Monday, October 31, 2016

Flush Failure

I recently started exploring the idea that my kids might be budding water conservationists. The basis for this concept is the frequency with which they fail to flush the toilet following its use. I mean, you feel the urge, walk into an unoccupied bathroom, lift the lid of the porcelain throne, and BAM! Log jam right in front of your face!

It didn’t take long for me to reject my initial hypothesis that my kids were mainly trying to save water when they didn’t flush. This became apparent from the long showers that they regularly take. We even installed a digital clock and a separate timer in the downstairs shower. But this hasn’t seemed to reduce shower length.

If my kids really were interested in saving water they’d do what water saving extremists do. These people turn on the water long enough to get wet. Then they stand there shivering wet and naked while they lather up. Then they turn on the water long enough to rinse off, and they’re done. No luxuriating in the pleasantly warm water splashing down from above for these masochists. It’s hard for me to see the value in this practice, since only 4% of all water use in Utah occurs inside homes. If we all did what these self-torturers do the statistical reduction in water usage would be practically zero.

Since my kids aren’t trying to save water, I had to come up with a different hypothesis. Flush toilets have only been common for a few generations now. For millennia prior to that humans had nothing to flush. Every spring Ma would walk into the house after visiting the shanty out back and say, “Pa, it’s time to dig a new hole and move the outhouse. I’m afraid the pile is about to touch my behind.”

It seems like every time I read something about human behavior, there’s some muckety-muck blathering on about how we do thus-and-such because we were initially grunting hunters and gatherers, and that evolution hasn’t caught up to modernity. Thus, we’re not well evolved to sit at desks, drink milk, eat grain (as in the form of donuts), recognize reality, sit on toilets, etc.

Quite frankly, I think that most of these people are full of crap. They’re just making up stuff that can’t be tested in any real way, just to make themselves look all smarty pants. I think the evidence shows that humans are far more adaptable than these self-important gurus of guessed-at-and-mostly-made-up prehistory and human development suggest.

But if they are right, maybe the development of the flush toilet occurred such a short time ago on the evolutionary scale that my children simply haven’t evolved enough to press down that little lever on the side of the toilet tank with the kind of regularity that I think it ought to happen. But if that’s the case, how in the world are they able to operate their smart phones? Those devices seem somewhat more complex than a toilet handle.

Of course, there could be other mechanisms at play that I haven’t yet explored. Take for example the fact that, despite how seldom the other people living in my house flush the toilet after using it, the frequency with which they find it absolutely necessary to do so spikes dramatically when I am in the shower. When that happens I try to remind myself as I react to the rapidly changing water temperature (by screaming like a little girl) that I should be grateful that someone has actually flushed a toilet.

One economist says that toilets are the greatest life saving invention of all time. Professor Toilet says that “the advent of the toilet has saved more lives … than seat belts, vaccinations or any medical device….” So the next time you feel compelled to grovel at the feet of some great doctor for preserving life, maybe you should praise a plumber instead.

As I have pondered a possible solution to the lack of appropriate toilet flushing in our home, I have considered several solutions. On a recent trip to the commode aisle of a hardware store, I noted that it was possible to buy a see-through toilet seat. This would allow people to see whether the bowl had been flushed even after closing the lid. But somehow I doubt this would help someone who seems to have a cognitive disconnect between, “Hey, I just finished using the toilet” and “Maybe I should push that little lever on the tank.”

We are all familiar nowadays with self flushing toilets that use a sensor to determine when it’s time to flush. But those are mostly made for commercial grade systems that are far more expensive than most of us are willing to spend on our home toilets. Besides, have you ever been seated on one of those things when it suddenly decides to automatically flush? Let’s just say that I hope they don’t model self-driving cars on that technology.

My wife and I are at the point where we can envision a future of being empty nesters down the road a few years. I often hear people say that after your kids are gone you’ll miss the dumb things they used to do. I’m sure that’s true. But somehow I doubt that flush failure will be among those endearing charms.

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