Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Toilet science

When me and Junior and the Farm Manager took over this joint now known as Falling Downs we were not at all acquainted with the vagaries of a septic system.

We were, all of us, "townies", who were accustomed to taking a crap and never giving it a second thought after you pull that handle on the toilet tank.

One does of course give it a prompt second thought when and if one's troubles do not flush away as they should on pulling that handle.

I remember back in my growing up years, when a cousin of mine who was a bit older and much worldlier, married a chap by the name of "Crapper." Her previous beau had the name of "Smith", and the extended family was mightily discombobulated by the fact that one of our own would disown a Smith to embrace a Crapper, but that is neither in the here nor there of things at this point.

That cousin, like me a foreigner trying to gain traction in a new world, soon left Crapper for greener pastures, but not before they had a little Crapper. Little Crapper has had an extraordinarily good run making a living for himself on the small screen, but not, oddly enough, under his birth name.

That Crapper who is related to me by marriage is also a distant relative of one Thomas Crapper, the reputed inventor of the flush toilet, although his Wikipedia page would beg to differ. That's just one of the problems with open-source knowledge; I may know something to be true, you may know the opposite to be true, and how the hell do we ever know who's telling the truth?

But this is toilet science, not rocket science, so let's leave the big questions to the philosophers and Wikipedia and focus on the commode. The crapper. The shitter. The toilet.

It's pretty much taken for granted today, isn't it?

When I worked at GE my pal Ernie Hudman got sent off on a three month trip doing a transformer installation somewhere in rural Pakistan. The thing that shocked him the most is that indoor plumbing in that country at that time was considered a privilege for the elite. Regular folks just ducked behind the nearest shrub to do their business.

That's not as foreign as it sounds. I still remember the first place my folks bought with their own money here in the promised land when they were DPs fresh off the boat - no indoor plumbing. Old school manual water pump out in the yard, and an outhouse behind the barn. Not a hint of a water pipe anywhere in the house.

Now, considering where they came from, the privacy of a one-hole outhouse was a bit of a luxury. Many a National Park to this day still makes do with the one-holer, the two-holer, and so on. A good friend of mine still has a family camp that was once a religious retreat of some sort, and they've still got a functional five-holer going on, if you can imagine such a thing!

But for my folks, who came up in refugee camps in Denmark post WW II, that one-holer outhouse was a luxury because in the camps you just had a long wooden pole mounted over a trench, and you dropped your drawers, hoisted your haunches onto that wooden pole, and went about your business right there among the dozen or two fellow campers, of all ages and genders, hoisting their haunches over the same pole in the same shit-shed at the same time.

Mind you, it didn't take them long to figure out that what they really wanted wasn't a private outhouse, but indoor plumbing, and we made that giant step just as the fifties were turning into the sixties.

Somewhere along the line the two old gals who had lived out their lives here at Falling Downs before we got the place, at least lived them out till they spent a couple of twilight years in nursing homes, had gone in for the indoor plumbing.

And while we are thankful for that, the novelty of a septic system has from time to time caused a certain amount of consternation. Without going into too much detail, let me just say that whenever a handle pull is less than 100% successful, the Farm Manager embarks on a lobbying campaign to have the entire septic system uprooted and replaced.

At a cost of at least $15,000.

One can trace the trajectory of modernity here; from those Pakistanis dropping their drawers behind a shrub, to the refugees on the poo-pole, to the one-holer, the two-holer... the five-holer, to indoor plumbing...

Right up until today when somebody claims I need to spend fifteen big ones before they can take a big one.

That's progress for you.

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