail party that evening). But the upside was I got them as a booby prize for my birthday! Hurray! Which meant a completely clean home, which was indeed a lovely birthday gift.

Now if I looked like this good cleaning, maybe I'd do it more often (or at least do it in sexy lingerie that I wouldn't mind bleach splattering)

Occasionally I’ve hired cleaners expecting to smell the heartwarming aroma of the freshly-cleaned, only to be accosted by the most offensive odors imaginable. Once, it was the unsavory fragrance of cat excrement permeating my entire home. The cleaner vacuumed our unfinished basement, the one piled high with boxes and only occupied by the cats, and sucked up the kitty goodies our antique feline failed to leave in the nearby litter box. This in turn clogged my new vacuum cleaner, and for some odd reason they continued to sweep the entire house despite the ghastly smell. Thank goodness I didn’t have to clean the house, because I then had to spend about four hours trying to de-cat poo the vacuum. It was not a pretty sight. Or scent, for that matter.

if only we'd had this litter box, my vacuum would've remained intact

I blame powerful cleaning agents for them not smelling the stench. See, another time we went out of budget for a cleaners treat. These occasions usually occur before unexpected houseguests, so that we can delude these friends that we are not slobs. I left the cleaners to do their thing, then returned home to the noxious scent of a cheap hooker. One in dire need of an olfactory system transplant. Seems the cleaner had used a product called Fabuloso, something that is apparently very popular amongst Latinas who clean, but the aroma of which had me running for the gas masks, if only I’d stockpiled them post-911 and the anthrax-in-your-mailbox-scare. This confirmed my suspicions that cleaning a lot of houses with powerful toxins has rendered the noses of many cleaners basically dead zones. Because the smell of Fabuloso is so not fabuloso; rather it is so vile, toxic and lung-searing, that I had to fumigate my house when they left, re-cleaning with something more mainstream.

My nose burns just looking at this bottle

Back in the 80’s, when a flood of Salvadoran refugees fled to America, many of these immigrant women became housecleaners. We occasionally hired a cleaning company managed by a country gal from West Virginia who was under the impression that if you added enough vowels, very loudly, her Spanish-speaking Salvadoran workers would understand her implicitly. Her commands of “Moppo el flooro” usually fell on uncomprehending ears. And their use of a Chlorox-infused cleaner on my teak dining room table cemented the notion that I should’ve just done it myself.

This is not me cleaning, thank goodness!

I suppose I could turn this clean-house resolution on its head by suggesting the one around here most desirous of the spic and span mode perhaps pony up as well. After all, we need a lot of painting on our aging house, and I’m way too short to reach all those high places. Plus, last time we had housepainters, you should’ve seen what those folks destroyed. It’s either that, or fire the maid, and I’m pretty sure I can’t fire myself.

Now this is more like me, happily polishing the good china after spending hours preparing a hearty meal