At this time of year it is important to pause during our busy lives to reflect on that which we are most thankful for. It is a time to appreciate all the good things in our lives. For me those things are simple and intangible: the love of my family and friends, a cozy home with two cuddly, black and white fur balls, the loyalty of my readers and a toilet that flushes.
Those of you who have read On the Hot Seat are familiar with the toilet troubles we have recently endured in my office. I’m happy to report that since posting that story about the steaming toilet water, the problem has become intermittent. Actually, it’s fun. We never know if it will be a mundane visit to the bathroom or if it will be a spa-like experience where we’ll receive a fanny facial. We’ve grown to expect the occasional waft of warm air on our backsides.
What I didn’t expect was the statement my colleague made earlier this week when I returned to my office. “When you go to the bathroom, don’t turn off the light or the toilet won’t flush for the next person.”
I looked quizzically at her and was opening my mouth to utter the first of many questions when she warned, “Don’t ask. Just don’t turn off the light.”
Last time I was in a science class, I remember learning that water and electricity don’t play well together. What would the plumbing have to do with the lights? I looked at my friend. “How exactly did they even figure out that the light had anything to do with the operation of the toilet? This is because of that new robo-flush toilet, isn’t it?” I asked, ignoring her previous warning. She had no response, but I had my suspicions. For years we had a traditional, manual flush toilet in our single-seater, unisex bathroom. It faithfully got the job done until this past spring when the flush went on the fritz. The plumbers came in, fixed the flush and inadvertently gave it an auditory warning signal. Every time someone flushed the toilet, it made a loud croaking noise and the pipes rattled. It sounded like you were in the hold of a ship that was sinking. This noise was as predictable as Old Faithful. It was an odd sound, but there were a few positives to this new plumbing percussion. If you had an impending intestinal emission, you could be guaranteed audio coverage and plausible deniability. If you had an office near the bathroom, like mine, the pipes would rattle the floor, signaling that the bathroom would soon be free. No more standing in line waiting for the potty for me.
At the end of the summer, Old Faithful was replaced by a newfangled toilet with a robo-flush feature. We marveled at the toilet technology and extolled its hygienic highlights, but it wasn’t long before it let us down. The robo-flush feature began to function intermittently. It was like a flushing lottery; sometimes it would flush automatically and sometimes it would need a manual assist to get the job done. It was an easy problem to solve, but, apparently, that was just the early warning sign of the death of the flushability of our toilet. Before all these plumbing problems started, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the toilet. I really have very few expectations in my give and take relationship with a toilet; cleanliness and flushability. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone and our ability to flush was gone.
By Thursday morning it didn’t matter whether the light was on or off. The toilet wouldn’t flush. In fact, none of the bathrooms in our wing of the building were working. If we needed to use the loo, it meant taking a stroll to the other end of the building to a two-seater bathroom that half of the building was now scrambling to use. We’ve all grown accustomed to the occasional toasty toilet seat and the warm, gentle billows of steam drifting upward, but the water in this bathroom was downright hot. Condensation formed on my back in a matter of seconds.
In order to avoid the walk and the wait for the bathroom, many of us opted to consume fewer liquids over the course of the day. We had a staff that was slowly dehydrating themselves. Each morning we were hopeful that our toilet would flush again. Among a chorus of “good mornings,” we heard, “Have you been in there yet? Did it flush?” No one wanted to be the guinea pig. I suppose someone could have given it a test flush, but why waste water when we were already wasting electricity? Besides, the laws of the universe would most likely allow the toilet to flush when it was empty, but not flush when the need truly arose.
As we stood around discussing which would be worse; dehydration or Depends, the head of maintenance walked past. We asked for a toilet status update. “It’s working now, but people keep turning off the light. It might flush or it might not,” he replied.
Before I could stop myself I said, “So, it’s a crapshoot as to whether or not it will flush.”
I was very pleased by my clever pun, but he was not amused. Apparently, having to deal with a flushless toilet and the foul smelling muck created by a broken, leaking sewer pipe had diminished his capacity to fully appreciate my humor. As he left, he told us to call him if the toilet stopped working again so that he could replace the robo-flusher mechanism.
Within an hour, a distressed co-worker asked if anyone knew what was wrong with the toilet. Apparently, she didn’t know about the lighting requirements necessary for the toilet’s cooperation. Once again the maintenance department was summoned. A triumphant plumber walked past with the robo-flusher part in his hand and proclaimed the toilet’s flushability. There was a slow stampede to the bathroom. As each person successfully completed the entire toileting process, they passed by my office and offered a thumbs-up. It wasn’t long before a panic-stricken colleague entered my office. This person had done the unthinkable; turned off the light. I tried to reassure my co-worker that this was a mistake that could have happened to any one of us. Turning off a light when you leave a room is habit that is ingrained in us from the time we are old enough to reach a light switch. We were both worried that our flushing fiesta would be short-lived, but as soon as the next passerby flashed the thumbs-up sign, we were relieved that we’d be able to relieve ourselves.
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, remember what’s truly important in life and don’t take simple pleasures for granted.