Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody who celebrates this American holiday. Others can be thankful for the fact that they don't: no need to clean for weeks, pick up ancient relatives from airports, stock the larder with weird foods without which Cousin Charlotte would pine away, cook a dead bird bigger than the oven or pretend that sweet potatoes can masquerade as a dessert. No need to overeat or to watch American football. So be thankful, all and one.

In honor of thanksgiving, then, here's a blog on an American house.

Designing the Absurd

Is life meant to be absurd and design to follow suit? My house is full of examples that suggest this: The door knobs, for example. They are round glass balls. If you wanted to design a door handle that looks as it would work but doesn't, you'd make it a round glass ball. This keeps people housebound if they have wet hands, carry anything bulky or heavy, or suffer from arthritis. The glass also makes the knob impossible to repair when turning it no longer turns the lock.

The sash windows of my house may have been designed by M. Guillotine during his lunch breaks. The upper pane normally doesn't move at all, but when the ropes that support it break, it comes down faster than a guillotine blade. Usually when I am stretching my neck out of the window in order to wash the upper glass from the outside.

These inventions are ancient, but more modern design works hardly better. The shower head in my bathroom is good for quick showers in the morning. It is worthless for anything else, being embedded in the wall. Shower heads should be detachable. Anyone disagreeing with this has never cleaned a bathtub or a large, nervous dog in it. Both jobs need rinsing which needs detachable shower heads. The lack of one forces me to use a large saucepan. As a consequence, I always have dogs with saucepan phobias.

Saucepans are no good for rinsing remote controls, microwave keypads or computer keyboards. Nothing is good for rinsing or cleaning these, although an extended leave of absence from work and a ton of tweezers and toothpicks might make a slight difference. As most people have better things to do with the rest of their lives, such equipment is often sold in colors and textures which look already grimy. That way cleaning doesn't seem necessary until it is far too late.

A case might be made in defense of each of these features I malign. There is no such defense for the American electric sockets, no reason whatsoever for making them look like miniature copies of Edward Munch's 'The Scream'; a painting from hell. This is what stares back from baseboards all over the U.S., normally attached to the wall roughly diagonally. No wonder that mental health problems grow increasingly common. The only place where these sockets should be allowed is in dentists' waiting rooms. But that wouldn't satisfy the laws of absurdity.