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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.

Categories: humor, Jenny Gardiner, memoir, Over the Falls, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Slim to None, Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me, women, women's fiction

My Brush with Royalty

Watching the royal wedding brought back memories from long ago, my one and only brush with royalty…
It was 1990, I was pregnant with my first child. I was working as a photographer in Washington, DC and my husband and I had gone to Florida for a business trip he had to take. A few months earlier, I’d contacted the British Embassy after having read about an upcoming garden party; I figured any self-respecting garden party would need a photographer so I pitched my services.
The charming press person at the time politely told me they had a photographer but would take my name for future events, should they arise. I figured that was the last I would hear from him.
Fast forward a few months later, to a dingy hotel room in Bradenton, Florida. My husband had to attend a carnival trade show because a product his company produced was being knocked off and pawned off as carny prizes. He’d hoped to persuade those power mongers (read with a wink) who operate carnivals to buy the legitimate product, rather than ripping his company off.
Now, if you’ve ever gone to a carnival, you can probably conjure up images of your average carny type: Seedy-looking men, missing and rotting teeth, grizzled faces. There’s usually an all-around feel of felons-freshly-sprung-from-prison about the place, coupled with the aroma of years-old trans-fat sizzling away in deep-frying vats awaiting a plunge from a 2000-calorie corn dog or maybe a fried twinkle, perhaps a grease-sopped funnel cake if you’re lucky.
Well, the difference between a carnival and a carnival trade show (at least 20-some years ago) is simply that the grease isn’t as old. Same creepy people, same vile food, same crappy products. So we were coming off a most relaxing day amidst the seedier element of society at Carny-ville, and were relaxing at the hotel when I decided to check our voice mail.
Back then we’d only recently acquired an answering machine. I know this sounds crazy, but they were newfangled devices then. Technologically-stunted as I’ve always been, I’d barely figured out how to check our messages on the thing before we left for our trip. And while gone, one morning before embarking on our carnival trade show expedition, I called home to see if we had any messages. Which was when I heard the voice mail from a Gareth So-and-So from the British Embassy, asking if I was interested in an upcoming event. He needed an answer immediately.
Of course I called back pronto. Remember, there were no cell phones back then. Wait, there were. When I worked on Capitol Hill in the 80’s I’d gone to a hair salon near the White House and remember seeing an Important Looking Man lugging a small suitcase in one hand, holding a phone receiver attached to the suitcase by a long coiled cord, with the other. This was back when offices had rooms devoted to housing gargantuan “mainframes” to operate computers. How far we’ve come in so short a time…) But making long-distance calls from anywhere other than home was a cumbersome process back then: using a calling card, you had to dial about 70 numbers without screwing up the number sequence and then get connected to some remote operator or bell tones, enter in another 20 digits and maybe then you’d be connected to your number. Amazingly I dialed through successfully, and got hold of Gareth before he’d found another photographer.
“Hallo,” he said to me in a gorgeous clipped British accent. I don’t care what one looks like, when you speak with that accent it erases all flaws instantly. I swooned over the phone. In a professional manner, of course.
“I have a job you might be interested in,” Gareth told me. I figured maybe another garden party, one of those things where women wear silly hats (Princes Beatrice, anyone?)
weirdly, don't they look like the wicked stepsisters from Cinderella?
“His Royal Highness will be coming to Washington and there are several events for which we need a photographer.”
I tried hard to maintain my composure and not choke. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Needed me. Prince Charles, then the celebrated man of the hour, considered studly despite his jug ears (and yes, they are quite juggy). The embassy needed moi, go figure, to shoot the man (with a camera of course).
I tried to remain cool, as if often I was invited to be the official photographer of the world’s most famous royal (next to his then-wife Princess Diana).
I told Gareth I needed to check my schedule, and pretended to leaf through my sad-sack calendar, the dinky 4″ x 4″ one like you used to get for free at the Hallmark store (yep, electronic calendars were years away). And of course I instantly leapt at the chance, no doubt appearing pathetically excited and simpering about the prospect of this brush with British royalty.
I was, as I said, pregnant. At that time speculation abounded that Diana and Charles were going for a girl, and rumors were running amok that she was indeed pregnant. I pondered drumming up some small talk with Chuck about his pregnant wife (a presumptuous leap on my part), what with us having so much in common, I knew we were bound to be BFFs and all. Fortunately I opted out of that tack. Because it wasn’t long after that that we all learned that Charles had been clandestinely telling his extramarital fling Camilla he yearned to be her tampon or maxi pad or something equally abhorrent. Clearly he wouldn’t have been keen dishing on Di with me when he was fantasizing about being inside Camilla’s knickers (literally).
My husband never once wanted to come along on my photo shoots (particularly the dull ones, like the American Institute of CPAs; can’t blame him, though those CPAs were a lovely bunch). Even my Liz Taylor shoot he shunned. But he jumped at the chance to be my assistant for the royal visit.
Prior  to undertaking the job, we got a mini-lesson on dealing with the Prince–i.e. avoid dealing with the Prince. No handshaking, speak to him only when spoken to, that sort of thing.
I was told the Prince always had a group photo taken with his equerry staff (the cadre of helpers who travel with him everywhere to be sure someone puts the toothpaste on his toothbrush, that sort of thing). So we assembled the group amidst the splendor of the British Embassy, an elegant building filled with a vast collection of priceless artwork. I directed the men to line up in two rows, some seated, some standing.
“I need all of the men seated to place hands in laps,” I instructed them.
“Your own laps,” my able-bodied spouse interjected, to the horror of the embassy staff.
Silence hung in the air as I awaited the big man himself firing me from the job. But then instead, Charles placed his hand over his mouth and…snickered. It was a very royal sounding laugh, a ha-ha-ha rather than an all-out guffaw. But enough so that I knew the job hadn’t slipped through my fingers, and for my husband to this day to be able to stake his claim on having gotten Charles to chuckle.
Shame Charles and Di never did end up being our BFFs, no double-dating was in the cards, no naming each other our kids’ godparents. But we’ll always have Charles’ chuckle.

Categories: News

When Vacation Should've Been Staycation...

Ahh, holiday weekends: those bastions of escapism we all so crave. And all too often live to regret…

The idea was a peaceful weekend at a relative’s lake house. We brought a friend and her kids along who needed to get away and chill even more than we did. Buwith the holiday weekend now past, I desperately need to recover from my non-restful getaway.

In the interest of disclosure, I should admit that I’m not a lake person. The idea of stagnant water teeming with things like poisonous snakes and trash and the fuel discards from tens of thousands of boats and jet skis (oh, and an entire valley of rotten trees and lord knows what else that might lurk beneath one’s floating body, as this is a lake created from flooding a large tract of land) doesn’t make me too thrilled. The mushy gushy unidentified bottom, the clay-rusted water that stains your swimsuit, the decomposing leaves on the top, and other stench and detritus along the lake’s shorelines just do not appeal to me. Give me the wash of crystal blue ocean waves, the soothing sound of seagulls, the brilliant twinkle of sun reflecting off sugared sand beaches any day.

My sister-in-law used to refer to the lake house as Cape Fear. As in, “Oh, no! You’re going to Cape Fear again?” She knew how not-keen I was for the aforementioned reasons. Throw in my small children who needed to be watched like hawks in order to avoid drowning, being flung from a pounding motor boat, poisonous snakes and spiders, ground wasps, ticks, sunburn, and about a hundred other safety hazards, and being lake-bound meant being stress-bound for me. The absence of air conditioning in sweltering heat along with other missing accoutrements of modernity like a dishwasher didn’t add much to the charm. To top it off, the nearest town—a limited escape hatch–is a bit, well, cheesy. The kind of place where they have a “Junque Shoppe” and another that sells “Biskits.” As the fourth grade spelling bee champ, I am rarely amused by deliberately freakish misspellings of common words, even if to be cutesy.

But as my brood has gotten older, the trip has become a bit easier. Enough so that while I still contend it’s pretty much camping with a roof (and I do loathe camping)–what with the massive amounts of foodstuffs, linens and other items you have to lug along for even a few days–it’s not quite as hazard-filled. And since I’ve not been away anywhere just to relax in easily a year, our getaway sounded almost fun. Almost.

We arrived later than planned after a harried Saturday morning of packing, topped off with last-minute inclusion of every blanket and spare pillow we owned (which I would have to wash upon our return). My bug-averse daughter discovered the room in which she’d be sleeping was infested with hundreds of jumbo ants, whose eradication took top priority.

Meanwhile, I’d unleashed the dogs to run free, to hear only moments later the piercing yelps of pain from our Labrador echo hauntingly across the water: a neighbor’s dog had raced onto the property and promptly latched onto her hind quarter with a very powerful and unrelenting jaw, leaving her bleeding and endangering my daughter who tried to break up the melee. Bizarrely, the owner of the dog (which had a rap sheet of previous bites) chose to scream at us rather than apologize profusely, as protocol would dictate.

Killer Dog
Killer Dog

After spending the first hour trying to track down a veterinarian that actually worked on a holiday weekend (with limited cell phone service, natch), I then had to divert to the lovely vet’s to have our dog treated.

Meanwhile, a neighbor across the cove had decided to destroy the serenity with a gas-powered leaf blower, then to set fire to five towering mounds of wet leaves and branches that smoldered for several hours, filling the cove with blinding smoke and leaving everyone choking in its wake. This despite my husband’s entreaties to cease the burning, what with all of the fumes wafting our direction.

The lake was overrun with other fun-seekers, churning up the normally calm waters to hurricane proportions. Not one inclined toward seasickness, I felt green in the gills as the boat towed our tubing kids in treacherous currents. Sure I could’ve stayed on shore, but felt the need to actually witness what I figured were the inevitable tubing-related head injuries that would result from the foray into fierce waters. Call me crazy, but I hate the idea of naively waiting back at the house, only to have someone come racing in to tell me we need to find emergency medical help.

Now THAT'S a mean looking dog

By days end an aged and rotting chair in which I was lounging collapsed, and I sweated to near-fainting proportions while cooking dinner for 13 in the stifling air of the a/c-free kitchen, my R&R a mere specter of its former potential.

Back home now, I’m tackling the nearly twenty loads of lake-related laundry, remnants of my relaxing escape from life’s drudgeries. I might be done washing by my next vacation. That would be the one sailing in the Keys, right where several million gallons of oil and toxic solvents are wending their way. So much for that relaxing vacation , eh?

Categories: humor, Jenny Gardiner, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me, women's fiction