Posts Tagged ‘bathroom’

Revisited: In search of the perfect toilet paper

October 7, 2011

Life used to be so simple. 

You’d get a call at the office from the wife, asking you to stop at the store and pick up some milk and bread on the way home. The milk was offered in two, maybe three, varieties: regular, skim and, possibly, expired. Bread was just bread, not whole wheat, not ciabatta, not hemp, not gluten-free. You’d get your two items, maybe sneak a quick peek at the babe on the cover of Good Housekeeping, and pay the cashier. With something called cash.  

You’d leave the store, climb into the driver’s seat of your giant Chevy without worrying about sissy seatbelts, light up a Pall Mall, and harbor a deep prejudice toward races other than yours. It was that simple.  

When I got a call from my wife the other day asking me to pick up some toilet paper after work, I practically had an anxiety attack. Even though she was very specific about the kind of toilet paper we wanted – Cottonelle Ultra double pack, the purple label, NOT the blue – I’ve been in the bathroom tissue aisle of the grocery store recently, and it’s a very imposing corner of the universe. The options are tremendous, as you can see from the photo below.   

TP as far as the eye can see

Choice is a great thing but it’s increasingly obvious that we in America have taken it too far. From ketchup to dog food to beer to right-wing lunatics, there are now so many options available in the modern marketplace as to be overwhelming to the uninformed consumer. Even though I had clear instructions – don’t forget: purple label, not blue – I thought I could better prepare myself for the assignment with a little online self-education. 

“Toilet paper is a soft paper product used to maintain personal hygiene after human defecation or urination,” Wikipedia tells us. “However, it can also be used for other purposes such as absorbing spillages or craft projects.” (Note to Wikipedia: This article may need to be edited to meet your quality standards. Not clear that these are three separate and distinct uses, and that TP does a poor job of “absorbing … craft projects.”) 

I learn that toilet paper products can vary immensely in the technical factors that distinguish them, including size, weight, softness, chemical residue and some frightening feature called “finger-breakthrough resistance.” I learn that a light coating of aloe or lotion or wax (!) may be worked into the paper to reduce roughness. I learn that so-called luxury papers may be rippled, embossed, perfumed, colored, patterned, medicated or imprinted with cartoon animals. 

Thus prepared, I enter the local Bi-Lo and find my way to aisle 11. Any confidence I may have gleaned from my studies is soon dashed. The huge expanse of options on display reminds me of the sea of faces I saw upon exiting the Mumbai airport baggage claim, each face either searching for a passenger, offering their porter services or looking for a handout. Except the Indians were less quilted. 

I found some paper called “Aloe and E,” which I assume contains both lotion and vitamin E, or else the user says “eee!” when they use it. I found Angel Soft, Supreme Softness and Charmin Sensitive, all for the touchy bum. I found a bargain label called Clear Value, another brand aimed at the Hispanic market called Paseo (which I think means “pass” in Spanish), and a store brand named Southern Home, with equally unsavory connotations. One product promised the feature of “tuggable huggable softness.” 

As you can see from the photo above, I also saw Spic and Span cleaning wipes, Ziploc storage bags and rubber gloves. I want very much to believe these were in the neighborhood by coincidence. 

I found an Ultra Plush, which is not the same as the Ultra I was looking for. I mentally cordoned off the aisle into four sectors, to better zero in on the specific label for which I was searching. I felt like the field archeologist exploring for the one femur bone that would confirm the existence of a previously unknown subspecies of early man. Only by being methodical and patient might I eventually succeed. 

Still, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I knew my fate if I failed to succeed. Like the ancient hunter/gatherer returning to the home cave with an antelope carcass when his wife specifically told him she wanted zebra for dinner, I would be vehemently chastised. “Don’t you listen to me anymore?” I’d be asked. “And I suppose you got the wrong tree lichen too.” 

I could call my wife and ask if there were any acceptable substitutes, but I hate those people who wander about the contemporary supermarket, cell phone to their ear and listening to a recited list that should’ve been written down. They’re always running over my foot with their shopping carts. I didn’t want to be one of these people. I’d rather buy a half dozen items that might be close — including Ultra brand razors and Ultra brand saltines — and hope to luck into the right purchase. I’d prefer to return the others later rather than come home empty-handed. 

Just as I was about to give up, there it was, in all its purple-packaged glory. The label said it was “new – even more cushiony comfort” and there was a picture of a napping puppy lying under what looked like a thick blanket, right below the Cottonelle name. (I assume it was a blanket; it looked about two inches too thick to be toilet paper). No wonder I had trouble locating the right stuff. My wife should’ve mentioned the puppy. 

I threw my prize into the cart and headed for the checkout. A sense of triumph coursed through me, as did the satisfaction of knowing that I was providing for my family. 

I headed for home, my stomach gurgling with the accumulated tension of the hunt. Within moments, I’d be happy I had found the right stuff.

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Revisited Website Review: CompostingToilet.com

July 14, 2011

Sure, you recycle. Maybe you’re in a carpool or use public transportation. Perhaps you’re even part of that growing segment of the environmentally aware who have started skipping every other breath, thereby halving the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of your piehole.    

But what about that biggest of all contributors to your carbon footprint? (Hint: It’s not coming from your feet but about a third of your body length higher, and in the back).    

Unless you’re among the dedicated few who package their bodily wastes in sealable containers, patiently awaiting the opening of the Yucca Mountain Repository, you may not be doing enough to reduce your harmful impact on the planet. You could either die right now, and do us all a huge favor. Or you could invest in the green technology of a composting toilet.    

These modern miracles of sanitary convenience are now available through a company called Sun-Mar, subject of this week’s Website Review.    

Sun-Mar.com has a very busy home page, as one might expect of a firm dedicated to how you do your business. There are links and pulldowns out the ying-yang, far more than I can cover in a single post. I’ll try instead to focus on the product and the people standing behind it, who hopefully avert their eyes as we symbolically take their futuristic commodes for a whirl.    

There’s a great introductory video that explains how the water usage of conventional toilets has a tremendous negative impact on our oceans, streams and wetlands. We see scenes of Niagara Falls as we learn that up to 7 billion gallons of otherwise drinkable water is flushed down the crapper every day. This doesn’t have to be. With the waterless device patented exclusively by Sun-Mar, you can now rely on a three-step composting system to save our world’s precious lifeblood while enjoying the convenience of using the bathroom in almost any semi-private setting.    

“Install one anywhere plumbing is not available,” we’re told. “In your closet, your boat house, your country cabin, your barn, even in a guardbooth.”    

(So the next time you pull up to the turnpike toll-taker’s cubicle and it appears to be unattended, maybe you just need to wait a couple of minutes for the worker to rise up and appear.)    

The home page also contains a lengthy essay on the history of the composting toilet and the company that makes it. It was founded almost 40 years ago by Hardy Sundberg, an enterprising Canadian who gave the firm half its name. His first effort was a primitive device that used a large fan, a top-mounted heater and mechanical mixers to agitate and dry what is euphemistically called the “waste pile.” Presumably the size of an Oldsmobile, this beast used only a single compartment for the three required steps of composting, evaporation and finishing and had numerous shortcomings, not the least of which was an earth-shattering stench.    

A second generation introduced in 1977, breezily dubbed “The Tropic,” dried the waste matter with a heater sealed in a compartment in the base. This solved the challenge of keeping the “waste cake” moist, so it wouldn’t dry to the consistency of an “adobe brick.” (Somehow, the appeal of both baked birthday desserts and Southwestern-style architecture have suddenly become diminished). A third prototype a few years later saw the advent of the “Bio-drum,” which further isolated offending matter from the production process, and of the so-called “central composting toilet system” that allowed numerous seats to feed a single vat kept yards away from the bathroom. Even though odors were now completely controlled on site, this was the model for people who couldn’t bear the thought that decomposition was happening in the same room they were brushing their teeth.    

Under “The Company” pulldown, there are links to articles written in the popular press about the advantages of Sun-Mar’s toilet/composters. As you might expect, most have clever headlines hinting at the hilarity involved in passing solid matter from your digestive system. “This Toilet is On A Roll,” says The Globe and Mail newspaper. “When Nature Calls” is from CottageLink magazine, “Head of a Different Blend” is from DIY Boat Owner, and “People of the Loo” is a review in the Toronto Star. Perhaps most intriguing of all is “Introducing Audrey” from County Life, a 1991 article about “people who give their toilets affectionate names like Audrey or Puff the Magic Dragon. What will you call your Sun-Mar?” Personally, I’d go with “John”.    

In the “Products” section, you can read about all the variations possible in the 22 different models offered. A caption next to several photos encourages shoppers to “pick the category at right that best suits your needs,” even though the pictures are actually to the left. (Obviously, the layout artist didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground). There are low-flush models that use a small amount of water as well as completely dry systems. Some are electric, some are non-electric and a few are even solar-powered. There’s the luxurious ”family” model complete with a footstool, there’s the slightly smaller “compact,” and finally there’s the “spacesaver” for the tiniest butts and the tiniest rooms.    

All of them look pretty much like conventional toilets, though a little beefier around the base. In the “Technology” portion of the site, we learn more about what’s going on down there. Fresh waste, provided by the user, is combined with a peat-based bulking material, provided by Sun-Mar. These then begin an “aerobic breakdown” — which is a chemical process, not a hip-hop-inspired exercise routine – in the Bio-drum. This drum is periodically turned by a hand-crank to aerate the mixture. The 90-plus-percent of poop that is water recedes into an evaporating chamber while the solids gradually accumulate in a finishing drawer. Every three to four weeks, odor-free compost can be removed from this drawer and put into your garden, shared with your neighbors or, if you’re like me and can’t understand any of the previous paragraph, flushed down your regular toilet.   

This section also includes the Frequently Asked Questions, of which there are quite a few. Do I add any chemicals? No, you don’t. What happens in the winter? The compost freezes. Does the fiberglass used in the commode smell? You’re worried about how the fiberglass smells? Do animals harm the system? “Compost is not something that is attractive to animals,” though you might want to build an enclosure in case your local bears never heard that saying about what they do in the woods. Is the fan noisy? They’re not as bad as they used to be, “just another example of how we are always improving your composting toilet experience.” Should males still urinate outside? No. In fact, the liquid is beneficial to the composting process.   

Finally, we’ll look at a very impressive collection of satisfied customers in the “Testimonials” section. Jacquelyn Morgan, owner of an “Excel” model that I hope no one mistakes for a spreadsheet, writes that she thinks of the company “as friends.” Russ and Heather Bencharski have a Centrex 2000 that they claim works much better than the propane (!) toilet they used to own. James Mauger says of his Compact version that it costs a fraction of a well and septic system, and that “using the bathroom at night no longer involves shoes, a coat and a flashlight” (!!). 

Some people are so happy with their toilets that they’ve sent in pictures of them, though thankfully while they’re not in active use. Kathy Escott says her unit inspired her to write a “snappy poem” that informs guests how to use it. The “whole Ryan clan” gathered around their prized possession to offer toothy smiles and a thumbs-up on their model. Robert Gagnon of Quebec sent a simple photo with the inexplicable caption “Notre premiere testimoniaux en Francais!” I’ll pardon his French and assume the best, that he’s going to see a movie premier at Notre Dame. 

Sun-mar.com is a well-constructed if somewhat over-produced site that contains a lot of information on a subject that I always presumed the less we knew about, the better. I’m vaguely aware that what’s being flushed down the can today goes through a sewer to a treatment plant where it’s processed before eventually ending up in my morning coffee, but most of that happens out of sight. When that same process is occurring right there in my home, and instead of going into my coffee becomes part of a tomato sandwich I’ll eat later this summer, it’s somehow a bit more disconcerting. I definitely appreciate that there people who can stomach this concept and do it with a smile. However, I think I’ll choose to save myself costs starting at $1,400, and stay with my traditional dump. 

Proud owners Susan and Patrick Radtke stand next to their composting toilet, whom they call “Arthur”

A trip to the dentist and, hopefully, not the urologist

June 6, 2011

I went to the dentist Thursday and, four days later, my bladder is still sore.

Let me explain. The scheduled procedure was for four small fillings, to take about two and a half hours. I’d have both novocain and nitrous oxide to dull the pain and any other sensations that might get in the way.

The only thing the drugs don’t suppress is the need to urinate. I don’t know what it is about going to the dentist, but almost as soon as I’m reclined in the chair, I begin to feel the pressure building in my bladder. I guess it’s partly psychological, knowing that since I can’t go, I have to go. Or maybe I just have an adverse reaction to hearing Lionel Ritchie songs pumped over the Muzak.

I’ve been through this before, and tried to plan ahead by draining myself as much as possible before leaving home. I still remember a root canal from about five years ago, when two hours into oral surgery I had to tap Dr. Anderson on the shoulder and ask to be excused. He sighed, took several minutes to extricate himself from my mouth, and I stumbled down the hall in search of much-needed relief.

In the restroom, I almost had the urine shocked right out of me. There’s a full-length mirror on the wall behind the toilet, so you can’t help but get a thorough look at yourself. With all the numbing and the nitrous, I hadn’t realized the dentist had left the rubber sheeting attached to some metal clamps protruding from my mouth. I looked like a cross between Steven Tyler and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I peered over the apparatus, did some simple triangulation using the mirror, and managed to get a good enough aim to deposit a high percentage of my ejecta into the bowl. Then, it was back to the chair where, within another ten minutes, I had to go again.

I’ve tried to convince myself that a trained medical professional would understand the need for patients to attend to certain bodily functions. I know dental school concentrates primarily on the mouth, but surely they have at least one class that covers what happens when a person’s bladder becomes engorged with liquid. (Left unattended, it explodes all over not only the patient, but the dentist, his assistant and, in my case at least, many of the front-office personnel).

As I settled into the chair for Thursday’s work, I considered asking that they install a catheter along with the various tubing they were shoving into my mouth. Instead, I asked the assistant if a bathroom break would be okay at some point, and she said yes.

She briefly reviewed what we’d be doing during this visit: the doctor would numb me up, then drill and fill the four tiny cavities they found during last month’s check-up. She’d concentrate on keeping me comfortable, adjusting the nitrous as needed and doing occasional suctioning. My job was to lay there like a beached mullet.

She fitted the tubing into my nostrils and turned on the gas. As subtly as possible, I began taking huge gulps of the drug into my lungs, mindful from previous visits that they didn’t charge by the cubic foot, and that the one good thing about this whole operation would be a rare Thursday-afternoon high.

“Feel anything yet?” she asked after a few minutes.

“Not sure,” I mumbled through the gauze. “Maybe a little.”

She cranked it higher, and soon I discovered a previously unknown appreciation for Shania Twain’s “Feel Like a Woman” (especially the part where she yelps).

The dentist arrived in the room and began his work. I’d feel “a little pinch” as he administered the novacain and, sure enough, there followed a surge of pain so great as to jolt my entire body several inches out of the chair.

“Sorry,” I said, as if it were somehow my fault that I’d been jabbed in the jaw with a sharp needle.

Several more “pinches” followed before he left the room to give me a few minutes for the numbing to take effect.

When he returned, it had somehow become my job to participate in the procedure. He wanted to know if he’d given me enough anesthetic, and asked how the novacain seemed to be working.

“Does it feel more like you’ve got a fat lip, or more like a tingling?” he asked.

It seemed like a slight distinction, and I paused for several seconds trying to assess the feeling. Under most circumstances, I am only vaguely aware that I have lips and, if pressed, I could tell someone how they usually felt (fine). Now, however, I couldn’t quite put an adjective in place.

“Puffy?” I finally offered. “Numb?”

I guess that was good enough, as Dr. Anderson proceeded with the poking and the prodding and, worst of all, the drilling.

The pressure in my loins was slowly increasing. I knew I’d have to interrupt the procedure at least once, but was trying to hold back until roughly halfway through so that a second bathroom visit wouldn’t be necessary. One interruption during an appointment is quirky; two or more might require a referral to the urologist several suites down the hall.

Soon the doctor stopped the quiet mumbling he’d occasionally whisper toward the assistant, and addressed me directly.

“Davis, I’m going to have to contour your gum tissue to better access the decay,” he said.

Why was he telling me this? Was I supposed to give my approval? If it was merely a play-by-play account, I wasn’t interested. Only later did I discover that this was an unanticipated $200 maneuver not covered by insurance, and I should’ve said “please don’t”.

“Contouring the gum tissue” involves — rather surprisingly, I thought — the use of fire. The assistant temporarily disconnected my nitrous/oxygen mix so we wouldn’t all blow up, and soon I saw a swirl of smoke rising from my mouth. It created the not-unpleasant smell of cooked meat, giving me the rare opportunity to learn how appealing my grilled carcass might be to a cannibal.

Before he re-attached the gas, I figured this was my best opportunity for a bathroom break. I headed down the hall, took care of my business, and returned within a few minutes.

I must’ve dozed off shortly after this, since the next thing I knew they were wiping me down, removing cotton from my mouth and preparing me to leave. Before standing, I glanced into my lap to make sure I’d produced no liquids more embarrassing than drool during my sleep. A renewed fullness in my groin confirmed I had somehow held it in.

When I got to the checkout desk, I was told about the extra charge for the gum contour. I mentioned I thought I’d need a cap on another tooth, asking for an estimate of that work. She quoted a figure well north of $1,000, adding that I only had about $150 of coverage left on my dental plan for 2011. I was tempted to ask what I could get for that amount (A cleaning? Grills — maybe not diamonds but I could probably afford topaz — on my front teeth? A couple extra hits of nitrous?) but instead excused myself to the restroom while she finished my paperwork.

At the toilet, I sighed in relief as I wrapped up my visit. Lionel Ritchie asked “Hello?” and wondered aloud if it was he I was looking for.

No, Lionel, I thought. I was only looking forward to getting home before I had to pee again.

An Open Letter to the Guy in the Next Stall

March 9, 2011

It’s rare in the course of a man’s day to have such intimate proximity to another man. We pal around, we joke around, but when it comes time to take care of certain biological necessities, we don’t really want to be around each other.

The thin metallic wall that separates toilet stalls in the men’s room provides only minimal privacy as we do our business. Two males — perhaps similar in background and status and standards for civilized behavior, perhaps as different as two humans can be — find themselves sharing a nexus of time and space. They barely see each other, and what they do see is little more than a pair of shoes draped by a dropped pair of slacks. Yet they are hyper-aware of each other’s presence. You can’t squat on a commode less than a yard away from someone else without pondering what kind of limited acknowledgements are appropriate.

Either ponder, or pick up that 2008 Reader’s Digest that’s been in here for months and read again the profile of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

I was in a pensive mood the other day as I sat in a stall at work and considered the anonymous man next to me one stall over. I’ve never been comfortable moving my bowels so close to another person, and it occurred to me there was really no way to explain my discomfort. I resented this poor fellow whose needs were no doubt as urgent as my own, but I couldn’t explain why. He had as much right to these facilities as I did. He was a Child of the Universe. He had a right to be here. Then why did I wish that when he flushed, he’d disappear into the sewage system along with his waste?

The awkwardness, I finally figured out, was due to the fact that we had no ground rules for how we should share this space in a polite and mutually beneficial manner. That’s when it came to me that what was needed was more open communication between us.

It was there that my idea for this Open Letter to the Guy in the Next Stall crystallized. I grabbed a scrap of paper and a pen out of my pocket, and immediately started scribbling notes. Before long, I had a list of major points I wanted to make. I briefly considered passing them under the stall wall, then thought better of the wisdom of such a petition. Better, I realized, to seek a wider audience by publishing my reflections on the Internet.

Such was the genesis of this open letter.

Dear Sir,

Hey. How’s it going?

I know this is a little awkward for both of us, but I wanted to communicate some ideas I’ve had on how we can make this a more comfortable experience for both of us. You’re probably feeling the same low-level anxiety I am, and I thought if we could agree on some general rules, we could make this whole thing even more gratifying than it already is.

Allow me to pass on a few of these reflections.

(First, let me say right off that you shouldn’t be alarmed by this overture. I have no intention of soliciting a gay tryst from you, and I trust that your intentions are equally honorable. I just wanted to make that clear.)

We both know each other are here, but let’s pretend that we don’t. I’d rather believe that this wall separating us went all the way to the floor and was made of reinforced concrete topped by razor wire instead of thin sheet metal. However, since it isn’t, let’s keep our awareness in check as best we can.

One thing you can do to help with this is to not make any sounds. I know that the “Humor in Uniform” section of the RD can be riotously funny, but I’d prefer not to hear any laughter coming from your stall. Also, if you could stifle any sighs, moans or sounds of straining, that would be most appreciated.

Obviously, this would also apply to any cellphone conversations you might be tempted to have while you’re in here. If you blurt out a “what’s happenin’?” to your good buddy on the other end of the phone line, remember that I have no way of knowing whether you’re talking to him or me. And, trust me, you don’t want to know the specifics of what’s happening with me.

Now, I realize that some sounds are going to be inevitable. The human body does not expel its by-products, nor does the bowl of water accept these, without a certain amount of noise. What I try to do, and what I might suggest for you as well, is to launch a flush at the exact moment that these sounds are anticipated, setting up a sonic wall that blocks my perception of exactly what just occurred. Such a “courtesy flush” will also head off any accumulation of foul odors.

If you drop anything onto the floor during your visit in here, you can pick it up as long as it stays squarely in your stall. Anything approaching the dividing line between our two realms should be left where it lays, since this could lead to an exchange of words between us, something neither of us want. If you drop money, and the coins roll from your stall into mine, know that I will report you to both Human Resources and the local police.

If you’re wearing a company-issued ID badge attached to your belt, please turn the face of the badge away from my direction. I don’t want to know who you are. If you’re my boss, I might find myself performing my duties as if I were being evaluated, which can lead to a certain stricture of functions. If you’re my underling, I don’t want to believe you’ll think lesser of me as your manager just because I have an all-too-human alimentary canal. And please be aware that the laminate facing of the badge exhibits just enough reflectivity that it might cause me to see things I wish I hadn’t.

If you’ve largely completed your mission here, but feel the need to linger a few minutes longer before officially calling it quits, realize that I’d prefer you move along. I will signal my impatience with a wadded-up ball of tissue paper that I’ll toss over the wall at you. This will be your signal to leave.

If you’ve already completed your final flush, I will be listening for the jingle of your belt buckle as an indication that you’re re-dressing yourself and are about to exit. If you’re not wearing a belt, please jingle your keys in a simulation of this move. This will allow us both to time our egress from the stalls so that it doesn’t happen simultaneously.

If you have business to attend to at the sink, as I hope you do, see to it quickly and efficiently. Wash your hands and, if you must, check your image in the mirror. A brief swipe at your hair with a comb is generally permissible but other types of grooming and ablutions are frowned upon by those of us waiting for you to leave the room before we exit our toilet. I will take the roar of the hand-drying machine as the sign that you’re all but finished, which will allow me to begin gathering myself to leave as well.

And, one final point. Don’t turn off the light as you leave the restroom. It’s not funny. It’s very, very scary.

Thank you for hearing me out. I don’t mean to be forward, but I am interested in doing whatever I can to make this workplace a more comfortable environment for us all. I think you’ll agree that these simple rules represent a common-sense approach that we can all agree on.

If you have any questions, please keep them to yourself. And thanks again for your time.

Sincerely,

The Guy Next Door Wearing the Adidas Running Shoes

Revisited: Stalling in the stalls

February 20, 2011

I think when I say that I don’t enjoy bumping into other men in a public rest room, I am not alone.

Perhaps I should be a little more specific. What I don’t like is coming out of a stall after I’ve done my business, and encountering co-workers wandering amidst the sinks and urinals. It’s such an intimate setting, it feels as though we should be talking to each other, sharing in the brotherhood of fellow men who have similar biological needs to ours. Yet it’s that very intimacy that intimidates us into fears that any overtures could be misinterpreted.

Besides, I don’t like talking to most people at my desk or in the hallway; why should I want to engage them in the bathroom?

So when I’m using a stall, and I can tell from the shuffle of feet or the splashing of water or certain olfactory indicators that others are in the room, I tend to linger in the privacy of the commode cubicle. It’s usually only a few minutes before I hear the exit door closing, signaling me that it’s safe to emerge into an empty room.

I actually view this respite as an opportunity for a little quiet time in the midst of a hectic day, and have created some diversions for myself to make the moments pass more quickly. Using only the common fixtures found in most restrooms, I’ve devised something of a “play time,” and thought I could share these ideas with others who yearn for both privacy and fun.

Fine dining and bathing?

I don’t know what these three devices are intended to do, but I won’t let that limit my imagination. The circular thing at bottom left appears to unscrew and so would make a fine plate for an impromptu meal, or perhaps a frisbee. I presume the spigot will release water, allowing a quick sponge bath with sopping tissue. The other piece of plumbing, attached to the toilet tank itself, looks like a fire suppression sprinkler, so I probably shouldn’t mess with it. I don’t want to set off any alarms. I’m here to evacuate myself, not the whole office park.

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Feel the burn

Here are two opportunities for a quick workout while waiting on the urinator next door. The handicap grips can be used as uneven parallel bars for a speedy upper-body burn to build those biceps. (Don’t swing so high that your feet appear over the top of the stall — that could arouse suspicion). The plunger can double as a pogo stick.

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Explore the dark side

Many stalls have a little metal door in the wall leading to places unknown. If you can stuff yourself through, it could be a chance for a wonderful and mysterious adventure. (Or, you could end up trapped between the wallboard and the insulation). Use the spray deodorizer to lube yourself down for the tight squeeze, then pretend the can is a weapon to fend off the dragons and satyrs of this mystical realm in the Land Beyond the Janitor Closet.

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Me Tarzan, you hot

Catch up on your National Geographic reading from the library of periodicals atop the commode tank. This classic journal of world cultures has spiffed itself up since you probably last checked it out as a teenage boy. Gone are the half-naked native women of Amazonia, replaced now by fully naked lowland gorillas, like this seductress treed in a Tanzania national park. Her threatening gaze may say “no-no-no” but the romance of the primeval jungle will eventually convince her submit to your manly ways.

New break policy is spelled out

January 12, 2011

MEMO TO THE DEPARTMENT
SUBJECT: BREAKS

It has come to management’s attention that employees are not following the guidelines regarding meals and other breaks. Moving forward, we ask that you comply with the policy. Key provisions are as follows:
–You must clock in and out for every break.
–You do not need to clock out if you step away momentarily (to use a phone, bathroom or vending machine) and expect to return in 2-3 minutes, but you do need to notify your supervisor that you will be away briefly.
–Breaks will be taken at designated times during your shift, not whenever individual employees care to take them.
–Snacks at workstations are acceptable but meals are not. Please eat your meals in the breakroom.
–Remember that you are sharing a desk with employees working on other shifts. Please be considerate.
–As with any overtime, working through lunch must be approved by your supervisor.
–Employees may not combine smaller breaks into one large one.

Management has collected some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the policy, and answers these below:

The person I share my desk with gets out of the chair only as I arrive for my shift. Residual body heat left in the chair by this person disgusts me. Do I have to sit in their body heat, or can I log onto my computer while standing?

You may remember from your high school physics class that heat, or any kind of energy, is not inherently “clean” or “dirty”. We ask you to tolerate all co-workers’ body heat. Imagine that we’ve invested in office chairs that feature a heating pad if that helps. We do not advise that you log in while standing, as this is ergonomically incorrect. Anyone seen logging in while standing will have to re-take basic safety training.

So for bathroom breaks, basically we need to clock out for number two but not for number one?

Yes, defecation must be during an official break while urination can be on the clock.

On the clock? That seems really messy and unsanitary. Won’t the liquid mess up the electronics?

You know what we mean. Don’t be juvenile.

What if we think it’s only going to be number one but discover that number two becomes necessary while we’re gone?

You can send a text message to your supervisor with this update, if it occurs.

Can you suggest some acronym abbreviations for this message, so we won’t be embarrassed if our spouse gets ahold of our cell phone?

Yes. We suggest “HTP CMO” can stand for “had to poop, clock me out”.

If we’re taking 2-3 minutes to use a vending machine, do we have to tell our supervisor what we’re going to buy?

No. What you eat is covered by HIPAA privacy rules.

But elimination of waste is not?

HIPAA only prevents employers from asking about the physical characteristics of the waste (runny, foot-long, corn-flecked, etc.). Whether or not you have to go at all is an employer’s right to know.

What about smoke breaks?

These must be taken either during your two 15-minute breaks or your 30-minute lunch.

So we only get three, maybe four cigarettes a day?

You can smoke as many cigarettes as you can fit into your mouth at one time.

You say we can eat snacks at our desk but not meals. How do we tell the difference?

Anything on a stick (corn dog, lollipop, shish kabob) is considered a snack. Everything else is a meal and must be eaten in the break room.

How about a drink?

Fraternizing between supervisors and employees in an establishment that serves alcohol is forbidden.

No, I wasn’t asking you out for a drink. I was asking if we can have soft drinks and coffee at our desks.

Drinks at your work station are acceptable, as long as they are not spilled. First time one gets spilled, this privilege will be revoked.

What if we get thirsty? We’re not camels, you know.

Both “beer hats” and intravenous fluid infusion would still be allowed in this circumstance, though you couldn’t put actual beer in the hat. Or in the IV, for that matter.

My first break is scheduled for 90 minutes after I arrive. What if I’m not tired yet?

Regularly scheduled breaks are important for the safety and well-being of employees. Just stare at the wall in the breakroom if you can think of nothing better to do.

Some people seem to be using their cell phones all the time. Are you going to do anything about that?

Cell phone use at your work station is strictly prohibited. Emergency calls should be taken just outside the work area.

Julie gets calls from her daughter asking what time it is.

Don’t be a snitch. Nobody likes a tattle-tale.

You say we can’t combine smaller breaks into one large one. Does that mean we can’t eat our lunch in the toilet?

Is that what I’ve been smelling in the restroom? No, you can’t eat in the toilet.

Why not?

Because it’s disgusting. That’s why.

What if I’m not hungry at my pre-designated lunch half-hour?

Food is important for the safety and well-being of employees. You’ll eat when we tell you to.

So if we work through lunch by accident because we’re so busy, we won’t get paid overtime for that?

Not only will you not get overtime pay, but you will be cited on your next review for not following department procedures.

Because we’re trying to be creative in the way we satisfy customer demands?

Creativity is only allowed in the workplace when it is done in accordance with Standard Practice #4.36, as outlined on checklist EA-37.

Can we still leave the building for lunch breaks?

If you can be back in 30 minutes.

The only place that close is the awful diner next door.

Have you tried their “Mama’s Meat Loaf”? It’s really not bad, if you put some ketchup on it.

The person I share my desk with eats peanuts and I have a nut allergy. What should I do?

Die.

Who is responsible for cleaning crumbs out of the keyboard?

If you and your deskmates cannot agree on sharing that responsibility, we’ll leave it to the roaches and ants.

My deskmate uses a footstool to keep her legs and back comfortable, but I’m taller and don’t need one. What should I do?

All employees are required to be the same size. You should inform Human Resources of any issues related to this.

Remember, we outsourced the human resources department about a year ago and there’s only one guy left. And he refers all our questions to an internal website.

You should’ve thought of that before you planned to be a different height than your coworkers.

These rules are ridiculous and petty. What do you think we are, a bunch of children?

Yes.

In search of the perfect toilet paper

September 29, 2010

Life used to be so simple. 

You’d get a call at the office from the wife, asking you to stop at the store and pick up some milk and bread on the way home. The milk was offered in two, maybe three, varieties: regular, skim and, possibly, expired. Bread was just bread, not whole wheat, not ciabatta, not hemp, not gluten-free. You’d get your two items, maybe sneak a quick peek at the babe on the cover of Good Housekeeping, and pay the cashier. With something called cash.  

You’d leave the store, climb into the driver’s seat of your giant Chevy without worrying about sissy seatbelts, light up a Pall Mall, and harbor a deep prejudice toward races other than yours. It was that simple.  

When I got a call from my wife the other day asking me to pick up some toilet paper after work, I practically had an anxiety attack. Even though she was very specific about the kind of toilet paper we wanted – Cottonelle Ultra double pack, the purple label, NOT the blue – I’ve been in the bathroom tissue aisle of the grocery store recently, and it’s a very imposing corner of the universe. The options are tremendous, as you can see from the photo below.   

TP as far as the eye can see

Choice is a great thing but it’s increasingly obvious that we in America have taken it too far. From ketchup to dog food to beer to right-wing lunatics, there are now so many options available in the modern marketplace as to be overwhelming to the uninformed consumer. Even though I had clear instructions – don’t forget: purple, not blue – I thought I could better prepare myself for the assignment with a little online self-education. 

“Toilet paper is a soft paper product used to maintain personal hygiene after human defecation or urination,” Wikipedia tells us. “However, it can also be used for other purposes such as absorbing spillages or craft projects.” (Note to Wikipedia: This article may need to be edited to meet your quality standards. Not clear that these are three separate and distinct uses, and that TP does a poor job of “absorbing … craft projects.”) 

I learn that toilet paper products can vary immensely in the technical factors that distinguish them, including size, weight, softness, chemical residue and some frightening feature called “finger-breakthrough resistance.” I learn that a light coating of aloe or lotion or wax (!) may be worked into the paper to reduce roughness. I learn that so-called luxury papers may be rippled, embossed, perfumed, colored, patterned, medicated or imprinted with cartoon animals. 

Thus prepared, I enter the local Bi-Lo and find my way to aisle 11. Any confidence I may have gleaned from my studies is soon dashed. The huge expanse of options on display reminds me of the sea of faces I saw upon exiting the Mumbai airport baggage claim, each face either searching for a passenger, offering their porter services or looking for a handout. Except the Indians were less quilted. 

I found some paper called “Aloe and E,” which I assume contains both lotion and vitamin E, or else the user says “eee!” when they use it. I found Angel Soft, Supreme Softness and Charmin Sensitive, all for the touchy bum. I found a bargain label called Clear Value, another brand aimed at the Hispanic market called Paseo (which I think means “pass” in Spanish), and a store brand named Southern Home, with equally unsavory connotations. One product promised the feature of “tuggable huggable softness.” 

As you can see from the photo above, I also saw Spic and Span cleaning wipes, Ziploc storage bags and rubber gloves. I want very much to believe these were in the neighborhood by coincidence. 

I found an Ultra Plush, which is not the same as the Ultra I was looking for. I mentally cordoned off the aisle into four sectors, to better zero in on the specific label for which I was searching. I felt like the field archeologist exploring for the one femur bone that would confirm the existence of a previously unknown subspecies of early man. Only by being methodical and patient might I eventually succeed. 

Still, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I knew my fate if I failed to succeed. Like the ancient hunter/gatherer returning to the home cave with an antelope carcass when his wife specifically told him she wanted zebra for dinner, I would be vehemently chastised. “Don’t you listen to me anymore?” I’d be asked. “And I suppose you got the wrong tree lichen too.” 

I could call my wife and ask if there were any acceptable substitutes, but I hate those people who wander about the contemporary supermarket, cell phone to their ear and listening to a recited list that should’ve been written down. They’re always running over my foot with their shopping carts. I didn’t want to be one of these people. I’d rather buy a half dozen items that might be close — including Ultra brand razors and Ultra brand saltines — and hope to luck into the right purchase. I’d prefer to return the others later rather than come home empty-handed. 

Just as I was about to give up, there it was, in all its purple-packaged glory. The label said it was “new – even more cushiony comfort” and there was a picture of a napping puppy lying under what looked like a thick blanket, right below the Cottonelle name. (I assume it was a blanket; it looked about two inches too thick to be toilet paper). No wonder I had trouble locating the right stuff. My wife should’ve mentioned the puppy. 

I threw my prize into the cart and headed for the checkout. A sense of triumph coursed through me, as did the satisfaction of knowing that I was providing for my family. 

I headed for home, my stomach gurgling with the accumulated tension of the hunt. Within moments, I’d be happy I had found the right stuff.

Mondays, or, Life in Shorts

June 28, 2010

I love playing Scrabble on my computer. I don’t do it interactively with other live humans (I think I’ve made it pretty clear in previous posts that I don’t particularly care for other live humans) but instead select a robot challenger from among the eight skill levels offered.

I generally play at the “elite” ranking, the sixth most difficult, and tend to win about a third of my matches. That low success rate keeps it challenging, giving me cause for exultation when I win. My coworkers think I’ve found some especially egregious typo when I shout aloud and raise my hands high above my head, when I’m just winning at Scrabble.        

The seven letters you’re assigned to play with are supposed to be randomly generated. I think, however, that this program has it in for me, and assigns me way more vowels than I should be getting. Consequently, I’ve come to adopt two vowel-heavy words as among my favorites.        

The first of these is “adieu,” not great for generating points though it does allow you to clear out your vowel inventory. My second favorite is “vagina,” and not for the reasons you might think. One day I had the opportunity to play this word for a respectable 22 points, leaving me with only an “e” remaining unplayed on my rack. Just for the heck of it, I stuck the “e” on the end of the “vagina” (something I wouldn’t advise anywhere but in Scrabble) and, turns out, “vaginae” is actually a word! Using all seven tiles gives you 50 bonus points, which propelled me to an eventual win.        

I looked it up later, and found that “vaginae” is simply the plural of “vagina,” a variation used more in medical terminology than everyday conversation, where “vaginas” or “you know, down there” tend to suffice.        

As a Scrabble fan, and as a 56-year-old man whose testosterone levels are on the decline, I find myself frequently thinking “adieu vaginae.”        

Please let me know if you can think of any words with six "i's" and a "u"

 +++       

Some final thoughts on World Cup soccer, now that the Americans’ expulsion means we no longer have to pretend to care:
–Wouldn’t setting up a single match with two balls, four teams and four goals, allowing two teams to play horizontally across the pitch while two others play vertically, be more interesting? Remember how much fun it used to be when you’d get a “multi-ball” bonus in pinball? It would be like that.
–Or how about if players could use neither their feet nor their hands, but only their heads? Everybody would be down on all fours, nudging the ball goal-ward as fast as they could crawl. Imagine the excitement of a mid-field breakaway that would take up to several minutes to complete.
–Or what if they added an extra referee, but he was really a neutral player in disguise? At some random point in the middle of the match, he could start kicking the ball around, and everybody would be all, like, “what?”
–If you think the vuvuzela is annoying, imagine if Australia ever gets the World Cup and everyone brings a didgeridoo. Or the U.S. gets it and fans bring banjoes and Sousaphones.
–Best name ever for a sports commentator is Steve McManaman. So manly.
–I don’t know why, but after watching Saturday’s match, I have an overwhelming urge to buy products from a company named Mahindra Satyam, even though I have no idea what they make. And I want to use Visa to pay for my purchase.
–Ghana deserved to lose that match, if for no other reason than that their uniforms made them look like McDonald’s employees      

Would you like fries with your humiliating defeat?

 +++   

I invite everyone to join my new Facebook group, LetsPeeOnTheFloorInBPGasStations. I meant to specify that we pee on the floor in the restrooms of BP gas stations, but ran out of characters. If you want to do it out in the open in the snack aisle, be my guest, but I take no responsibility for this.   

Think of it as a way to protest the Gulf oil spill. I know a lot of these franchises claim they’re not officially associated with BP, but there’s got to be some connection, and we’re a populace that’s extremely frustrated by this unprecedented environmental catastrophe and are looking to take action. Leaking our own toxic waste onto the floor of their bathrooms makes a very strong political statement, especially if you’ve eaten asparagus recently.   

If you’re somehow caught by the manager, simply claim that the volume of the pee compared to the volume of the entire restroom makes the spill inconsequential. You can also say that you followed all rules as prescribed by the proper regulatory authorities (your urologist) and still, inexplicably, the leak happened. If pressed, you can promise to clean it up, but admit it’s going to take you at least two months.   

And I wouldn’t advise using the defense that “at least in my case, no wildlife was affected” because the manager could make you spend the afternoon scrubbing down roaches with dish soap.   

+++

Sorry about the unintended theme in last week’s posts. On Monday I wrote about buying a pruning saw, on Wednesday I considered buying hospital scrubs, and on Friday I reviewed the operating instructions that came with my purchase of a fan. 

I’m thinking of buying a donut today but I promise not to write about it.

+++ 

Virtually every afternoon this summer, I’ll be tempting death. 

I’ve been an ardent jogger since my twenties and continue to run about a mile and a half at least five days a week. This despite the fact that I’m now 56 years old, probably a good 30 pounds overweight, and I face afternoon temperatures typically in the mid to upper 90s. Like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, it’s torture while it’s happening but it feels so good when you stop. 

Passing motorists are aghast at my exercise, both because it’s so obviously suicidal and because a tight sweaty t-shirt is not exactly complimentary to my figure. Still, I continue shuffling onward, oblivious to the ozone alerts and the high humidity and the teenage boys who think it’s funny to wolf-whistle at me. 

Should these daily posts at DavisW suddenly come to a halt, you’ll know where I am: the same dump where the city hauls all the possums and raccoons and squirrels and financial proofreaders who don’t realize that roads are for cars, not for creatures.

Fake News: Oval office not first choice for speech

June 22, 2010

WASHINGTON (June 21) — Stung by criticism of last week’s Oval Office address, with many pundits saying President Obama looked awkward behind the majestic executive desk, the White House released a transcript of an alternative, more casual speech he considered delivering from historic mansion’s first-floor bathroom.

“We knew it was a risk to use the Oval Office as a backdrop to talk about the oil spill,” said administration spokesperson Heath Anderson. “In retrospect, using a different room may have conveyed more of the tone we intended.”

The president had already spoken on several occasions about the massive gulf disaster from the Rose Garden, the Blue Room, the East Room and the press office. That the chief executive’s private bathroom was considered as a setting for an address to the nation shows how close the administration came to averting the largely negative reaction to last Tuesday’s televised talk.

The speech itself would’ve been as different as the staging, according to a draft released Monday. The 20-minute address, shown during prime time on all the major television networks, would’ve begun with a disembodied hand knocking on a closed door, and the rest of the presidential speech shouted through that door.

“Someone’s in here,” Obama says in his opening remarks, indicating that the federal government is on the job of mitigating the spill and determining who was responsible.

“I’ll be done in just a minute,” the president continues, optimistic that the deep-sea gusher can soon be stopped and clean-up can begin in earnest.

A rustling sound follows for about 30 seconds, meant to represent how intense the executive branch’s response has been to the catastrophe. A mumbled “there’s another bathroom just down the hall” is followed by the assertion that “I’ll be right out” and “Hang on, I’m almost through in here.”

“He’s asking the American people for patience,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “These quick bursts of decisive language would show he’s a president in charge of the situation. It displays an urgency to bring this sad episode to a quick and clean conclusion.”

After the camera continues focusing on the closed door for another 45 seconds, the voice from inside asks “can you find me some paper?”, hinting at Obama’s plan to use environmentally friendly products like tissue paper to gather up the crude now soaking Gulf coast beaches.

“We have a plan in place to make a full recovery,” the president continues from inside the ornate Oval Bathroom, constructed during the Hoover administration. “My team will not be caught with its pants down. I know there’s a spill, and I take complete responsibility for cleaning it up.”

At this point in the speech, Obama is heard to say “oh darn, the fan is broken,” an apparent reference to how some of the efforts to keep oil out of Louisiana marshlands failed when equipment there malfunctioned. Soon, the sound of a match being struck shows the president’s intention that efforts at recovery will be visible to the American public.

With the sound of flushing water from behind the door, the president indicates how levels of petroleum will soon be decreasing while the seawater is lifted by twice-daily tides to overtake the remnants of the spill.

At one point, Obama is heard shouting “Uh-oh, the water keeps rising!” which is followed by brief splashing sounds and muttered epithets of disapproval from the nation’s forty-fourth chief executive.

“Where the hell is the plunger?” he is heard to ask, calling on BP executives to offer more assistance in the recovery effort. Then, he reports, “oh, good, it’s going back down,” an apparent reference to outstanding financial claims made by fishermen and the tourist industry against the London-based energy company.

The address ends with Obama opening the door to emerge from the bathroom. He is flanked by an American flag towel on his left and an Office of the President towel to his right, the latter obviously soaked with water. Also seen over his shoulder are two small framed photos, one showing a heron wading in the surf and another portraying a variety of seashells.

“I told you I’d be done pretty quickly,” the smiling president tells a reassured nation, then adds “it’s all yours” to point out that the bathroom is now vacant and ready for another user.

Website Review: CompostingToilet.com

May 21, 2010

Sure, you recycle. Maybe you’re in a carpool or use public transportation. Perhaps you’re even part of that growing segment of the environmentally aware who have started skipping every other breath, thereby halving the amount of greenhouse gases coming out of your piehole.    

But what about that biggest of all contributors to your carbon footprint? (Hint: It’s not coming from your feet but about a third of your body length higher, and in the back).    

Unless you’re among the dedicated few who package their bodily wastes in sealable containers, patiently awaiting the opening of the Yucca Mountain Repository, you may not be doing enough to reduce your harmful impact on the planet. You could either die right now, and do us all a huge favor. Or you could invest in the green technology of a composting toilet.    

These modern miracles of sanitary convenience are now available through a company called Sun-Mar, subject of this week’s Website Review.    

Sun-Mar.com has a very busy home page, as one might expect of a firm dedicated to how you do your business. There are links and pulldowns out the ying-yang, far more than I can cover in a single post. I’ll try instead to focus on the product and the people standing behind it, who hopefully avert their eyes as we symbolically take their futuristic commodes for a whirl.    

There’s a great introductory video that explains how the water usage of conventional toilets has a tremendous negative impact on our oceans, streams and wetlands. We see scenes of Niagara Falls as we learn that up to 7 billion gallons of otherwise drinkable water is flushed down the crapper every day. This doesn’t have to be. With the waterless device patented exclusively by Sun-Mar, you can now rely on a three-step composting system to save our world’s precious lifeblood while enjoying the convenience of using the bathroom in almost any semi-private setting.    

“Install one anywhere plumbing is not available,” we’re told. “In your closet, your boat house, your country cabin, your barn, even in a guardbooth.”    

(So the next time you pull up to the turnpike toll-taker’s cubicle and it appears to be unattended, maybe you just need to wait a couple of minutes for the worker to rise up and appear.)    

The home page also contains a lengthy essay on the history of the composting toilet and the company that makes it. It was founded almost 40 years ago by Hardy Sundberg, an enterprising Canadian who gave the firm half its name. His first effort was a primitive device that used a large fan, a top-mounted heater and mechanical mixers to agitate and dry what is euphemistically called the “waste pile.” Presumably the size of an Oldsmobile, this beast used only a single compartment for the three required steps of composting, evaporation and finishing and had numerous shortcomings, not the least of which was an earth-shattering stench.    

A second generation introduced in 1977, breezily dubbed “The Tropic,” dried the waste matter with a heater sealed in a compartment in the base. This solved the challenge of keeping the “waste cake” moist, so it wouldn’t dry to the consistency of an “adobe brick.” (Somehow, the appeal of both baked birthday desserts and Southwestern-style architecture have suddenly become diminished). A third prototype a few years later saw the advent of the “Bio-drum,” which further isolated offending matter from the production process, and of the so-called “central composting toilet system” that allowed numerous seats to feed a single vat kept yards away from the bathroom. Even though odors were now completely controlled on site, this was the model for people who couldn’t bear the thought that decomposition was happening in the same room they were brushing their teeth.    

Under “The Company” pulldown, there are links to articles written in the popular press about the advantages of Sun-Mar’s toilet/composters. As you might expect, most have clever headlines hinting at the hilarity involved in passing solid matter from your digestive system. “This Toilet is On A Roll,” says The Globe and Mail newspaper. “When Nature Calls” is from CottageLink magazine, “Head of a Different Blend” is from DIY Boat Owner, and “People of the Loo” is a review in the Toronto Star. Perhaps most intriguing of all is “Introducing Audrey” from County Life, a 1991 article about “people who give their toilets affectionate names like Audrey or Puff the Magic Dragon. What will you call your Sun-Mar?” Personally, I’d go with “John”.    

In the “Products” section, you can read about all the variations possible in the 22 different models offered. A caption next to several photos encourages shoppers to “pick the category at right that best suits your needs,” even though the pictures are actually to the left. (Obviously, the layout artist didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground). There are low-flush models that use a small amount of water as well as completely dry systems. Some are electric, some are non-electric and a few are even solar-powered. There’s the luxurious “family” model complete with a footstool, there’s the slightly smaller “compact,” and finally there’s the “spacesaver” for the tiniest butts and the tiniest rooms.    

All of them look pretty much like conventional toilets, though a little beefier around the base. In the “Technology” portion of the site, we learn more about what’s going on down there. Fresh waste, provided by the user, is combined with a peat-based bulking material, provided by Sun-Mar. These then begin an “aerobic breakdown” — which is a chemical process, not a hip-hop-inspired exercise routine — in the Bio-drum. This drum is periodically turned by a hand-crank to aerate the mixture. The 90-plus-percent of poop that is water recedes into an evaporating chamber while the solids gradually accumulate in a finishing drawer. Every three to four weeks, odor-free compost can be removed from this drawer and put into your garden, shared with your neighbors or, if you’re like me and can’t understand any of the previous paragraph, flushed down your regular toilet.   

This section also includes the Frequently Asked Questions, of which there are quite a few. Do I add any chemicals? No, you don’t. What happens in the winter? The compost freezes. Does the fiberglass used in the commode smell? You’re worried about how the fiberglass smells? Do animals harm the system? “Compost is not something that is attractive to animals,” though you might want to build an enclosure in case your local bears never heard that saying about what they do in the woods. Is the fan noisy? They’re not as bad as they used to be, “just another example of how we are always improving your composting toilet experience.” Should males still urinate outside? No. In fact, the liquid is beneficial to the composting process.   

Finally, we’ll look at a very impressive collection of satisfied customers in the “Testimonials” section. Jacquelyn Morgan, owner of an “Excel” model that I hope no one mistakes for a spreadsheet, writes that she thinks of the company “as friends.” Russ and Heather Bencharski have a Centrex 2000 that they claim works much better than the propane (!) toilet they used to own. James Mauger says of his Compact version that it costs a fraction of a well and septic system, and that “using the bathroom at night no longer involves shoes, a coat and a flashlight” (!!). 

Some people are so happy with their toilets that they’ve sent in pictures of them, though thankfully while they’re not in active use. Kathy Escott says her unit inspired her to write a “snappy poem” that informs guests how to use it. The “whole Ryan clan” gathered around their prized possession to offer toothy smiles and a thumbs-up on their model. Robert Gagnon of Quebec sent a simple photo with the inexplicable caption “Notre premiere testimoniaux en Francais!” I’ll pardon his French and assume the best, that he’s going to see a movie premier at Notre Dame. 

Sun-mar.com is a well-constructed if somewhat over-produced site that contains a lot of information on a subject that I always presumed the less we knew about, the better. I’m vaguely aware that what’s being flushed down the can today goes through a sewer to a treatment plant where it’s processed before eventually ending up in my morning coffee, but most of that happens out of sight. When that same process is occurring right there in my home, and instead of going into my coffee becomes part of a tomato sandwich I’ll eat later this summer, it’s somehow a bit more disconcerting. I definitely appreciate that there people who can stomach this concept and do it with a smile. However, I think I’ll choose to save myself costs starting at $1,400, and stay with my traditional dump. 

Proud owners Susan and Patrick Radtke stand next to their composting toilet, whom they call "Arthur"