There are eureka moments in life that can change human history — and then there are eureka moments that give us a window into the complexities of the human situation. That's how I think about the shower in my hotel room here in Rio, which can be turned on via the sink faucets (!).
Evidently, what struck me as a small eureka moment also resonated with many people: Since I tweeted a video showing the shower head being controlled from the sink taps this weekend, it's been retweeted and liked by people every day. The Daily Mail got in touch; so did CNN.
Before I continue, let me say this: I am not complaining. I have not complained to the hotel, and I am happy with both my room and the shower. And I'm certainly happy to be in Rio, which has been a fascinating place to visit during these Summer Olympics.
But with that out of the way, let me add: On the morning this video was shot, this shower blew my travel-frazzled mind. How else to describe the realization that the shower had — impossibly; maybe; no: actually — turned on when I was attempting to brush my teeth.
"Is that what I think it is? Clearly not. Why would the ... oh, right: I'm in Brazil."
And I mean that in a nice way. I've traveled in the U.S.; I've stayed at places in Asia and Central America and Europe. None possessed a shower that both made me laugh and got me clean.
Still, this shower puzzles. Let me run through some quick details the plumbing-curious might like to know:
1. I discovered this unlikely trick after I left the hot water tap on the shower open. I was trying to coax out some hot water — something that still hasn't happened.
2. I haven't complained about the no-hot-water situation because I rather enjoy having a shower that delights me.
3. You can also turn on the shower the "regular" way, with the taps. It worked fine for the first few days I was here.
4. Before I leave Rio, I'll have to tell the staff about the hot water. I don't want the next guest getting off on the wrong foot.
This shower might be crazy; it might have no conception of how a normal shower is supposed to behave or the norms about interacting with one's sinkly cousin. But it is unique — and when I realized what makes it special, I was delighted. Because there's something more at work here.
At this point, I could go off on a tangent about the spirit of possibility in which I aspire to live. I could discuss my affection for Brazil and its culture — including, as I learned on this trip, "gambiarra" — the practice of engineering a wonderful, and often highly unique, solution to a mundane problem.
That's right: Brazilians have a word for the kind of improvising that was likely involved in building my hotel room's shower. It's the same idea the team behind Rio's opening ceremonies were talking about when they repeatedly used the term "MacGyvering" to describe how they put on the show.
In that light, my shower isn't a random oddity; it's the proof of a problem solved, a monument to a completed puzzle. When I stood there stunned, gaping at water spraying out into an empty stall, I felt like I was on the receiving end of a funny story that had begun to be told months, perhaps years, ago.
And now, thousands of other people are also hearing that same funny story. I'm hoping they appreciate it in the same spirit I do.
There's just one thing I haven't done in that bathroom: Find out what happens when you flush the toilet while the shower's on. That's because I do not want to know.