It Must Have Won a Prize

toiletOn a recent trip to Aarhus, Denmark, I found myself in the home of Danish Modern Design, confronting what appeared to be a faucet.

I suspected it to be the faucet because it protruded from the bathroom sink in the place where one usually expects a faucet to be – but damned if I could figure out how to get water from it.

The design was elegant, I will give it that. A simple featureless chrome pipe. It probably even won a prize for industrial design, which is the cruelest thing one can say about design.

Prizes are handed out by critics and it is the job of a critic to write about things, the rest of us have to use things, like faucets.

In this particular bathroom, there were a lot of award winning features. It took me half an hour to locate the light switch and another half an hour to figure out how it worked.

Don’t get me wrong, I love modern design but please let’s just agree on something: form must always follow function. Let’s also agree on something else, there are vital areas of everyday life where urgency is the overriding design principle – like the bathroom – which must never be tampered with.

Of all the places to go wild with design – why the bathroom?

So back to the faucet.

I couldn’t figure out where the water came out, much less how to use it. So I applied my extensive experience with faucets to this particular device.

Since there were no visible knobs, I twisted the shaft. It wouldn’t twist. I depressed the top, it would not compress. I tried wagging the tube from side to side but something about the way it moved promised catastrophic failure. Nothing worked.

It then dawned on me that the faucet, like everything in the bathroom might be controlled by an electronic eye, so I waved at it and sure enough, a red LED light winked coyly back but no water came out.

Perhaps my gesture was too conservative?

I tried a big Midwestern HOWDY but it only shrugged it off with a New Jersey UP-YOURS.

I batted at it.

I whacked it.

I got eyeball to eyeball with it.

SPITOOOOO!

I had finally got it to work. As I dried my face, I tried cussing at it. Cussing didn’t work either but it made me feel better.

“Are you having a problem?” my wife called from the next room.

“YES!” I said, “I can’t figure out how the faucet works.”

She giggled. “So Mr. High-Tech can’t turn on a faucet? Put your hands in front of the tube and wiggle your fingers”

“You have got to be kidding,” I said – and then, “Holy Moly, it worked! Now how do you adjust for hot and cold?”

“Don’t be silly,” she said, “wiggle your left hand for hot and right hand for cold.”

I couldn’t believe it – but what works, works, so I went about the remainder of my ritual.

A few minutes later, she called through the door. “Do you want me to tell you how the shower works?”

I was too humiliated to answer. I didn’t care how long it would take, I was going to figure it out myself.

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