The Showdown with Paper Towel Dispensers

Of all the inanimate objects in the universe, there is one item that seems to be my equivalent to Lucy pulling the football before Charlie Brown gets to kick it… it’s paper towel dispensers.

Let’s be clear, I am not referring to any specific brand of paper towel dispensers, or even specific paper towel dispensers in a specific venue. I just mean paper towel dispensers in general.

Am I the only one for whom they don’t seem to work right?

Before I start getting nasty emails from paper towel dispenser companies, let me say up front: it’s not your fault.

It’s the human component using them that seems to have a knack for messing them up… and I’m not talking about myself.

The principle for a mechanical dispenser should be pretty simple. You wash your hands; you gently pull down on the little lever to feed the desired amount of paper through slot; you carefully pull off the towel with the help of the serrated blade; you dry your hands with the towel; you toss the used towel in the receptacle provided.

It’s not rocket science. The devices are pretty intuitive and should be easy to use.

But much like the rules of the road are not always followed to the letter of the law, there are rebels in the bathroom reinventing how to use the dispensers.

I apologize if I am breaking bro code, but I have observed gents pulling on the towels without using the lever, producing a horrific grinding sound from inside the dispenser. When that happens, what little hair I have left stands on end.

I have also seen gents beat the crap out of the lever, as if they were working out some deep primal frustration on the dispenser.

Now, multiply the number of occurrences of misuse of the dispenser over a large number of users over a span of time.

It should come as no surprise when the next innocent bathroom user goes to get a towel and the dispenser doesn’t work as it should. Either paper is bunching up in the slot or paper is going round and round inside the drum and not finding the slot to slide out.

When the dispenser doesn’t work properly in a public venue, I just shake the excess water off my hands in the sink and carry on with my day.

Back at the office however, it was a different story. I cannot tell you how many times over the last 33 years I performed surgery on towel dispensers, trying to get them to work again.

Not that I am seeking credit or anything, but I also resolved other people’s paper jams in printers, reloaded paper in printers and FAxes and changed the bag in the shredder more times than I’d care to admit. Yes, I was the fixer… always trying to keep the office running smoothly!

When I “operated” on a towel dispenser, most times I got it working again, but there were times it needed a specialist. When that would happen, I would leave the dispenser open in the hope that someone else might give it a try, or else the bathroom cleaners could fix it on their next visit.

But it was when the dispensers would break down with increasing frequency that I would call maintenance and asked if they could replace it since I’d be routinely finding myself between meetings, in a rush, with water dripping back into my sleeves, trying unsuccessfully to draw paper from a broken dispenser.

I know, there are far bigger problems in the world, but it’s the little things like a working mechanical towel dispenser that can make a day go by so much more smoothly.

However, when it comes to the automatic paper towel dispensers, that’s a different story. I have yet to perform surgery on one of those and honestly, I don’t plan to start.
Is there a rule of thumb as to the number of attempts at hand waving one should make to try to get paper to cascade down though automated dispenser?

It would be so easy if the motion sensors were all located in the same place but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Without really knowing how each device behaves, I find myself playing charades in the bathroom, waving in every direction to try to locate the motion sensor to produce paper. There have been times that by the time that water had dripped down to my elbows, I could only conclude that the dispenser was empty or out of order and to move on to the next machine, if there was one.

There is one shopping mall I occasionally visit, where in one men’s room, there are three sinks, each with automated water, automated soap and automated towel dispensers. But never have I been successful at getting soap, water and towels working at the same station. It’s almost like trying to operate a slot machine to find the winning combination. If I remember correctly, I think I can get soap from station 2, continuous running water (not just a teaspoon at a time) from station 1 and towels from station 3.

Either way, whenever I visit a public restroom and spot the paper towel dispenser, it always puts a smile on my face. It brings back a flood of memories of demonstrations of physical humour when struggling with them, the numerous attempts to fix ailing ones, and the never-ending delight when dispensers worked as they should!

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,

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Filed under Humour, stories

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