Years ago, on the way to Florida, my best friend and I played the “Best of All-Time” game, in which competitors must argue for the best of all-time in a variety of categories. Movies. Books. Dictators. Handheld kitchen appliances. Pick-up lines. You name it.
When it came to Best Invention of All-Time, my buddy said, “Indoor plumbing” without the slightest hesitation. In a game of hemming and hawing, qualifying and justifying, an answer this instantaneous is rare. My initial reaction was that there was no way in hell that indoor plumbing could be more important than inventions like printing press, the wheel, the plough, or even the computer.
But after ten years of searching for an invention better than indoor plumbing, I’ve come to the realization that my friend was right. The fact that we can turn a faucet and be instantly supplied with clean water at a variety of temperatures is completely underappreciated in modern society. Ridding ourselves of our waste products with the simple flush of the toilet is something for which we should be thanking the Gods of Porcelain on bended knee every day.
Don’t get me wrong. The other inventions that I mentioned are important, too, but when you put them in context, I think the truth becomes rather obvious.
The wheel, for example, sounds pretty good until you consider the prospect of a wheel barrow or an Oldsmobile driving through a street clogged with human waste. The printing press is great, but if every member of your family has died from the Plague, who cares if you have any books to read? Electricity seems crucial to everyday life, but if you’re crapping in your backyard and urinating against trees, candles and icehouses don’t seem so bad.
If you think I’m wrong, spend a day without the use of electricity. Though it will be inconvenient, you may find the return to simpler times refreshing. Read a book. Cook your dinner over an open fire. Enjoy the absence of the telephone. Gather together with the family in the evening for a game of cards over candlelight.
Then spend a day without the use of a bathroom. Spend the morning digging a trench in the backyard. No shower, so after you’re done digging, fill a bathtub with bottled water and bathe in your own filth. Later that day, crap in the trench, hoping the mailman or the ten-year-old girl next door isn’t looking out her bedroom window at the wrong time. Watch your family crap in the same trench throughout the day. Pray that you are not contaminating the ground water with your backyard latrine or attracting a hoard of mosquitoes infected with Lyme disease. Get up in the middle of the night, drag a saucepan from beneath your bed, and pee into it. Throw this saucepan away the next morning and fill in the trench.
See? My friend wins every time.
Tell me that I’m wrong.