A friend of mine tells me how the telltale sign that his father is visiting is the thread of used flow that is left draped across the bathroom faucet. I’m never sure what feature of this act is most amusing. The disgustingness of having used floss — strands of nylon that have been woven in between another’s teeth — left there not so much to impede anything else you would do at the sink (it’s only floss, after all) but to impede every sense you might have to approach the faucet as a place where sanitation is of the essence. Then, one considers all of our habits that might be so normal in our own homes, but have no place in others’ places of residence. It’s funny how at some point this extends between the families of those who once lived under the same roof. And, most amusing to me, there’s the fact that there are some people so ridiculously cheap or … or … well, “cheap” pretty much describes it all, doesn’t it? What possesses someone to believe that retaining a used piece of floss, while a guest at someone else’s home, at the expense of the sanitary conditions of their wash basin, is really worth the effort?

My friend explains that his dad is really Scottish. But I still don’t get it. Neither does my friend.

There’s an emeritus faculty who spends his days of retirement not with his wife, but within our halls and the spare, windowless office. He volunteers to tutor students, and asks only to audit courses so that his name shows up in in rolls and he can claim enough student status (at the retiree price of $10 per semester) to claim a bus pass. He doesn’t show up for these courses, so it’s a slight ethical dilemma: Do you allow a 70-something retired guy to take advantage of a system that gives him a discounted bus pass and a failed course on his transcript in exchange for his willingness to commute (20 miles via bus) to sit patiently with pre-med students and their homework? Maybe this would be an easier decision if he didn’t have a common tendency to use lab equipment to mix a salad at the sink behind our office, or bring his apple with him into the lavatory while he used the facilities, or his repeated use of floss while walking into your office, randomly, with a conversation started as he marches forward. Floss in teeth, idea in head, words in mouth. Perhaps he’s here to serve the rest of a warning: When you retire, stay home and floss in the bathroom.

These are the images that pop into my head each day when I pull out some dental floss, twist it around the chad of sharp metal, wrap the ends around my fingers, and thread the ridiculously fine twine between my teeth. And then I make a point to throw the floss away.


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