Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Showers of Hypocrisy

The older I’ve gotten, the more deliberately I make choices that are eco-friendly. Part of the reason is because it's easier than ever to know what the right thing to do is; for instance, when the garbage cans at the elementary school are labelled "Compost," "Recycle," and "LANDFILL" (the latter with skull and crossbones and death heads drawn on it) it's a fair bet that you want to reduce your inputs to that bin. 

I also happen to live in a part of the country where large scale systems have been put into place to make it second nature to go easy on the earth. Our curbside recycling takes nearly every kind of paper and plastic in a single stream, the county composts our food scraps, and bins at the local grocery stores collect used batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs. So it’s an ingrained habit now to carry reusable bags to the grocery store, to store leftover food in reusable containers, and to read by the humming yellow light of a CFL. I have put my arm (gingerly) into the nasty morass that is our green compost bin to fish out a piece of errant aluminum foil for recycling, and I switched to a homemade green cleanser that makes everything in my house smell minty fresh.

I even put a bucket in my shower to collect the water as it warms up, so I can use it later to pour on my (drought-tolerant, native, organic) garden plants.Then I step into the shower and all my good eco-intentions rise up in the steam. 

I love a long, hot shower.

I know the numbers – an average shower uses 5 gallons water per minute. If you're going to stay in for more than 5 minutes, you may as well sink into a claw foot porcelain tub (30-50 gallons of water per bath, on average) and have a servant fan you with a palm frond. Here in Northern California we’ve had drought years where short showers can make a big difference in maintaining enough water for the things we really need, like toilets that flush and water to drink. So it’s particularly virtuous where I live to keep showers as short as possible. 

For those who want to stand in the shower longer, experts recommend stepping in, getting wet, turning off the water while lathering up, and then putting the water back on to rinse off – what my friend Andrea, a native Californian, taught me is called the Sailor’s Shower.

Me? I start off every shower thinking – “just a quick rinse off today.” Things start to go south almost immediately as the shower stall fills up with steam and that kink in my right shoulder blade, the one that tells me I’ve been sitting at the computer too long, starts to unclench. The jets of water against my neck act like a lever to lower my shoulders two inches, and I can feel the pinched wrinkle between my eyes start to smooth out.

I’m nearsighted and have long observed that when my glasses are off I don’t hear as well either, so being in the shower is as close as I’ll ever come to a sensory deprivation tank. Staring at the white wall of tiles, all sorts of ideas form, flit, and take flight. I think, “Ok, one more minute, then I’ll get out.” I think that 15 times or so. When I finally do shut the water off and step out into a bathroom that is like a nice Boca Raton steam room, I am filled with self loathing to the tips of my wrinkled fingers.

A few months ago I bought a shower timer at a store, something that I could just stick to the wall of the shower and watch as 4 minutes and 59 seconds went by. I've used timers before at various campsites, the ones where you have to feed in quarters every few minutes to keep the water flowing, so I know that even a three minute shower is within my capacity.

On the second use, the fancy timer fell to the floor of the shower and broke. I know I could set a kitchen timer. But it seemed as good a sign as any that in return for all my other earth friendly exertions, the universe has decided to give me a pass on the long showers.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Nothing is quite black or white, is it?


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