“Fangs for Nothing”
by Stephen Starr
Anyone familiar with the supernatural knows that a vampire’s image cannot be captured on film, whether one is using digital or traditional technology. Indeed, vampires will not even cast a reflection in a standard household or industrial mirror.
The implications are significant. Vampires must have a barber they can fully trust. Putting in contact lenses can be an exercise in frustration. Spending the night at the local Count’s castle can be a tedious affair, as he recounts his childhood and vacations whilst flipping page after page through an empty album. Often, these denizens of the night are interrupted before they can draw their blood meal as their victim gestures that the nosferatu has a poppy seed or a piece of spinach caught between their teeth. “Is it gone now? Now? Now? Okay, now I vant to suck your blood!”
I suffer from a similar, but less well-known affliction. I am invisible to the beams that activate the automatic devices in public restrooms.
Granted, this is not exactly the curse of the undead, it is at least the annoyance of the unwashed. It’s not enough to qualify me to play the romantic outsider, though few would want to shake my hand if they knew of my condition. Nubile women do not bother to swoon in my presence. In fact, like the activation beams, they simply stare right through me. Priests have not been employed to cast me out, but I have been asked to either buy something or leave by several convenience store proprietors. Am I damned for all time, or do I only have to serve a year less a day?
I’m not sure how this happened to me. I don’t recall being nibbled or licked by a Transylvanian. It was likely something that seemed inconsequential at the time, like shaking hands with a vampire who had a hangnail or sharing lip balm with one of these spawn of Satan who had a cold sore. I suspect it might have been a car salesman, or someone in any other occupation where a soul would be a liability.
At any rate, for me this is a double curse. Before I was recruited by the undead, I would wash my hands a minimum of three hundred times an hour. I would lather up with soap and water, rub in Purrell, wipe with a baby towelette, dunk in an iodine-filled basin, scour with Comet, scorch with lye, and then abrade with a pumice stone. Then repeat. It’s not that I’m obsessive-compulsive; it’s just that there are certain things that I have to do over and over and over again, or something bad will happen.
I have to carefully put down four layers of toilet paper before I use a public facility – twice that if I’m using the toilet. When I emerge, I waddle over to the sink. (Why would you pull your pants up before washing your hands?) I am flummoxed to find that the soap will not spritz and the water will not run. I try talking to the devices. Then, knowing I’ll never reach the Promised Land anyway, I begin striking it. I run my hands underneath, over and beside, like I’m in the chorus of “Grease” doing the hand-jive.
I’m not sure why these devices are necessary in the first place. Like Dracula before Eastman-Kodak, I was doing just fine in the old days. Even a germaphobe like me doesn’t mind touching a soap dispenser. Presumably, shortly afterwards, you’ll be washing with said soap. In case you’re stuck in some third-world backwater gas station, here’s how you do it: Faucet on, dispense soap, lather while singing the national anthem, rinse, then shut the faucet off with your elbow. If you are wearing short sleeves, you may use your forehead.
Another odd thing about these modern touch-free inconveniences is that they often come unpaired, thus necessitating multiple touches anyway. You may find an automated foam dispenser next to a push-down spring-valve spigot that runs for all of three seconds. Alternatively, you might come across a sleek wink-activated faucet accompanied by a dirt-encrusted, half-melted, hair-impregnated mushy sliver of soap.
In the meantime, I am at the sink doing rapid alternate palm-up stabs at the faucet like a white-belted karate student.
If I’m lucky, someone else will sidle up to the other sink and effortlessly release a torrent of water and a snake of foamy soap. I glance sideways with envy. Since my pants are still around my knees, they do tend to finish quickly. As they withdraw their hands from the stream, I quickly shuffle over to their place, like I just missed dishing out a hockey hip check, or I’m desperate to collect a DNA sample. With the last drop of soap and the failing rivulets of water, I cleanse my hands and feed my inner demons. At once I steal a peek in the mirror to make sure I still have a reflection, and to see if anyone behind me has caught on to my demi-curse and is expectantly slapping a wooden stake in their palm.
I pull up and secure my pants, which are now soaked in front. But I know my ordeal is not over. I wave my hand in front of the automatic paper towel dispenser. No response. I wave the other hand. Nothing. I do jazz-hands. Nada. I converge and diverge from the sides like a conjuring magician. Palms up, palms down, like a dealer at shift change. Zilch. I try squats, hoping my head will activate it. Not a peep. I back up a few steps and try walking past the sensor at various heights and speeds. I hop, I twirl, I pirouette, I jete. Bupkis. I launch myself across the sensor as if I were catching a bullet for the President. Stony silence.
By this time, my hands are only slightly damp, so I wipe them on my trousers. I draw my hand into my sleeve to pull the door handle. After all those calisthenics, I’m feeling kind of gassy. I decide to relieve the pressure before rejoining my party. I squeeze out a moderately loud vibrato French horn fart. This the machine recognizes and dispenses three feet of crisp paper towel. I shake my head. I’m not so much offended as disappointed. “So, you’ll respond to a stinky poltergeist, but not a discount-Dracula.”
A hairy man brushes past me. I’m about to warn him, but then I figure, he’ll be okay; even if it is a full moon.