This American is positively flushed with pride

April 12, 1998|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder/Tribune

AS AN AMERICAN, I AM feeling pretty darned proud of my country (America). I will tell you why: my new toilet.

I wound up with this toilet as a result of a column I wrote last year, in which I complained bitterly about the new toilets that we Americans had been saddled with as a result of an act of Congress (official motto: "100 Senators; 435 Representatives; No Clues"). This was the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1992, which decreed that all new toilets had to use 1.6 gallons of water per flush -- less than half the amount of water that the old toilets used. This was supposed to save water.

Unfortunately, the new toilets have a problem. They work fine for one type of bodily function, which, in the interest of decency, I will refer to here only by the euphemistic term "No. 1." But many of the new toilets do a very poor job of handling "acts of Congress," if you get my drift. They often must be flushed two or three times, and even more if it is an unusually large act of Congress, such as might be produced by a congressperson who recently attended a fund-raising dinner sponsored by the Consolidated Bulk Food Manufacturers.

The result is that these new toilets were not only annoying, but in some cases seemed to be using more water than the old ones.

So I wrote a column complaining about this, and expressing support for a bill, introduced by Rep. Joe Knollenberg of Michigan, that would allow us to go back to toilets that have the kind of flushing power that made America the most respected nation on Earth.

You know how cynics claim that Americans are just a bunch of TV-sedated zombie slugs who don't care about the issues? Well, I wish those cynics had been standing under my mail slot after my toilet column was published, because they would have been crushed like baby spiders under a freight locomotive. I got a huge quantity of letters -- some of them far more detailed than I would have liked -- from Americans who care deeply about the issue of their toilets, and the vast majority of them hate the new ones.

Granted, I got a few letters supporting the new toilets, but these were mostly from ecology nuts who, because of their organic granola diets, probably don't even need toilets, just whisk brooms. There was also a somewhat snippy editorial about my column in the Washington Post (motto: "Even Our Weather Forecast Comes From Anonymous Sources").

But the vast majority of the people who responded agreed strongly with me and were ready to revolt over this issue, just as, in 1773, the courageous Boston Tea Party patriots revolted against British tyranny by throwing 1.6-gallon toilets into the harbor.

About five months after my column appeared, I got a letter from Charles Avoles of Contractors 2000, an association of independent plumbing contractors.

He said that a New York City company, Varsity Plumbing, in an effort to find a 1.6-gallon toilet that actually works, built a testing laboratory with room for six toilets side by side. Avoles said that Varsity duplicated all the standard toilet tests, but then, in its quest for the ultimate small toilet -- the Tara Lipinski of toilets -- Varsity "pushed the criteria even further, straining each model to its limits." It must have been exciting: Six toilets, pushing the envelope, going head to head! I don't even want to think about it.

Anyway, according to Avoles, Varsity "found one particular 1.6-gallon toilet that actually works," and the company president, Bobby Bellini, made a one-hour presentation on this discovery at the Contractors 2000 annual meeting (as Avoles put it: "Picture 500 people in a hotel ballroom watching videos of toilets flushing").

Contractors 2000 offered to install one of these toilets in my personal home, and I agreed, on the condition that I would pay full price for it, so that I could write a column about it and claim it as an income-tax deduction.

And so in March, a Contractors 2000 member, Anthony Fleming, and his wife, Michele, came to my home and installed a new toilet. I cannot speak highly enough of this toilet. It is an inspiring example of American ingenuity and engineering "know-how." It has become like a member of the family; I have affectionately named it "Maurice." The bottom line is this: If there is an act of Congress that Maurice cannot handle in one flush, I have no personal knowledge of it.

I can't use this column for advertising, so I won't specify the brand of the toilet, but you can write to Contractors 2000, 2179 Fourth St., St. Paul, Minn. 55110. By the time you read this, there will probably be other brands of 1.6-gallon toilets that can get the job done; you can ask your plumbing contractor.

Of course, by the time you read this, Congress may have passed a new law requiring that toilets must flush with a maximum of four teaspoons of water, and be equipped with air bags. Congress is just full of acts.

Pub Date: 4/12/98

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