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October 26, 2013

Getting robbed of my untapped potential

Sam Pollak
The Daily Star

---- — This …. well … could have happened.

There I am, standing at the kitchen sink, my glass at the ready under the faucet, desiring nothing more than some cool water to slake an honest man’s thirst.

Then … nothing.

Not a drop.

Sometimes the faucet at work is a little balky, and it helps when I wave the glass under the nozzle a few times. I do so now, at home.

Still nothing.

I don’t understand what’s going on, so I call my wife over, seeking her wise counsel.

“Look,” I say, wiggling the glass under the tap a bit more emphatically. “Nothing is coming out … and I’m thirsty.”

“Hmmmm,” she says, rubbing a pretty chin, “I believe I see the solution to your difficulty.”

I look at her in amazement, impressed that she could solve the problem so quickly. She went on.

“Do you see those two knobs on either side of the spout?”

I reply that I could see them clearly.

“Well,” she says, “if you want cold water to come out of that faucet, it will require that you move the knob on the right in a counterclockwise direction.”

“The devil you say!”

“No, really,” she says encouragingly. “Try it.”

I do, bringing forth a torrent like Moses upon the rock at Horeb.

Fascinated, I try the same method with the knob on the left, but it won’t budge.

“No, dear,” says my bride, “that one you must turn clockwise.”

“What sorcery is this?” I murmur.

But sure enough, when I follow her instructions to the letter, warm and increasingly hot water flows from the tap.

“Everything OK now?” this jewel among women asks.

“I’m not rightly sure,” I say. “It sure seems like a lot to remember — counterclockwise on the right, clockwise on the left. That’s a whole lot of work for just a glass of water.”

She walks away, shaking her head and mumbling something about wishing she had married someone else ... anyone else.

But it’s not my fault. Have you noticed lately how you can’t enter a public restroom and find a faucet that isn’t run by some device that turns itself on and off as it pleases?

If manufacturers’ claims are to be believed, it saves a lot of water, maybe as much as 70 percent that would just go down the drain if left to mere humans to control. More importantly, it takes all that pressure out of washing your hands.

I don’t know about you, but I used to lie awake nights consumed with worry about whether I would be able to handle the responsibility of cleansing the Pollak hands and face.

Of course, because all the public bathrooms seem to have hand-dryer gadgets, removing moisture from a washed face is no longer an option. Probably just as well, as there is vicious debate among the cognoscenti about whether hand dryers spread germs.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but intense research reveals that truly effective hand washing must entail soaping up and scrubbing for at least the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday to You” song twice (about 20 seconds, not counting encores).

Here’s the frightening part: If you’re merely rinsing your hands before submitting them to the blower, chances are your germs will be blasted into the air where they will doubtlessly be up to no good.

As the argument over whether the germ blasting actually occurs rages on, I have to admit that I have been a bit nervous about standing in front of a urinal or toilet while some sort of X-ray or electric eye aimed at my nether regions determines when it’s time to flush.

Happily, that isn’t the case at all. I’ve learned that these are not beams that we will find out decades later cause cancer. They’re called “passive infrared sensors,” and they don’t shoot out any death rays. Like the motion detectors that turn on lights outside of a nervous citizen’s house when you walk by, they just detect energy given off by objects … including me.

Learning that made me feel much better, and now I’m completely comfortable allowing some doohickey with a sensor to determine how much water I might want or when it’s time to zip up.

I am George Jetson … and loving it.

Until I get home, of course, where there are towels I must use if I want my hands to be dry, and toilets to flush without the advice of an infrared sensor, passive or otherwise.

It all seems so barbaric, so 20th century, and I’m getting all hot and bothered about it. I could really use a drink of water.

Now, how does that faucet thing work, again?

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208. His columns can be found at