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breathing lessons

When the bad guys lock Groucho in the bathroom in Duck Soup, he cries something like: Let me out of here! Let me out -- or throw in a magazine! I too like to read in the bathroom. I am not picky as to material -- romance novels, comic books, fine print on the back of prescription bottles, whatever. There's something about literature that concentrates my mind and lets my bowels think for themselves. This may be more information than you need to know about me, and I apologize for the visual, but it is germane to our discussion. Yesterday I was in a staff bathroom at a Lindsay elementary school, and I found I had come in without anything to read. My eyes went round the room looking for something -- anything -- with words on it. And I noticed I sign taped to the mirror. HOW TO WASH YOUR HANDS, it said. You've seen the sign before, and so had I. In school bathrooms, doctor's offices, various public buildings. That's it up there, a series of diagrams with captions underneath, a short little safety comic strip on the subject of hand washing. I'd never read it. I know how to do this, I had always thought. Now, in dire need of something to help me pass the, well, the time, I did read the whole thing, top to bottom, poring over each diagram (why bar soap and not liquid), analysing each phrase (Backs of hands, Between fingers). And of course I found that I'd been doing it wrong. Not all wrong -- I mean, I had the right body parts. But subtly, dangerously wrong. Not enough attention to detail. Not enough time. Not enough care. Oh dear, I thought. For decades I have been putting myself in danger of infection. If only I had been stuck in a bathroom without literature back in my teens or twenties! Think how much safer my life would have been. I resolved to change my ways. This time, I followed the instructions to the letter. Step 1, Step 2 .... I took time. I took care. I paid attention to detail. When I finally emerged from the bathroom, using a paper towel on the doorknob, my host librarian had a quizzical smile on her face. You okay? she asked. You bet, I answered. More than okay! We thought you had got lost in there or something. I laughed. You wouldn't believe what I was doing! I said. Her face fell, and she changed the subject. On my way home that afternoon, I noticed a store front. THE WALKING ROOM. I've passed it a thousand times, but never paid attention. The Walking Room. I thought I knew how to walk, but now ... I wonder ...


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