People debate evolution as it pertains to life on Earth, but there is no questioning evolution as it pertains to the hand dryers found in the restrooms of schools, restaurants, and rest areas off the New Jersey Turnpike. Hanging on the wall of some biology classroom there is a chart showing a slimy amphibious hand dryer crawling out of the primordial soup, a few matzoh balls still clinging to its metal chassis, and its fins and crank evolving into feet and a blower.
Yes, kids, the hand dryers that populate my sepia-toned memories of public school boys’ rooms in the 1980s have unadorned metal cranks that rolled out brown paper towel that could do anything except dry one’s hands. We would wet the paper towels and wrap them around our foreheads in imitation of the pop starlets of the day. One time my grandfather asked me why I was doing this, and I told him it was because the paper towels were not good for drying.
“Ah, you kids today are so spoiled,” he said. “I remember when we had to dry our hands on dried animal skins. Sometimes our hands would come away filthier than before, with grime and dried blood. Have you ever gone out to dinner at a five-star restaurant with the parents of the girl you’re dating, and come back from the restroom with dried animal blood on your hands?”
Mixed in with the lavatory tin lizzies were electric hand dryers. This marvelous invention was a white fixture with a stunted chrome proboscis and circular button by which one could trigger the stream of lukewarm air. The circular button looked at if it had once looked magnificent dressed in a shiny chrome finish. But that finish had been worn off by thousands of wet hands, forearms, elbows, and even feet banging the button. Did anyone ever gently push that circular once-chrome button instead of banging it? It was an unspoken that only real washroom users made a fist and pounded it into the button to start the dryer, like the Fonz starting the jukebox at Arnold’s.
The really funny thing about those old hand dryers is the word “dryer.” I don’t remember ever getting my hands dry on the first time through, or even the second. I would have to stand there for a good ten minutes, banging away the last flecks of chrome off that poor battered circular button while a line of irate men with wet hands formed behind me.
That would never happen today. Those hand dryers from the Industrial Revolution have been replaced by turbo-speed hand dryers that blow the skin right off your hands. And you don’t have to bang any buttons, either. The dryers are triggered by infrared sensors that can see wet hands before them as well as Taliban commandos in the Afghanistani night.
The configurations of the hand dryers are different, too. Instead of blowing air straight down, I’ve seen dryers that are folded over, and you place your hands inside a crease and the turbo-speed hot air dries your hands from both sides. In the future you’ll place your hands inside a teleportation chamber. The wet hands will be transported to a galaxy far, far away, where a swarm of miniature winged drier-fairies, that fly about your hands and dry them, not unlike the people that work at car washes. Once dry, your hands are teleported back to the chamber in the rest room. And you won’t find it strange at all that your hands are missing. Due to the principles of special relativity, no earth-time passes at all while your hands are being dried light years away.
The circular chrome buttons are a thing of the past. Somewhere in a junkyard there is a giant pile of circular chrome buttons from old-fashioned hand dryers. Families bring their children to play on the piles, and on the way home, perhaps at the obligatory stop off at McDonald’s, the children ask the parents how the piles got there.
And the parents smile, and maybe tell the children the truth, that technology changed so that people could have drier hands, and the circular chrome buttons had to sent out to pasture. But more likely they’ll tell their children that the chrome buttons got lonely, sitting all alone in this restroom or that, and congregate to one place where they could be together. Forever.