The Stuff about Growing Up Everybody Forgot to Tell You – Part I


My issues with the modern American education system are many (see this and this), but perhaps most upsetting is not what schools are doing, but what they are not. Specifically, not preparing us for life after school, “the real world” most necktie-wearing dingbats call it. Oh sure, we’re beaten over the head with completely useless relics of academia like “algebra,” and “grammar,” and “geography” (be sure to make the air quotes when you read that), but then we’re told that to be productive and successful, we need Google machines and Siri gadgets that will wipe all those lessons from our mental white board. Quick, what’s 2x + 3y? Don’t bother, Google’s already answered it way more amazingly than you can.

But when it comes to information you can really use that you will actually need in the adult world – like, How to shut off your smoke alarm if you try to reheat an omelette in the toaster, or, How to put out a small toaster fire, or, What is a toaster? – our schools get a big, fat F. You, as a result, are left ill-equipped to handle these everyday situations and ultimately find yourself with a broken smoke alarm, ruined toaster, and no omelette.

Well, I’m here to change that. This is the first installment of what will be an on-going series of experiences I’ve had with “real world” problems, and what I learned from them. Hopefully, you’ll then be capable of handling the situations when they inevitably arise.

Lesson I: Toilets

Love ’em or hate ’em, you gotta’ use ’em – toilets make living in a city so much less plaguey than 200 years ago. They’re remarkable gizmos that do the dirtiest deeds we throw at them, get used multiple times each and every day, and yet remain largely untouched by the technological upgrades that have run rampant through our daily lives. Still, with all that weight riding on their tireless, gaping maws, glitches in the whole Magical Disappearance of Caca-Poopoo charade can, and do, arise.

The use of toilets is taught to us at a very young age, well before any formal schooling, and nowadays it’s often the second machine we learn to operate behind the iPad (and it is so crushingly depressing to see myself type that). Yet strangely, the mechanisms behind that mystical seat are left woefully ill-defined. Generally, most of us possess the following mental diagram of how it all works:

Finger1 + Lever1=  Smiley Thumbs1

Well I’m here to tell you it’s not all smoke and mirrors; there’s real science behind your potty – all sorts of pipes and floaty balls and old crusty tubes (there may or may not be elves involved as well, I’m not totally sure). And like all science, it eventually goes tits up, leaving us wondering where it all went wrong.

Always Be Prepared

I’m not going to bore you with the inner-workings of the john – if you want that, check out this MIT student’s ridiculously in-depth explanation with equations and shit. I’m also not going to lecture you about how to fix it – if you want that, read through this site called “toiletology”. What I will do, however, is tell you precisely what to expect when fit hits the shan, which it undoubtedly will, and how (not) to deal with the situation.

First off, while it’s impossible to predict exactly when a toilet will go renegade, you can be fairly certain it will occur under one or more of the following circumstances:

  1. Late at night or first thing in the morning. It’s not clear precisely why this is so – it might have something to do with earth’s magnetic field, or the Dust Bowl – but toilets almost never go haywire during daylight working hours. Instead, the user’s state of mind seems to trigger or prevent mechanical failure, i.e. if you are awake, prepared and capable, all is likely to go well. If you’re half-awake, running late, or in fuzzy slippers, catastrophe usually ensues.
  2. When you are a guest in someone’s home. This one is pretty intuitive; it’s like when someone else makes you pancakes for the first time, they’re gross: lumpy, burnt, vegan – not at all like mom’s (it’s a great analogy, go with it). It’s the same with the toilet, it’s used to a different flavor of “business.” Heck, it probably ends up swallowing those new pancakes. Also, toilets at someone else’s house are way more likely to overflow if their bathroom is super nice and clean. If the towels are neatly folded and arranged by size, or if you see a bunch of magazines in a wicker basket next to a bowl of potpurri, then you’re probably headed for disaster.
  3. On a date. This one happens regardless of whether it’s your toilet or theirs. Typically, all hell breaks loose when you or your date are in the other’s house for the first time. It can be a big win for the relationship to share your home with a potential mate, but you’re best served using the restroom at the restaurant before heading home because toilets just love showing your date what you’re really made of.

Obviously you can’t be assured disaster won’t strike at any time, but if you are mindful of these high-risk situations you can mitigate the odds of winding up with this. But, when your turn comes, and it will, there are a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way that should help you navigate the situation as painlessly as possible.

Cut Your Losses

Realize that once it starts to happen, it’s going to happen. The sooner you acknowledge that at some point we are all the karmic punching bag of fate, the sooner you can steer your proverbial ship through literal troubled waters. Follow the advice herein and a potential meltdown will be a mere containment leak.

First of all, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. The swirling whirlpool can be hypnotic, but it is critical to remain vigilant – never take a flush for granted. The first mistake the unprepared make is to lull into a trance and not act with exceptional haste.

Next, do something, but not anything. Once you’ve noticed that something is amiss, do not wait for the situation to rectify itself, trust your instincts… Well, mostly. The biggest mistake the inexperienced mal-flusher makes is to press the handle again. It seems reasonable; it’s the only lever on the whole contraption – like the Home button on an iPad. But while pressing the button is a good thing in most cases, it can be the worst decision you make if something’s wrong. Consider the following diagram:

Finger1Lever1Frowny Thumbs down

See? It makes a lot more sense when you actually see the problem laid out visually. Remember, I speak from experience and I can tell you that pressing the lever will only leave you desperately attempting to turn back time with your mind so you punch the you from the past and alter the future. As yet, that has proven an ineffective solution. I advise you to grab a plunger (if you don’t have one, stop reading this blog right now. There is nothing more important you can be doing with your time than buying one right this second!) and give that nasty staff the ol’ heave-ho! That should clear things right up.

Now, if you were unable to consult the trouble-shooting diagram above, and you pressed the lever, you’re going to have to start throwing down towels immediately. DO NOT attempt to find “bad towels” suited to this task – there are lots of towels out there and no sacrifice is more noble for your absorbent friend than this. That said, you will have to bury the towels, or better yet cleanse them with fire. Contrary to what you may have been told, everything that happens in the bathroom is immoral and shameful. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to perform an exorcism when it’s all over with (and yes, the Catholic Church posted rules on performing your own exorcism, here).

Once you have banished the demons back through the Gates of Hell, it’s time for bleach! It’s not fun, but the only thing more powerful than the Will of Christ is a good ol’ fashioned scrubbing with Clorox. As noted above, this will almost certainly not be the best time to dawn rubber gloves and knee pads, but it’s got to be done. If you’re sleepy, too bad; if you’re late, be later; if it’s someone else’s home, tell them you will show yourself out afterward; and if you’re on a date, go ahead and make a pact to never speak to or about one another or this incident ever again.

It’s OK to cry while you’re scrubbing, the Clorox will destroy your tears, too.

All done? Great! With a little guidance and solid information, an otherwise life-altering tragedy can just be another dark secret that you take with you to the grave.

Stay tuned for the next installment: Bats: AAAHH! HOLY @#$%, HELP!!!



One comment

  1. Patrick Oliver O'Patterson · November 5, 2014

    I can’t find the pause button on my toilet. I hope I don’t have one of those knock-off-no-pause-button pieces of junk. Can you help? It’s been overflowing for two days and my downstairs neighbors are starting to complain (annoying!), so the sooner the better. Thanks!

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