Loren stood in front of the paper towel dispenser, hand under the bright red sensor light, her eyes staring at the roll she could see through the contraption’s clear skin; but…but, “Damn it!” nothing was happening. No high pitch wheezing sound; no roll turning; no paper towels dispensing; nothing. Loren stands transfixed, refusing to accept defeat. A coworker steps up and with a single wave, towels dispensed.
The coworker comments to Loren that she often wonders if these marvels of modern technology were far more complex than the simple pairing of electro optics, plastic, and batteries. Maybe they were themselves alive, and we humans were too absorbed in self-righteousness to admit that the dispenser’s ability to sense human presence and make decisions was no different than ours.
With the coworker no longer in the room, Loren stands defiantly in front of the dispenser; maybe not self-righteously, but nevertheless insolently; she would never bow to a machine.
Then, exactly one second after the sixteenth time she has shaken her hand for the red light, the machine acknowledges her presence and wheezes out her ration of towels. Loren swears the wheeze was a ‘ho-hum, wave off – you are tiring me – gesture.’ Machine: One; Humans: Zero.
The next day, a Saturday, was the start of her vacation. Loren adopts a puppy from the shelter, and for the entire week Loren spends lots of time working and playing with the puppy. “The trick to paper training,” Loren tells a friend, “is repetitiveness. You have to show him who is boss. Be firm and praise.” The puppy makes a mistake, Loren retrains. Mistake, retraining. Correct, praise.
With vacation over, Loran returns to work, and for the first time, she leaves the puppy alone in the house for an entire day.
At two minutes after nine Loren is once again standing in front of the evil paper towel dispenser. It works perfectly. In fact, Loren is impressed, not only by the speed of delivery, but the quantity of towels as well.
However, at 11:17 AM the dispenser ignores her presence.
At the very same moment, the puppy, now pleased with himself for taking care of the blouse Loren had most considerately left for him on her bed, finds out how enjoyable playing with a roll of paper towels could be. It was the last roll of papers towels in the house. The puppy pulls the roll down from the kitchen counter and proceeds to cover the house with the entire roll; from the front door to the back door, up the stairs and down. Tuckered out from flinging paper towels, the puppy settles down on the kitchen floor and completes his adventure by eating the cardboard tube.
While puppy is decorating the house, Loren stands impatiently tapping her foot in front of her adversary. Finely, looking to either side, even though Loren knows she is alone, she makes a decision…Loren smacks the dispenser so hard that it comes unhinged and crashes to the floor. Loren steps back, surveying her handiwork; complementing herself. She even thinks about pumping her fist in the air, shouting for the world to hear, “Death to electronics!”
Then, Loren realizes that she is still without something to dry her hands with. Looking down at the dispenser, Loren concedes that the dispenser has ultimately won. Moving to the other dispenser Loren waves her hand; nothing! In fact, the red light goes dead. She thinks about ‘killing’ this one too, but quickly changes her mind when a coworker enters the restroom. Loren hurriedly exits. A minute later, she sees the coworker exit with a wad of paper towels; using them to wipe up water around some potted plants. (Muttered curse words) Loran knows, without a shadow of a doubt, the dispensers are out to get her!
‘Okay, time for a test.’ Loran goes to the fifth floor, no towels. The sixth, no towels. By the ninth floor, Loran is tired and ready to give up. But, how do you ‘apologize’ to a machine? “I’m sorry little towel dispenser.” No wiz, no weeeerrrrr, nothing. “I SAID I WAS SORRY!” Sudden self-consciousness. Much softer, “I said I was sorry,” ‘this is stupid and childish.’ Half a weeeeeerrrr. No towels. Loren gives this some thought. She places her hand under the light, “Please.” Towels.
‘OK Loran, you’re an adult…and adults do not talk to machines.’ Wave of hand. No towels. “Sorry;” towels.
Back at her desk Loren was caught between chastising herself for being so childish to think the machines were listening to her and the thought that maybe there was hidden emotion, intelligence in the machines.
3:21 PM, Loren goes into the restroom and picks the dispenser up off the floor. She stops short of apologizing outright, but she does place it gently on a sink and, looking about to make sure she is not overheard, says she’ll call Maintenance. Moving to another dispenser, one swipe of her hand – towels.
5:00 PM, Loren washes her hands. One swipe – towels. She even says good night to the contraption; which is overheard by a coworker, who gives Loren a look of ‘are you for real?’ Loren takes her time leaving; waiting to see what the machine will do. The coworker waves her hand, no towels. She waves it again, nothing. “Dame machines!” walking out in disgust. Loren steps up, one wave equals towels; smile. “Good night.”
Loren arrived home and was greeted at the door by puppy. Well, everything seemed to be in one piece; that is until she found her blouse, the one left on the bed, in shreds on the kitchen floor and surrounded by doggy drool. Loren reaches up and grabs the roll of paper towels from the counter and cleans up the drool. While she is upset over the blouse, Loren figures it could have been a lot worse.
As for puppy, he happily notices the new role of towels that Loren had just left for him to play with.
(“Paper Training” is a work of fiction, Copyright 2010 by Steven S. Walsky, all rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (to include electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without written permission of the author.)