Friday, March 11, 2011

"Laven Los Manos"

(Warning: If lavatorially-related material is not your cup of tea, have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on Monday.)

Okay, for the rest of you…

I am availing myself of a restaurant bathroom – euphemistically tagged “the washroom” in Canada, and in England, not euphemistically at all, “the toilet.”

I am standing at the place where you stand to do the thing I went in there to do – is that delicate enough for ya? – and, being me, I am singing a song. I can’t help it. I find myself in an echoey venue, such as a bathroom, or an underground parking garage, and I immediately take advantage of the acoustics, and energetically burst into song.

Being the age that I am, the entertainment ends before I have entirely completed my, uh… my work there. The advancing years have been known to draw these things out. So I’m still standing there, and I need something else to sing.

Suddenly, I notice a printed sign suspended on the wall in front of me. The sign is a reminder to the restaurant employees whose countries of origin are apparently elsewhere since the sign is written in Spanish. It’s a three-word reminder:

“Laven Los Manos.”

Well, I took Spanish in college, because my hometown of Toronto is full of Italians and, being a contrarian, I refused to learn a language that would actually be useful to me. Also, the Italian classes started at eight A.M. So, forget that!

Three years of college-level Spanish had educated me sufficiently to be able to translate the words, “Laven los manos.” The words mean, in English,

“Wash your hands.”

Being highly creative, and requiring slightly more Urinal Time, I immediately invented a song based on an employee advisory on a bathroom wall. I won’t do the whole thing for you, since I’ve been informed by one of the more squeamish members of my family that it’s tasteless and not funny, but I will give you the first verse, which goes thusly. Imagine a peppy, syncopated Latin rhythm accompanying these words.

Two bars of spirited introduction, and then:

Laven los manos

Laven los manos

Laven los manos



Laven los manos

Laven los manos.

Don’t pee and just walk away

Trust me. The rest of it is equally Sondheimian.

Finally, I am done. I zip up, and then, less because of a suspended sign which is not for me anyway than “That’s the way I was brought up”, I dutifully repair to the bathroom sink.

There are two sinks to choose from. I select the one on the left. There are no political implications involved; it is simply the sink closest to the urinal. I turn on the water, mixing hot and cold, seeking a satisfying “warm”, which I ultimately confect.

Suspended above the counter is a single, long-necked soap dispenser. I press down on the plunger to procure the requisite dollop of soap,

And no soap comes out.

I press down again. No soap. And a third time. No soap. From these three escalatingly vigorous efforts, I conclude,

There is no soap in the soap dispenser.

Okay. It’s not as serious as “There is no toilet paper on the roll”, but it’s still not great news. You can rationalize at this point. You know, “Soap’s not penicillin. It’s not, like, some wonder drug that will immunize you against debilitating disease and imminent death. It’s just soap.”

But who are we kidding? Soap in the bathroom is hardly a “decorative touch.” It’s an essential component of the “Laven los manos” operation. I’m not exactly clear about the nature of its contribution. Soap is slippery; maybe it assists in sliding the pee germs off of your fingers.

But that’s just a guess

What I do know is that soap is a fundamental part of the process. And there is no soap whatsoever in that bathroom dispenser.

Things could be worse, of course. There could be another person in the bathroom with me, which, if that were the case, would require me to do what any mature male adult would do under the circumstances– pretend there was soap in the dispenser, and mime, extra energetically, spreading it all over my hands, maybe adding,

“Not a lot of suds, but it’s soapy”

To help seal the deal.

Fortunately, I am alone. Alone…with my conscience. And a sign, reminding me – albeit not in English, but what difference does that make? – what to do. And I’m not entirely doing it.

There is no way around it. In a few moments, I will be emerging from that bathroom, with incompletely lavened manos.

Will people know? Will they pick up some signal? Will they read it in my eyes?

“Red Alert! ‘No-Soaper’, at Two O’clock!”

Maybe they won’t know. But I’ll know. And I’ll wonder why people are suddenly giving me what appears to be an, otherwise inexplicable, wider berth.

What happens if I, God forbid, have to shakes hands with somebody? Will I suddenly change my style and go “Howie Mandell” on them, offering up a less contagion-carrying fist bump?

As I re-enter the restaurant, I quietly make myself a promise. The first chance I get, I will slip into the nearest available bathroom, go crazy with the soap dispenser, and conscientiously finish the job.

I never do.


Paul said...

'in England, not euphemistically at all, “the toilet.”'

'Toilet' is a euphemism; it's just a very old one. 'Toilet' used to mean the act of dressing/getting prepared; from there it migrated to 'the room where you get ready' (which may or may not have contained a lavatory), and finally to a euphemism for the lavatory itself.

And, of course, 'lavatory' is a euphemism too -- that just means 'a place where you wash yourself'.

I can't think of any words for that fixture that aren't euphemisms: bathroom, washroom, lavatory, toilet, WC, latrine... all euphemisms.

YEKIMI said...

"pee germs off of your fingers."

If you're getting pee on your fingers you either have: 1] A rather short body part 2] A wandering mind that's not paying attention to the "matter at hand" so to speak. 3] Energetic emptying of the bladder that is causing splash back. But after reading this post, even if you did wash your hands with soap that could remove skin I'd be mighty tempted to put on hazmat gloves before I shake hands with you

Keith said...

YEKIMI, there's always splash back. That whole area gets sprayed with a fine mist. No practical technique will prevent it. Even Kareem Abdul Jabbar throws one a little hard off the glass on occasion.

JED said...

I grew up in a not-very-sophisticated town in Western Pennsylvania where we knew about perfume and cologne but no other words for it. One day, our biology teacher, from the big city of Pittsburgh, was explaining how our sense of smell works and brought around various things with smells to them. When one girl asked what the bottle she had just sniffed contained, our teacher replied, "Toilet water." I think a couple of kids threw up and the rest of us gasped. We assumed our teacher had dipped the bottle in the toilet before bringing it to class.

Rich said...

What I would want to know - and where I thought you were going with this is... how then would the people who would be preparing your food wash their hands...?

joe said...



Y'all have missed the biggest problem with the soapless scenario.

With WHAT were the employees of the RESTAURANT where they, presumably, prepare FOOD for people to ingest washing their hands??

Employees trooping in and out of the lavatory and not a one of them gets soap on his hands, all returning merrily unsoaped to the task of PREPARING FOOD.

Oy, gevalt.

PG said...

Have you run across the fancy-shmancy taps that have no handles and require you to pass your hands across a mysterious, invisible beam to activate the water flow? Have you ever found yourself frantically batting your wrists in the air under said tap, trying to get the water to come out? In vain?
Have you got the elegant soap dispensers which require that you merely hold your palm under them to get them to automatically dispense a fragrant dram on the floor beside your hand?
Do you enjoy the automatic flushers which decide for themselves when you are finished and either start swishing madly away beneath your nether parts or refuse to flush at all, no matter how compellingly you prance around in front of them after you've gotten up and arranged your clothing appropriately?
Isn't life wonderful?

Yahswe Sukuyugi said...

geezzzz.... Thanks for that wonderful story.