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.
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.