As we approach All Saints Day, we once again open our homes and hearts to spooky-scaries of all shapes and sizes, decorate our living spaces with gourds or even a squash, and revel in our abundance of sweets and treats. But, let us not forget that perhaps the spookiest-scary of all lies not in the delectable goodies or cucurbits family, but in our own blackened souls. Yes, that’s right; this Allhallowtide season I call upon you, dear reader, to reflect on the ways in which you have sinned, for the horrors realer than the axe-wielding serial killer are those of mankind’s rotten nature.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you are a college student late for an all-important lecture, and you must excuse yourself to release waste in such a quantity and with such velocity that an impact measurable using the Richter scale might be created. Picture, if you are so willing, that you scramble through the front door to discover a sight truly terrifying; a bathroom scene more disturbing than any found within the famous 1960 American psychological horror thriller film “Psycho” produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. You are ankle deep in a filmy gray fluid, the whole place smells like decay, and the toilet has been systematically dismantled like a piece of Ikea furniture. How does this happen in a functioning society? How are public resources we all depend on, like our dear restrooms, consistently left in such poor condition? Well, it’s certainly not due to any lack of janitorial effort; those who must drain the filmy gray liquid from the world’s water closets are actually braver than our troops. No, the blame lies in the general shitting and pissing population. To deduce how we can rectify this horrid dilemma, we must first investigate the history of the washroom’s physical and social constructs. Only then may we return to the regularly scheduled witching day hoopla. Who knows, if we can all learn to be kinder and more conscious latrine users, you might just have a better experience expelling half your body weight in alcohol into one by the end of the night.
Let us begin by inspecting the civilization responsible for innovations such as writing, irrigation canals, and cities. It’s our favorite “between two rivers,” if my Greek proves correct. Mesopotamian johns were wide, thick cylindrical ceramic rings. In some cases, in order to create longer and deeper drainage systems, several units were placed upon one another in a fashion akin to ancient cup stacking, however the sport’s Wikipedia page regrettably does not acknowledge such contributions. Though Mesopotamia’s comfort rooms were so gobsmackingly simple I can’t believe I didn’t come up with them first, they were only comfortable for a select few. Here lies the potty’s most important lesson: not all ploppers are created equal. According to some random article I found, fewer than half of Mesopotamian homes had meso pots contained in ‘em. Many were privy to making an innocent pail or the outside world their privy, which is respectable in terms of freedom of choice, but does not provide sufficient freedom from cholera. That’s right, you guessed it, you smart thing, the largest factor dictating whether or not one was a proud throne owner was how many shekels one was raking in. So, yes, this can’t be seen as anything other than a class issue, even from its humble, cup stacking beginnings.
Once the ancient Romans started kicking about, more sophisticated drainage and sewage systems were being developed, although the plumbing we’re so accustomed to today would have been as foreign to them as a woman in an orgy. The Romans were pioneers in making the waste depositing experience an intentionally communal one. They took the term “outhouse” to the next level by placing benches with up to fifty holes carved in them out in broad daylight. It wasn’t uncommon for gents to gather around and discuss business together while they carried out business. Following the theory held by many scholars of the time that music, science, and architecture were all connected in one beautiful art, some Romans might have even held banquets and broke bread while pinching off a loaf. Yet when I strike up a conversation between stalls in college or offer to utilize the same urinal as another willing participant (which is objectively more efficient and saves on water), I’m viewed as a reductionist.
It’s the Middle Ages now, and feudalism has taken center stage in many parts of the world, at least the ones I’m told by my textbook to care about. Many poors just threw in the proverbial towel and went right back to pooping in rivers and dying about it again. Some had the ingenuity to build little makeshift dookers above the river, I suppose as an added personal touch. This system served as a rough precursor to the later waste management model that airplanes employed in which users dropped their bombs from a bucket into the closest available parallel to a river; international air. This was, of course, before the advent of modern aerospace technology that transforms your turds into a magical blue sludge that is whisked away in the night by whichever God you pray to. Regardless, the feudal lords of the Middle Ages were tossing excrement around carelessly too, but to their benefit. Yesterday’s roast hog would be turned to a gross log and expelled out a chute called a garderobe from under one of the castle spires into the moat, effectively breaking down buildup and building up defenses.
Things continue to worsen for the blue collar shitter: by the eighteenth century, many laborers had outdoor “earth closets” connected to their homes, a sort of MacGyver type device that drops clay on your feces to aid in decomposition and odor masking. Yet when I want to use a litter box… I digress. It was still uncommon for each working family to have their own personal pissoir, so compromises had to be made. While not quite the backyard BBQ the Romans had going on, a strong sense of communal understanding existed among those sharing the bog. You would think the worst mistake any bourgeois could make would be allowing a workers’ union of any kind, including at the cludgie, and yet, no defecation revolution came. Apparently everybody was too busy going to public executions to take the time to settle their differences and realize they were fighting for the same interests. As Lincoln said, “a[n] [out]house divided against itself cannot stand,” among other eternal expressions such as “a penny saved is a penny earned.” While only tangentially relating to defecation, a revolution did come; an industrial one. Heralded amongst other less important inventions such as the printing press was the flush toilet. Contrary to popular belief, Thomas did not invent the crapper, he only successfully monetized it, so he would have been very popular with teenage men on Twitter today if his colon didn’t crap out in 1910.
That (sort of) brings us to modern day where we enjoy the luxuries of modern plumbing and the occasional litter box. But imagine how much greater our lives could collectively be if we were able to deconstruct our systems of oppression. We must ask ourselves, why must the bathroom be so isolating? Why must we be silenced? How can we re-train our minds about potties? Well, positive change must be made together. So I implore you, clean up after yourself, don’t leave the sink running, and no devious licks. Maybe if we treat each other as valued neighbors once more, we can rise up and rebuild a new life for all of us wherein we can poop with dignity and passion. Perhaps we can reach through the two foot wide gaps between the stalls and the floor, touch hands, and touch each other’s hearts, just in time to celebrate the spooky season on a guiltless conscience.
Cormac Abbey is a first year Television & Digital Media Production major who thinks he really hit this one out of the park, if he’s being perfectly frank with you. You can reach them at [email protected].