David Bruce: Bathrooms Anecdotes

When the Middleroad Friends Meeting in Springport, Indiana, renovated its bathrooms, it was a big deal, and the Quakers attending the meeting decided to celebrate. First, a nicely varnished plunger—the Plunge Ahead Award—was presented to the clerk. Second, the meeting’s sole doctor member presented the meetinghouse with a bunch of old magazines for reading purposes. Third, brass plates—one showing a woman’s bonnet and the other showing a man’s broad-brimmed hat—were put on the relevant doors. Four, there was a ceremonial cutting of a roll of toilet paper. Fifth, two children—a boy and a girl—performed ceremonial flushes. And finally, there were tours of the facilities. Often, Quakers are thought to be overly solemn, but obviously, that stereotype is not true of the Middleroad Friends Meeting.

Glyndebourne was a huge manor house in England. Because of worries about war in 1939, John Christie, the owner of Glyndebourne, had offered it as an evacuation center for London children. One day, buses arrived from London, and approximately 300 children and 72 adult caretakers got off the buses. Large as it was, Glyndebourne was unable to house that many people, and eventually the number staying there was lowered to 100. In the meantime, because of the lack of restroom facilities, Rudolf Bing, who helped manage the music festivals held at Glyndebourne, went into town and asked Woolworth’s if it stocked chamber pots. Fortunately, it did, and he caused a sensation by buying six dozen.

Abraham Lincoln was frequently critical of George McClellan, a notoriously unaggressive and indecisive Union general. Once President Lincoln visited Union headquarters when General McClellan was absent. He found some soldiers working nearby to build a privy for the general. President Lincoln asked, “Is it a one-holer or a two-holer?” The soldiers answered, “It’s a one-holer.” Later, out of the earshot of the soldiers, President Lincoln told his aide, “Thank God it’s a one-holer, for it were a two-holer, before McClellan could make up his mind which to use, he would beshit himself.”

At Ted Shawn’s Jacob’s Pillow, a dance retreat, was an outhouse, the inside of which was papered with covers from The New Yorkers. This resulted in several visitors new to Jacob’s Pillow staying too long in the outhouse. One woman spent too much time there, so a male dancer—in great necessity—started to urinate on the side of the outhouse. The woman flew out of the outhouse, ran straight ahead, and looked neither left nor right.

A Western woman went to a Zen monastery to seek enlightenment. While there, she cleaned the bathrooms in an effort to show that she was humble. In addition, she pestered the Zen master by constantly asking, “What is Zen?” The Zen master ignored her. Eventually, she got tired of cleaning the bathrooms and told the Zen master that if she wanted to clean bathrooms, she could do that anywhere and therefore she was leaving the monastery. The Zen master replied, “That is Zen.”

During World War I, Charles MacArthur, who was later a famous playwright and screenwriter, was forced to suddenly take refuge from the explosions of enemy bombs. Unfortunately, he had the bad luck to dive headfirst into an abandoned German latrine. Still, he was optimistic, thinking to himself, “MacArthur, this is the lowest point of your life. From here on, everything has got to be an improvement.”

Lady Nancy Astor was ignored by her fellow Members of Parliament for a long time. When she asked Sir Winston Churchill why she was ignored, he said “that a woman’s presence in the House of Commons was as embarrassing as if she had come into his bathroom when all he had to defend himself with was a sponge.” Lady Astor replied, “You are not handsome enough to have worries of that kind.”

Ohio University zoology professor Scott Moody tells me that “in the past, in China, every farmer would have a toilet alongside the walking path to try to entice people to use his one-holer so he could gather fertilizer, and in the USA, many of our ancestors who settled on the great plains would have died if it weren’t for the dried bison dung chips which they used as a source of fuel for warmth and cooking.”

Once, when he knew she would be dressed, actor Bruce Laffey knocked on comedian Beatrice Lillie’s door and started to open the door. He was surprised when she slammed the door shut in his face. When she opened the door a few moments later, she was throwing perfume in the air. Mr. Laffey asked what was wrong, and Ms. Lillie told him, “I just farted.”

At a hotel in Buffalo, New York, a couple of members of the Merce Cunningham dance troupe had a large can of sardines for breakfast on the eighth floor. They ate all but five of the sardines, which they then flushed down the toilet. On the first floor, dancer Sandra Neels went to the ladies room. Floating in a toilet bowl were two of the sardines.

Anna Russell’s grandfather must have been a stern old man. He used to write his sons who were attending military school and ask them questions such as “What lessons do you like best, second, and third best? Give reasons.” He also gave his sons lots of advice such as, “Be sure to evacuate your bowels every morning after breakfast.”

Sir Henry Irving once sat through an amateur production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night—a production that had no intermissions. Immediately following the play, he was asked his opinion of the production. He replied, “Capital! Capital! Where’s the lavatory?”

Mrs. Patrick Campbell certainly loved her dog. When a taxi driver accused her dog of making a puddle in the back of his taxi, Mrs. Campbell rose to the defense of her pet by claiming, “did it!”

When some Western Zen students asked Zen master Taisen Deshimaru what people should do in their everyday lives, he replied, “Work, go to the toilet, eat; whatever you like.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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Edgar Lee Masters: Calvin Campbell (Spoon River Anthology)

YE who are kicking against Fate,
Tell me how it is that on this hill-side
Running down to the river,
Which fronts the sun and the south-wind,
This plant draws from the air and soil
Poison and becomes poison ivy?
And this plant draws from the same air and soil
Sweet elixirs and colors and becomes arbutus?
And both flourish?
You may blame Spoon River for what it is,
But whom do you blame for the will in you
That feeds itself and makes you dock-weed,
Jimpson, dandelion or mullen
And which can never use any soil or air
So as to make you jessamine or wistaria?

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