Monday, September 18, 2006

The Communist Towel Dispenser

The place where I work out is pretty nice. Lotsa machines. Not too crowded. And clean.

Really clean.

Everybody’s good about wiping down machines after using them – and the health club makes it easy to do that by strategically placing towel dispensers and spray disinfectant around the gym.

You wave your hand in front of the little red sensor on the front of the towel dispenser and voila, a towel rolls out. You get it good and wet with disinfectant. Then you give your machine a thorough wipe down so it doesn’t smell like sweaty ass for the next person.

It’s a good system.
But a few weeks ago I noticed the towel dispenser was being stingy with the amount of towel it gives out. It was exactly half of what we used to get.

So I made do with less towel by compensating with more disinfectant.

But the recumbent bike I like to ride every morning just didn’t feel as clean.
“We’re spending too much money on paper towels!” cried some bureaucratic bean counter hidden in an office piled with invoices in the bowels of the athletic center.

This is a man (why are accountants always paunchy old men?) who has never actually used the machines at the health club and has no concept of why the towels are necessary in the first place.

So the pudgy little bean counter orders some lackey to recalibrate the machines so they release less towel per wave.

Not so much.

Over the weekend I noticed several people double-waving. Like me, they don’t like making do with less, so they circumvent the tyranny of the towel dispenser by waving twice.

And waving at the machine twice actually gives them more towel than what was emitted during what shall be known as the Pre-Communist Era at my health club.

So instead of saving money, the new towel system is actually costing them more.

How do ya like that Mr. Smarty Pants Meany Bean?
People will always find a way to circumvent a system that attempts to save money by controlling human behavior.

At least here in the United States, anyway.

I’m thinking that if they actually had fancy shmancy automatic towel dispensers in Cuba, the people there would be happy with however little towel they received to wipe down whatever 1950’s style workout equipment they’re using.
A quicky iTunes browse on “free” in my library resulted in the following impossibly eclectic and ugly trio of songs:

Freek-a-Leek by Petey Pablo
Radio Free Europe by R.E.M.
Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty
I wonder if those machines had always emitted the smaller towel would people still double wave?

Is the towel not enough because we were accustomed to having more? Or is a bigger piece of towel really necessary to clean the machines?
My dear friend Nelson says that in Tokyo you can buy beer from vending machines.

“Oh really? How do they keep minors from buying?” said Jim, always the thinky one when it comes to procuring alcoholic beverages.

“They just don’t,” said Nelson. “They would never think of doing that.”
Does freedom make us more likely to break the rules?


But I think it has more to do with having freedom and then losing it versus never having it at all.

So until the day when Freedom Reigns in every corner of my health club, I’m waving twice.

Give me liberty or give me towels! Or something like that.
I am listening to: Nothing good for sure
I am reading: Paint It Black by Janet Fitch (author of White Oleander)
And I am: Free