In which E@L channels Nicholson Baker*...
With my bag packed, I turn off the laptop, look out the window down Keppel Bay to Batam in the hazy distance, turn away, and I head towards the front door of the office. On the way I wave at my three colleagues who are still working - at 6:15pm! - in the other rooms. With a single punch I trigger the unlocking mechanism of the office front door and turn left towards the toilet at Lobby A. I prefer the Gents Toilet at Lobby A as it much bigger and has more urinals and cubicles than Lobby B or Lobby C, even though it is where I lost my passport last month. I take a piss and depress the steel button which lives on the top of the faucet, to dispense water, then I push on the top of the entire soap dispenser nozzle, which is all of a piece (and insecurely attached to the bench) to sprog out some foam to wash my hands. There are no paper towel dispensers as this would involve a culture that cares about hygiene and therefore, with wet hands, pulling open the door with my little finger, I exit the main Gents Toilet and immediately turn sharp right into the adjacent Disabled Toilet - which is conveniently free as there are fortunately not that many unfortunate cripples, spazs or retards on the 10th floor. I go into this single toilet as it has an air-drier that actually dries my hands. There was once the same same type of air-drier in the Gents Toilet but, alas, it broke down and was been replaced with an inferior model. That was a sad day for me as I have found most air-driers to suffer from one of two main faults. Either they blow air that too is hot, or they blow with two mild an air-stream. Or both, mostly. Or they donít trigger with the auto-detection technology gizmo** when I place my hands under them - OK, thatís four faults, or combinations, I guess. The replacement air-drier in the Gents Toilet does not blow hard enough, so that even though the air temperature is OK, it still takes several hours (so it seems) for the evaporation to dry my hands. Of course, as even my grandmother could tell you, were she still alive and coherent at 118, it is the wind effect that boosts the rate of evaporation that dries your hands (she would say the washing, wooden-pegged to her garden's clothes-line which was held up with a long piece of timber, forked at one end, tapered to a point at the other for sticking into the ground - adjust its position to change the height of the line and put the clothes up into the wind or down, where she can unpeg them and load them into the wicker basket, so simple, so functional, so green, unlike using electric air-driers to dry to hands that would dry themselves anyway by the time you walked across the building to Lobby B) not high temperatures, so a high-speed air-stream is essential to a quality air-drier. With just a moderately warm temperature it should work very quickly. Cheap systems that use a low air-stream but a very high temperature only end up burning your hands, and the water is still there, scalding you further, like napalm (thanks, Harvard School of Science) on a childís flesh. What is with air-drier companies, canít they work this out? My all-time favorite air-drier is found in the toilets Plaza Singapura - the Mitsubishi Jet-Stream model. It has a series of air-jets on either side of a vertical slot and it blows extremely fast. They spent their money on a good blower. You dip your hands down into it, like you were putting bread into a toaster. If you do this at a steady pace it only takes one or, usually, two even passes for your hand to be sufficiently dry. I was happy before because the previous air-drier in the Gents Toilet, while not a Mitsubishi Jet-Stream, was like the current air-drier in the Disabled Toilet. It blows fast as well and is quite warm - a perfect combination for a rapid evaporation in a more conventional down-flowing air-stream model and, truly, this gives me a great sense of satisfaction. I have to adjust my trousers. The air-drier is stainless steel and glossy, too. Sitting at home, typing this, fucked if I remember the brand-name of the good air-drier. It starts with B, is all I recall. I think of Bonobos, those ugly chimps that fuck each other a lot, but that is not it. The replacement one currently placed in the Gents Toilet is yellow plastic - itís crap. Yuk.
After my hands are dry, I head to Lobby B to take the lift down to the taxi area. I always go to Lobby B if I want to take a lift because there are more of them, and therefore you have to wait less time for one to arrive, even though you have to walk across the building to get to Lobby B. It doesnít matter so much; actually it is even more convenient because the taxi queue starts just outside the sliding-glass doors on Level 1 of Lobby B. I press the button to call for a lift and a small green LED lights up in the middle of the button, in fact on all four of the down-lift buttons. There are six lift-wells here, three on either side. There are only two lifts in Lobby A plus a filthy maintenance lift. Yuk. And sssulllloowww. After a few minutes a bell rings, the green LEDs in the middle of all four buttons are extinguished and the globe in the triangular glass panel above the lift which has arrived lights up. I am about to enter the lift when I swear under my breath and walk slowly back out of Lobby B across the building, to my office door. I press the electronic key against the sensor and the door unlocks. I wave to the people still working in the office even though it is 6:30pm and go into my office where the sunset is right in my eyes. After a quick scan over my desk, I turn around, placing my wallet in my back pocket and my glasses on my head, make for the door, wave at my colleagues yet again, one of whom looks at me and rests her chin on her hand, and I head for Lobby B.
In the Times Bookshop at Plaza Singapura later on, I wander into the stationery section. It is a madeline dipped in tea. Plastic pens, musty paper and ink of all colors. They combine their scents to transport me back in time, here in Times. I close my eyes and I am in Primary School, it is Sr Mary Brigaís class, and I am the stationery monitor. This is so cool. I have ownership of the keys to the stationery cupboard for this termÖ I love the stationery cupboard, all those tools of the educational industry, of knowledge and of creativity: pens, various packets of nibs for the pens, small bottles of India ink in red square cardboard packets, some Biros for the teachers, HB pencils as the standard writing implement of the kids in the lower classes, 2B and 4B pencils for artistic shading effects, wooden rulers, small plastic rulers, chalks - mostly white, fresh blackboard erasers, dangerous pointy things for mathematics (Michael Ryan stabbed himself in the hand once, playing funny buggers), protractors - small solid ones and larger versions with a hole the middle like the missing explanation in a cheated answer, various Manila folders, adhesive spots and markers, packets of Holy Cards (perhaps I am imagining), exercise books, jotters and notepads of many dimensional combinations and, up on the top shelf, those new-fangled loose-leaf binders. I almost swoon with all this potential intellectual power so close to me, and the keys to the change box for payments! But then I open my eyes and I am back in Times in Plaza Singapura. I smile when I see all the marks where dozens of pens have been tested. The smell of indigo, it is the same as the stains on my un-tucked school shirt, on my fingers and the paper-down side of my recalcitrant left-hand, black-blue stains, to the despair of my mother.
I buy the envelopes I came here for and yet another book about how China is a fucked up country about to fall into a hole of debt, caused by the overpriced RMB and the extremely shoddy workmanship of illiterate (even very literate) farmers' sons thronging the factories of Guangzho, bringing the entire world down with it. Was the book written with a pen and ink, I wonder?
* To REALLY channel Nicholson Baker, I should convert all those parenthetic asides to footnotes, yeah?
**Donít start me on auto-detection gizmos! My hands are Stealth Hands - air-driers, water faucets, soap dispensers, hostile foreign powers, they all fail to detect the presence of my hands. It is spooky, really. Can you see me? Am I wearing clothes?
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
Did Nicholson Baker ever hear of using paragraphs? That was a hard read about a really mundane subject.
Expat, as you like to be up to speed on the best available product you need to be informed of the DYSON hand dryer http://www.dyson.com/airblade/au/
These guys have got serious about a problem close to your heart.
Skip: Baker started The Mezzanine with a two page, single paragraph footnote on how plastic straws float up out of cans of soda... It is hilarious, in a similar way to Andy Kaufman's solo non-stop reading of The Great Gatsby... Because it is tedious and mundane, and also because this is the sort of thing we, OK at least I, ponder on about in my solitary reveries over a can of coke while I am trying to read and eat a cookie, but which are usually too convuluted and transient in flow to put into written words. Baker is the master of it.
Speaking of mundane and tedious: zzzzzzzzzzzzzz! ;-)
Sino: The Dyson (MILES Dyson?!) machine is a complete rip-off of the Mistubishi Jet-Dry! They'll be hearing from my lawyers in the morning!