To the challenges of seniorhood, let us now add the Xlerator.
You know what this is -- the high-speed hand dryer resembling one of those jet packs that, we were told in the '50s, would make walking obsolete. Oh, yes, what a great day it was going to be when, rather than riding the subway to school or hoofing it three blocks for a crumb cake from Ebinger's, we simply would strap on the booster rockets, leap off the stoop and speed, like Superman, toward our destination.
Instead of hanging in every 21st century coat closet, however, those sleek power packs somehow ended up on the walls of public restrooms almost everywhere.
For some, this development may be of little consequence.
In the first place, an alarming number of individuals -- one-third, according to a report by the American Society for Microbiology -- do not bother washing their hands after bathroom use, hence no need to dry.
New York's numbers are even more discouraging. In their most recent investigation, the intrepid microbe hunters found that not even half the visitors to bathrooms at Grand Central Station stop at the sinks, perhaps because time is tight and the train is about to leave. Prioritize, friends, prioritize.
Hygienic younger people -- you know, the under-60 crowd -- are apt to consider the Xlerator just another incidental modern convenience in the category of self-lacing sneakers and drive-thru drugstores and barely take notice.
But for those who have tallied more years, and, hence, more wrinkles, the Xlerator looms as a daunting piece of equipment.
My recollection is that I first encountered an Xlerator at a roadside stop in northern Colorado or maybe outside Laramie, Wyoming. We were heading to a family event in Utah and pulled over for a breather.
Hands washed, I saw what struck me as a particularly sleek and substantial dryer on the wall and approached without alarm.
Encounters with old-line electric dryers, after all, indicated nothing to fear. In fact, most produced so little breeze that the user, hands still dripping, was apt to search the restroom in hopes an outdated paper towel dispenser had been left behind.
Way out there on the prairie, then, I appraised this Xlerator thing, and, innocently, positioned my hands under the air duct.
The immediate effect was one of disbelief -- and not so much disbelief, either, as rank terror, a stab of incalculable fear for having let loose a force previously unknown to man or woman, something that might shake the universe, cause tectonic plates to slip and, perhaps, sweep the roadside comfort station into the sky and me with it.
Momentarily, I saw myself above the Earth, catching a glimpse of our little rental car, and shouting a final goodbye to Wink, my wife, as I soared away, far away, toward Idaho, Washington state, the wide Pacific and -- who knows? -- to the Oz of Dorothy and beyond.
"I love you, darling, and am sorry for everything wrong I've ever done -- including running my hands under the Xlerator! Be careful when I'm gone. Don't make the same mistake."
The ordeal was not over. Disoriented, I looked at my hands and saw something more horrifying than the prospect of being tossed to Tahiti and spending my last years scrawling "S.O.S." in the sand.
Under the powerful whoosh and blast of the dryer -- the manufacturer says it reaches 225 mph; a competing model by Dyson claims 420 -- the loose skin on my hands lifted and rippled as if a flag at Citi Field. If I had a Stars and Stripes tattoo, bystanders would have commenced the national anthem. This was something out of a horror movie or med school video. Class, look at the epidermis of this poor old fellow. He has more folds than Kleenex.
I drew my hands away and settled down. I mentioned the Xlerator to Wink, who said, sure, there was one in the ladies' room, too. Let's get back on the road. No big deal.
But it was for me -- another sign that, yes, brother, you are exactly the age celebrated so triumphantly on birthday cards, as far along as unsettling reflections in shop windows reveal (that's me?), as deep into the mission as a creaky right shoulder attests when Granddad wings the ball too hard in backyard catches.
"Stop worrying about your skin," said Wink. "Look, mine is the same."
It wasn't the same, really, but I said, OK, grabbed the steering wheel and we headed west. My skin was wrinkled, all right, but my hands were dry, and so far as I could tell, I was back from Oz in one piece.