It Must Have Won a Prize


“What now?”

There I was in the bathroom of a painfully modern hotel confronting what appeared to be a faucet.

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

The thing was a simple featureless chrome pipe, a design so elegant that it probably even won a prize for industrial design, which is about the cruelest thing one can say about any object.

You see, prizes are handed out by critics who only have to write about things that the rest of us have to use.

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; can form please 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.

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.


I had finally got it to work.

As I dried my face, I tried cussing at it, which is where this story began. Cussing didn’t work either, but it made me feel a whole lot 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, but I was going to figure it out myself.

Author: Almost Iowa

48 thoughts on “It Must Have Won a Prize”

  1. I’m too pragmatic for faucets that challenge your mind and sense of balance. I like simple, which is the opposite of modern gadgetry. Don’t complicate my life further… *meh*

    1. I worked with a programmer who wrote code as complicated as he possibly could. It did it to make himself feel smart. Not oddly, the smartest developer in the group wrote the simplest most straight-forward code. Reading it was as enjoyable as reading a novel. He did things to make himself feel smart too. He wrote little jokes in his code. Jokes that almost everyone could enjoy. He was a pleasure to work with.

  2. I’m not quite sure when “modern” became a translation for “unbelievably complicated and difficult to use,” but the world has been a much meaner place ever since…….

    1. My sister lived in Brasรญlia for a few years. It is the capital of Brazil and reputedly designed by the same guy who did my faucet, or at least his cousin. It is a beautifully modern urbanist Utopian city – the only problem is that people have to live there.

  3. I swear every time I see one of these gadgets I think of how useless they will be during a power failure. But I guess during a power failure dirty hands won’t matter if you’re sitting in the dark ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. One of the requirements for a system I built was that it had to survive a direct nuclear hit. The solution was an early version of “The Cloud”. When I suggested we do a real life test… I was ignored. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. In my travels in regional areas, I’ve also encountered issues of this magnitude. Grrrrr!
    Took me a while to figure out toilet paper dispensers……and I wasn’t three sheets to the wind!

  5. I feel ever so much better. I spent all of last night trying to figure out a ROKU tv system. All I wanted was a live news channel. Today, I learned I couldn’t get one because there isn’t one, no matter how many buttons I pushed. I think I’ll go try to wash my hands instead.

  6. You made me laugh out loud, but my husband would never let me get away with telling him to wiggle his fingers. In his world, men don’t wiggle. And bathroom equipment should always function the way he expects it too. Then, after lengthy delay (no wiggling, no asking directions), he explains how I’m meant to use the shower, and I wiggle my fingers.

  7. You’d think that such a faucet would come with instructions, and hotel management would place a copy of said instructions in every room (or maybe they did, but cleverly put the instructions where you couldn’t see them). Of course, you could’ve called the front desk for help, but the phone was probably too high-tech to figure out also.

    Nest time, stay at a flea-bag motel so that you’ll only have to contend with fleas.

    1. It drives me nuts when seemingly simple things are all but impossible to do. It’s called clever design – but like most people, I am not clever.

  8. Whenever I checked into a hotel and saw a “Recently Remodeled” sign, I knew I was in for a stressful night. After I figured out the bathroom in one, I tried figuring out how to dim the display on the high-tech clock radio. No apparent way. It was plugged in behind the headboard. I finally wrapped it in a towel. I guess I should have called your wife.

    1. Window cranks? Please, please, please. We live on a dirt road and would love to crack the window an inch to let the air in but not the dust. It is impossible to do that with push button windows. It is either ALL THE WAY UP or ALL THE WAY DOWN. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

  9. Lol. My body doesn’t seem to have any electrical current or whatever it is that turns on faucets. Even finger wiggling doesn’t work. I can relate!

    1. It’s mechanical Karma. Stan can tell you all about that. You might have kicked tires on a car lot and the cars took it personally. They do that you know and they are notorious gossips.

  10. Do you find it just a little bit scary that your wife is well-versed in how to tame a modern bathroom? And was she filming for America’s Funniest Home Videos?
    You did make me laugh out loud…in empathy! ๐Ÿ˜‚

  11. Last month we were updating our master bathroom so, for a few days, had to use the ‘other’ bathroom. We have not used that bathroom in forever–it’s the guest bath! After trying everything I could think of, I had to have my husband come in and show me how to turn on the darn shower. He had a good little snicker about that.

    1. What is it with schools and churches that attract ugly design? I suspect it is committees. It takes a certain personality to spend the requisite long boring hours of committee work. Bravo for their efforts – but really? Let’s put the design of things to a vote.

      Ah but then we have to ask, just who bothers to vote?

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