Someone once said that the mark of a good civilization is set by how they handle their poop. By and large, it’s a good rule of thumb. And yet, in this modern and somewhat sanitary world of ours, it’s so easy to be reminded of how fragile our constructs of civilization and sanitation are — all we need do is look at our bathrooms.
I was working on our toilet yesterday, attaching it to the floor, and I realized that all that stands between me and the neighbors’ poop is some height and a thin water layer that blocks the primitive smells from infesting our living spaces. In light of all we go through to isolate ourselves from other human beings, in our quest for privacy and cleanliness, with fences, walls, soundproofing, thermal insulation, fancy double-paned windows pumped with inert gases and vacuum-sealed, double-bolted doors, curtains, tinting and other things, it’s so ironic to see how close we are when it comes to our more shameful habits. Sure, we can’t hear or see our neighbors — we’ve taken care of that — but we sure can smell their poop, and in some unlucky cases, even see it erupting from our toilets onto our floors.
Staring into the open toilet pipe, not only could I smell the offal of my fellow human beings, but I could know the exact moment when they flushed their toilets, and I could hear the rush of the brown waters flowing into the communal collection pipe. When I placed the toilet on top of the pipe and sealed the ring that secured it there, the smell persisted, winding its way through the toilet’s innards and out into the bathroom. It only stopped coming up when I flushed the toilet for the first time. That thin seal of water, sitting in the low part of the P-trap loop inside the toilet, is really all that’s keeping our civilization civilized, at least when it comes to the two numbers we must all do at some point during the day.
This wasn’t the first toilet I installed, and I’m not knocking our modern plumbing system — all I’m saying is there’s surprisingly little between us and wilderness, in spite of all the constructs we’ve placed between us and it, and between each other.