My Brief, Wondrous Life as a Professional Pooper
“Something smelling like sh*t — that’s the new fragrance.” — Kanye West
In hindsight, pooping was a career path I’d been building up to for some some time. My previous gig was “dog walker,” which was really just a polite way of saying poop creator-collector, considering the only duties I had were to feed and clean up after the pooch. Bailey — that was the dog’s name — took care of the walking part himself: he knew where he wanted to go and I just had to hold on tight as he plotted his course around the neighborhood; until, that is, after a shimmy and a stop, he did his business on a lawn and looked to me to bag the droppings. “It must be pretty confusing to be Bailey,” my uncle, whose place and pet I was watching over, mused to me before he left with my aunt on vacation to Asia. “You get yelled at when you poop in the house, but when you poop outside the big man picks it up, brings it back home, and rewards you with a treat.” The month I spent Bailey-sitting afforded me the chance to formulate a few poop ponderings of my own. For example: How was it I could feed Bailey the exact same food each meal and yet he’d produce poo with such variations in color, texture, and size? Did dogs develop the butt-sniff-qua-handshake routine before or after their evolution diverged from that of humans? And why do dogs show up so much in toiler paper branding when (unless I was doing it wrong) they don’t need to be wiped?
When I wasn’t poo-musing myself, I’d pass the walking time working through Duolingo’s intro German app on my iPhone, and so the language will probably be forever associated in my head with dog poop. Which is actually pretty appropriate, considering German boasts a pretty poop-rich vocabulary. Everyone knows Scheiße; there’s also Kacke, Stuhlgang, and — my favorite — Arschgeige (lit. “ass-violin”). Not all cultures are so well endowed. Russian, for reasons you can read about here, shows surprisingly little interest in scatological swearing; it has no native equivalent for “asshole,” for example, and when dubbing foreign films often swaps out “shit” for “damn.” Curious about the prevalence of poop-words in the U.S., I played around on Google n-grams for a while, but I was unable to determine whether it was gaining or losing its market share to sexual, religious, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, or other species of curses. (I did learn, at least, that it’s by far the most common of the “7 words you can’t say on TV”).
Incidentally, at the beginning of my stay with Bailey I was undergoing a gastrointestinal crisis of my own. My cousin was the band manager for Vance Joy, the opener to Taylor Swift on her 1989 world tour, and everyone who was a part of it got a gift card entitling them to one free Chipotle burrito a day. It was November, so he’d had enough of the stuff by then and so relinquished the card to me, and, not one to pass up free food, I had started going there for lunch every day. Employing the burrito bowl trick, thus doubling my burrito count for no extra charge, allowed me to take home a second as my dinner each night. But it turns out eating Chipotle for two thirds of your meals isn’t so good for your intestines. It also didn’t help I’d woefully miscalculated on Halloween-candy distribution and thus still had 2 bags remaining in the house. So, without getting in to too much detail, suffice it to say my deposits were beginning to be of size and color most unusual. After ten days of inner torment, I threw out the candy, gave away the gift card, and vowed never to eat at Chipotle again.
Dog walking was my first interaction with poop on a professional level, but I’d been an amateur aficionado since my college days. (I’m skipping over that phase common to all boys that spans from about age four until one’s middle-school initiation into the empire of sexual innuendo, a merry time when merely hearing “poop” or a similarly pronounced syllable is all it takes to get one to erupt into a metropolis of giggles). When I was a prospective student at Carleton College, I sat in on a Brit lit survey course that was in the midst of a discussion of a poem by Swift (Jonathan, not Taylor) called “The Lady’s Dressing Room.” It depicts the young paramour Strephon stealing into his lover Celia’s dressing room while she’s away. Strephon examines all the various objects lying around her room — brushes, perfumes, tweezers, and other implements for enhancing her beauty — before stumbling upon a chest, a “pandora’s box,” that contains the fair lady’s chamber pot. After peering inside, he flees the room, “Repeating in his amorous Fits,/ Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!” What a weird world, I thought, in the 21st century a middle-aged Indian man would convene in earnest a flock of nineteen-year-olds Americans to mull over an English woman’s imagined feces from the 1700s. In my memory, the poem had been a charming satire of a lover so intoxicated by the illusion of love that even his beloved’s dung was transformed into something rapture-inducing. I took a look at it again today, though, and actually the opposite happens: upon spying (and smelling) her pot he’s so disgusted by the gross facts beneath her façade of beauty that he can never look on women again without wanting a nose-plug. (You can understand why Wikipedia says people accused Swift of misogyny, misanthropy, and of having “the excremental vision,” whatever that means). Evidentially Celia’s dung left an impression of a different sort on me, as I not only ended up enrolling at Carleton but went on to write my senior thesis there on Swift. Along the way, I also began to learn more about the history of scat in art. The most famous pictorial portrayal of poop probably occurs in Heronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (although there, I’m persuaded, a oversight led him to mistakenly place the poopers in the “Hell” panel rather than in the titular garden where they truly belong).
Another charming thing to know is the history of Catalonia’s El Caganer, a statue or figurine of a man with his pants down that has been placed alongside Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds and co. in nativity scenes since at least the 18th century. (In 2005, controversy erupted when the city of Barcelona put up a nativity scene that lacking a Caganer; one was added back the following year.). I learned it wasn’t until around the 1960s that the art world really started warming up to the shart, and the modern-day Diogenes responsible for this was Piero Manzoni. His magnum opus was his Merda d’artista, which consisted of 90 tin cans, each filled with 30 grams of his own freshly preserved feces. Originally valued at their equivalent weight of gold — so $37 a piece in 1961 — the tins were eventually bought up for tens of thousands of dollars. Since then, there’s been an explosion in the number of ways scat has been employed in works of art. (If you’re in to this sort of stuff, more examples can be found in this neat tome by Paul Mathieu, which you can ask for at your local library).
What do artists see in poop? For one, it’s the great equalizer, the destroyer of pretensions. We are all united by this disgusting thing we do. The colloquial meaning of the Caganer, for example, is to remind one that “everyone shits.” Swift too, never wanted us to forget this. In Book IV of his most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels, he depicts a race of dung-flinging creatures called Yahoos that are his parody of modern human beings. Whereas the ancients believed that what makes us human is our shared capacity for reason, early modern thinkers took the view that human nature was something “nasty” and “brutish” (to quote Hobbes). Swift points out the irony, though, that somehow, precisely because we take such a low view of humans we become so obsessive about covering up our hideousness, and so in this era we elevate excrement to the status of Public Enemy Number Two and fabricate a fantastically large and intricate sanitation system to hide the reality of poop. Finally, what Manzoni’s stunt was trying to highlight was that, while everyone shits, for some strange reason some people’s shit can be worth a lot more than others, for no other reason than that person’s status as, say, an artist. (Take that, late capitalism!).
Once one of my college classes was privileged with the presence of a Distinguished Visiting Speaker who came to lecture us on human dignity and human nature. None of us in the class were really jiving with what he was dishing though. After the talk, I was in the bathroom and heard him walk in and unload a preposterously loud pool of stool into the stall adjacent mine. I took this as vindication that our side of the argument was right. But later on I was a bit uncomfortable with my instinctual reaction of superiority. It clued me in that there’s a dark side to poop, and that proof-by-defecation has its limits. For, if one’s vocabulary is depleted of phrases like “wrong,” “immoral,” “evil,” “bad,” “meaningless,” “ugly,” etc… then “shit” becomes that crutch deployed everywhere, and one finds it’s only a short hop from “everyone shits” to “everyone is shit” or “everything is bullshit.” So that’s something to try to avoid. (This seems like the place to mention, by the way, that according to the OED the first recorded use of “bullshit” occurs in a lovely poem by none other than T. Eliot, whose name written backwards, as we all know, spells “toilet.”)
Now, you’ve surely heard the cliché that in college most of the learning takes place outside the classroom, and this was true for my own my Bildung (wenn du willst). For Carleton sits in the small town of Northfield which is surrounded by farmland. When the west wind blew, it spreads the scent of cow pies throughout the campus quad, so unless you want to be miserable for four years, you have no choice but to begin to enjoy it. Now, on the east side of town was a Malt O Meal factory, and every once in a while your nose would tingle instead with the whiff of off-brand Fruit Loops. Or, on rarified days — when a distant butterfly’s wings flinched in some special way — a swirl would medley the aromas of cow crap and cereal, and mix them around too with the fragrance of blooming youth, first love, and the numinosity of the future. And so, in this way, you see why I may have been predisposed to view digestive disposal — be it from beast or man — in a favorable light.
After four years of bubbling in the collegiate bubble, it was time to be discharged, diploma paper in hand, into the real world to do things great and make peace spread throughout the lands. I headed to the District of Columbia, that sleek citadel-on-a-swamp, thinking there’d be something there to write about. Unfortunately no one really wants to pay you to do it when you’re green like me. The only job offer I got was from a newly launched publication funded by the Russian government to propagate propaganda Buzzfeed-style throughout the U.S. (it’s actually pretty funny, check it out). But I figured it was a little too early in life to actively undermine my home government, and it’d be better to learn now, make money later. So instead I took an unpaid intern gig at a quarterly journal.
I found out quick that working in the capitol was way different from living in Northfield. For one, you have to dress nicer, and I happened to forget all my dress clothes in my closet back home. I frantically bought a new outfit while my mom sent the rest of my clothes on two-day shipping. At lunchtime on my first full day of work I went out to eat in Farragut Square, and while waiting for my new friend Michael to pick out a kabab from a food truck, I heard a splat. Shit, I thought, and indeed it was. Somehow, the pigeon perched above me had manage to unleash a poop just soft enough that it left gooey stains, but hard enough that it could bounce off my new shirt and land on my new pants. So that was a fitting introduction to life in the real world: even the birds were better than you now.
When I got back into the office, I was informed my first task was going to be to write tweets. I cringed. Before graduation I had joked with friends that literally the one thing I didn’t want to end up as after graduation was the “social media guy.” I’d always considered it a form of intellectual defecation: you chew up complicated things and spit out artificial watered-down distillations. Luckily the tweet-writing phase didn’t last long. Most of the work I was given was fact-checking (did you know people still did that!) and a little bit of editing. But there wasn’t a lot on my plate usually so I spent a lot of time reading the internet, which is never a great thing if you want to emerge with upbeat views of the state of the American intellect. The more you read, the more it all seems to seem like the same shit. The worst is all the recycled titles: “Brave New Shit,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Shit,” “The Myth of Shit,” “The Politics of Shit,” “Shit — and It’s Discontents,” “Shit Revisited,” etc… (I have a list going of these so if there’re any that particularly peeve you feel free to send ’em my way). D.C.’s not cheap, and my savings account was dwindling quick, so I spent much of my free time ripping off dozens of cover letters, sending out emails, actually knocking on doors in Capitol Hill. But no one wanted to pay me to write for them and so I took the only job I was offered and was whisked away to New York City, where, of course, they wanted me to be the “social media guy.”
Being the “social media guy” only further cemented in my head the truth that Senator Stevens was so undeservedly mocked for: the internet is a series of tubes, tubes that compose the indoor plumbing of our post-modern world, moving mindcrap all about the planet. And my job was now to package this crap, no matter how filthy, and inject it peoples’ daily routines. There’s a novel by contemporary Russian writer Victor Pelevin called Generation P about the introduction of Western-style intellectual consumerism into Russia after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.. The “P” in the title can refer to many things (Pepsi, Putin, Pelevin) but I take it also to mean “Poop.” The conceit of the book is that the Russian intelligentsia has been replaced by an entertainment industry that, through manipulation of Pelevin calls the oral- and anal-“wow” impulses, transforms the body politic into a unified physical organism the subsists off of consuming and pooping its own fancies in an endless loop. As “social media guy,” my job was basically to similarly learn how to master the oral- and anal-“wow” factors, to figure out how to feed stories into peoples’ news feeds and get them to excrete comments, likes, and shares. It didn’t take long to learn the toolbox for this: there was the Earnest Question, the Snarky Question, the List Colon Question, the Fact Pivot Bold Statement, the List Colon Pivot Question, and so forth. I was actually okay at it — the page I was in charge of grew from 2k followers to 20k in just a couple of months — but that’s not really something to be proud of. At least I didn’t have to put my own name on any of it, I told myself.
When I wasn’t creating it, I myself became an avid consumer of internet crap, the ultimate purpose of which is to give Americans something to do while they’re eating reheated noodles at their workstations (the industry jargon for this, in case you’re lucky enough to not know already, is “Sad Desk Lunch”), as well as something to read on their phone in the bathroom when they go deposit those noodles 45 minutes later. (It’s always exciting to see which fades first — your remembrance of what you ate for lunch versus what you read during it).
What else did I do for 9 months in New York City? Hard to say. It’s not easy to turn your brain back on at night when you don’t exercise it during the day. I went to the library a bit but don’t remember and didn’t record much of what I read. Sometimes I’d ride the rental bikes in mindless half-mile loops around the islands, or else visit the museums on their free days. Once, I saw the Merda d’artista in person at the National Academy Museum. It was about what I imagined it would be like.
For over a century, there’s been a trend in Western intellectual life to seek out meaning not it the lofty ideas of art, culture, reason, religion, or the other grand causes but rather in the everyday. One of the most memorable examples of Alltagsgeschichte (everyday history) is Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, which aims to be a sort of War and Peace for the Second World War. It takes place mainly during the Battle of Stalingrad, and there’s a moment when one of the characters named Darensky visits an Army headquarters to assess the progress of the battle. After hearing a report:
He went outside, drank in the cold night air, and gasped as he gazed at the unearthly flames in the black Asiatic sky. He urinated, still looking at the stars, thought, “yes, yes, the cosmos!” and went back in.
Grossman’s point seems to be that if you’re going to have your epiphany, it’ll happen during your pee break, not in the pitch of the fighting some great battle or the heights of an impassioned leaders’ speech. And then you’ll move on, and life will go on. A more contemporary author who loves to fill his novels with such reminders is Haruki Murakami, whose characters spend more time eating and crapping than any other I can think of. Such an exchange as follows is typical:
“Mr. Hoshino, why don’t we walk over to the ocean?”
Hoshino thought about it. How could a little walk on the beach hurt anything? Okay, let’s go.”
“Nakata has to take a dump first, if it’s all right.”
“Take your time, we’re in no rush.”
Murakami’s point seems to be that nowadays, there’s never anything so important going on — either in the lives of the characters in the book or the readers’ outside it — that you have to hold it in; we can afford to take the time to take or read about someone taking a dump. With such a perspective, you can get used to — and even find enjoyment — in everything, including bodily functions. Sleep, taking a shower, eating, doing the dishes, pooping — and these were the events that I began to approach with the tingle of excitement. I learned to appreciate the cycle of cleanliness and filth, and to give each its doo.
But modern life works its sanitizing magic on another level and that’s not so obvious to learn how to cope with. This is the level of interpersonal relationships. For as in the physical realm here too there’s disorder and messiness, and the mechanisms of modern life give us tons of new ways to ignore it as well. Jonathan Franzen gave a solid commencement at Kenyon on this topic called “Technology Provides an Alternative to Love,” in which he talks about how the internet and social media make it more difficult to carry on meaningful relationships, since it encourages superficial responses like “liking” as opposed to deeper explorations into each others’ psyches (we’ll see whether Franzen will have to amend his screed in response to Facebook’s new emoji changes). He quotes his friend Alice Sebold talking about “getting down in the pit and loving somebody,” which he says means accepting “the dirt that love inevitably splatters on the mirror of our self-regard.”:
The simple fact of the matter is that trying to be perfectly likable is incompatible with loving relationships. Sooner or later, for example, you’re going to find yourself in a hideous, screaming fight, and you’ll hear coming out of your mouth things that you yourself don’t like at all, things that shatter your self-image as a fair, kind, cool, attractive, in-control, funny, likable person. Something realer than likability has come out in you, and suddenly you’re having an actual life.
Franzen penned a not-particularly-artful scene to embody this idea of “getting down and dirty” in his novel Freedom, where he has a newlywed accidentally drops his wedding ring in the toilet and is forced to go picking through his own turds to recover it. I was talking to a pair of my real-life newlywed friends a while ago and asked each what was the nicest thing each has ever done for the other. One of them responded right away that the other writes them cutesy little notes every week to in their lunch bags. Their partner stood for a while and couldn’t think of anything. A few weeks later, I ran into that person, this time alone, at another party and we talked about the question again. They told me they had an answer now: in college, one night, for no reason at all, they accidentally peed all over the others’ bed. The other didn’t say anything at all, just cleaned everything up and never mentioned it again.
So it’s good to be able to appreciate the messiness of life, both on a physical and interpersonal level, especially, for example, if you’re in the siege of Stalingrad, but also in our own epoch of hypersanatized existence. Of course, if the sum total of your daily happiness consists of eating food and going to the bathroom, that’s probably not healthy. It turns out humans are capable of more. And in general if you turn yourself into an animal you can start to behave like one. You’re wont to resemble an ass.
So I quit my job and fled from New York City, and magically the dog-sitting gig appeared just in time to help me make a gentle landing. Of course, that was only a temporary solution to the problem of housing+income, and that brings me to the entrée of this post, the thing I click-bated you into reading this for: how I got involved in fecal-matter donation.
Humans have eaten shit for centuries. In Ancient China, it was consumed as a remedy for poisoning and diarrhea, and later mixed with water and called “Yellow soup” as a treatment for abdominal diseases. Bedouin tribes too have long eaten camel dung as a remedy for dysentery. (I stayed once with Bedouins in Israel and noticed their camels loved to chew on their own feces; not sure who stole the idea from whom). What we think of as modern fecal transplants (because we do that a lot) first came together in the 1950s as a treatment for ulcerative colitis, and sense then research has shown that for many diseases fecal matter transplants are a superior treatment compared with antibiotics. In the U.S., the FDA began regulating human feces as a drug in 2013. So what exactly does a fecal matter transplant consist of? I’ll let this helpful graphic sent to me by my friend Kyohei explain:
I must say, despite my steep schooling in stool, I had never heard of fecal matter transplants until this past New Years’, when, at a get-together in my new city, I bumped in to a old friend who was a med student at the U. She had been involved in the U’s program at some point, and hearing the details about it gave me that fluttering sensation you experience only a few times in your life which informs you, in an instant, that your whole future has just been irreversibly transformed. I fired off an inquiring email the next morning, and to my surprise heard back within a day from a researcher at the U whom we’ll call Amanda. Amanda told me to fill out an online application containing a dozen pages of questions about my health history. I’m fortunate to have no known medical conditions, and so breezed through queries about everything from allergies to Mad Cows disease with ease. Shortly thereafter, Amanda emailed me that I’d passed the first screening and she invited me into the clinic for further testing. I met her at 7:00 am on Tuesday of the next week and she gave me the low-down on fecal matter transplant (which she’d been careful to abbreviate as FMT throughout our correspondence). It turns out, while she was in grad school, she herself had suffered for a year-and-a-half from a debilitating stomach disorder, only to have it disappear within 48 hours after she herself received an FMT. That was what led her to get involved in the lab. The clinic at the U was looking for healthy donors to offer up their dung to the altar of science both to help treat patients who had deficient gut bacteria as well as to help some corporation who was sponsoring the lab to develop an experimental poop pill that could eventually be spun into a mass-produced cure to an assortment of stomach ailments. Amanda also informed me that getting accepted as a fecal matter donor was quite rare: less than 5% of people who apply are accepted (making it more selective and hence prestigious than the Ivy League). You have to have a clean bill of health — no allergies, eating disorders, medications, asthma, hereditary proclivities, nothing — and I believe you also have to be male (for, Swift’s testimony notwithstanding, science has yet to determine whether females actually poop).
After hearing this spiel, I was given the consent form with all the usual things, including risks (“You may find it distasteful to provide fecal samples for this study,”), benefits (“There is no direct benefit to you for volunteering. The information gained from this research may lead to improved care for patients in the future.”) and, most importantly, the compensation! $50 for the initial screening visit, and $20 for each donation visit, which can be every day of the work week if you want. In other words, enough to cover rent and then some! All there was left to do was some additional blood testing to make sure my internals were in order, and soon I’d be on my way to paydirt.
I was a ball of nerves as I waited for the results. A college friend of mine was once paid to be a dodgeball referee, and so I distracted myself my imagining the Facebook post I’d place on his wall informing him I’d achieved a superior source of nonsensical employment. Finally, what I was waiting for arrived: a note from the lab. It read:
All the lab tests we did in your donor screening were fine, except for one of the liver tests (AST = 70). This abnormality is very mild. We could re-test to make sure it isn’t a fluke of some sort.
I was deflated. My braggatory FB post would have to be tabled. I was also beginning to realize this was meaning a lot more to me than it should have. But the heightened AST was probably just a fluke, right? Trying to maintain composure, I asked for a retest. They were gracious enough to give me another shot. We scheduled it for the following Tuesday, which gave me 4 days to try to change my levels. I googled AST and asked my science friends what I was doing wrong. My med student friend told me that AST can be elevated due to running and eating leafy vegetables. Great, I thought, the very things I thought were going to make me healthier are actually keeping me from my dreams. Thanks for nothing, science. But as it happened, Fortune sent me a helping hand in my time of need. I was discussing my digestive dilemma during hors d’oeuvres at a dinner party that weekend and what do you know but one of the other guests had just gotten through with a nine-day liver cleanse herself! She even had her recipe book with her, and gladly sent me some. The dictates of the diet were Spartan, and the prospect of forgoing yogurt and Hamm’s for four days was tough to stomach, but knew this was something I really wanted so I was willing to make the sacrifice.
Tuesday came. I went in again and took another needle to the arm. After two more days, I got another email, this time not from Amanda but from the head doctor himself:
The AST (liver test) was still mildly elevated at 70. I agree with you that the most likely source of this abnormality is exercise. The strict criteria in the donor program do not allow us to recruit you while the test is abnormal. Our options are: (1) wait a little longer (~ 1 month) and re-test, (2) do a more extensive clinical evaluation, which would be outside this donor program. The clinical evaluation would need to be covered by your insurance, which most insurances would have to do. Either way, this is not a disqualification, and we still hope that we will be working together in the future.
Ugh. Rejection again. One month is an eon to a millennial, so it was on to option #2. I called up my insurance and asked them what a clinical evaluation of my liver would foot me. They told me $600. I was taken aback. “But but but what about the Affordable Care Act?” “Sorry, kid, you’re shit out of luck.” I hung up. How bad did I want this? I did a quick calculation of how many shits I’d have to take if accepted to cover the screening cost. Jeez, that was a lot, and in all likelihood I’d have to increase my grocery bill just keep up with the waste I was expected to make. And so I had no choice but to walk away, my dream deferred.
Or so I thought. A couple of days later Amanda (angelic Amanda!) sent me another email. There was another study going on at the clinic, this one about Crohn’s disease, and they could use some healthy donors for that program to serve as control subjects. The threshold for health isn’t as high for this one, so you’ll definitely be able to take part, she assured me. I read the email and was overjoyed. I was going to get another crack at professional pooping! Sure, this study wasn’t as prestigious, you were only allowed to give five samples, and the payout was only $50 total. But I could still say my dream came true. Plus, unlike the other study where you can to schlep over to the U to give samples, this one let you do the donations at home and store them in the freezer until a staff member they sent came to pick them up.
So I hopped over once more to the clinic and went through a familiar routine (though strangely and delightfully this study also came with a RAND CORPERATION personal happiness survey to fill out in advance; perhaps there’s a causal connection to be found between smiling and pooping?). I answered regular medical questions too, took height, weight, drew blood, and then at last I was approved to be presented with my donation equipment. First, I received a stack of poop-gathering containers that sit on the rear of the toilet bowl. I was a little intimidated by these at first since they held up to 27 ounces and I was afraid I’d therefore be expected to fill each with turd the size of a turducken. But luckily, Amanda then informed me that only a small amount of fecal material was needed on each day, producing a set up spoons about a third the size of ice cream samplers. Next, I got a set of tubes in which to store the feces, a Ziploc bag for each, and labels with my donor ID number (the donations were anonymous) plus a place to write the time and date. I was also given a log to keep track of the 5 days of pooping, which columns for date, time, and comments. I asked Amanda what people usually wrote in the comments section. She said that’s usually for patients who aren’t in the control group, and I cringed imaging what sorts of mayhem they’d be force to write there. Finally, I was given a Freezer back to contain the whole operation and, feeling like James Bond emerging from a meeting with Q, made my way home.
I live in a small apartment shared with another Carleton grad. He happens to be a chemistry major, which means he knows what’s contained in fecal matter and the dangers of being exposed to it. So he wasn’t so keen on my storing my stool in our small freezer. Luckily, I have another friend, Oliver, who lives nearby and didn’t study chemistry, and he was more than glad to help me in my pursuit. The only snafu was he lives with 5 others whom I don’t know as well yet, but we figured it’d be best not to tell them what was going on. However, two nights before I was to start my donation cycle, he and I were finishing up dinner at his place with one of his housemates. Since we cooked, she asked if we wanted some dessert she had recently whipped up. Sure, we said. She went in to the freezer and returned with a Ziploc full of chocolate balls. He and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: to prevent any confusion, it’d probably be good to tell her what was going on. But turns out she had no problem with it, only she made sure for the time being to store her chocolate balls in the upstairs freezer instead.
So last Saturday was the big day. I got out of bed with extra pep in my step. Birds were chirping outside for the first time all year. I made sure to eat several heaping portion of chili for dinner to build up my mojo. Then, it was time. I locked myself in Oliver’s bathroom with my equipment, loosened my belt, and let the games begin. Except nothing happened. I waited a little longer. Still nothing doing. So I went into my back of tricks: The Seesaw. The Can Can-Can. The Toilet Two-step. Still nothing. I tried playing “hard to get,” and when that didn’t work, I resorted to the All-or-Nothing. But despite my greatest asspirations, I still couldn’t maneuver the manure out. I emerged empty-handed. It was time to leave for a gallery opening, so I had no choice but to abandon the operation. Returning later, in a stupor, I headed straight for the pooper. But still nothing. Once again, I was not Mr. Potty but merely The Boy Who Whizzed. Head bowed, I trudged Charlie Brown-style back to my apartment, where, awakened by the familiar confines of my own bathroom, the brown was able to easily fling open the floodgates.
Geez, one day in and I was already falling behind, I thought. This presented an ethical dilemma. Should I try to do double duty tomorrow and pass one off as today’s? Or is the science so good they’d be able to detect what I’d done and I’d be put on a black (brown?) list, forever barred from donating fecal matter? I decided to admit the truth, and explain in the comments section what happened.
The next day though, the real thing happened! With no problems at all! I went in, pooped, whipped, bottled the sample, just like that. Swelling with excitement at the excrement I’d expelled, I skipped out of the loo with my poo and bagged it in the freezer. So began my pleasant poutine. I’d text Oliver when I was feelin’ the bowels a-stirrin’, and he’d let me know if he was around to let me in. By the fifth day, I was pooping like a veteran, and couldn’t believe my time in the slimelight was already almost over. But apparently my pooping prowess had begun to get to my head, for I thoughtlessly ate two bananas that day. When I went over to Oliver, my stomach was feeling calm as a cucumber. Nerves began to creep in. Would I, once again, be left a sitzpinlker? (a man who takes a seat to tinkle — there’s another delightful term to add to your bank of Deutsch vocab:) No! It wasn’t much — in fact, only enough to barely fill the minispoon — but it did come out eventually. The only thing left to do was hand over the samples and get paid, so I called up the poop dispatcher (which job was weirder, I wondered, hers or mine?), she met at the door, I traded five days of poop for my $50 check, and that was that. Thus came to an end my short but illustrious career, and now I can proudly state I was able to go poo in something other than sports.
For now the $50 is displayed prominently on my desk, but I feel like I should reinvest it in the fecal matter industry. Yet how? My roommate told me about some dudes who starting offering DIY fecal matter transplants in their kitchen, so maybe I should buy a blender. Or I launch a social networking site to connect potential donors and recipients together. Call it Fecebok. Another friend suggested I become a doodoo guru, invest in a go-pro and make the series of videos that launches the mindful pooping craze; soon 20-somethings will be popping up in Adams Morgan bearing chamber pots rather than yoga mats beneath their arms on their Saturday-morning strolls to brunch. I’m sure there are better ideas out there though, so if you have any thoughts on how I could spin my toilet toil into something meaningful — or, more importantly, profitable — I’d be all ears. I really think there’s a lucrative career to be found there. FMTs are only on the rise. Depending on how quickly the technology develops, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the U.S.’s GDPoop approach the hundreds of millions — if not billions — by 2022. And who knows how many new diseases will be discovered to be curable through proper gut bacteria? I could enlist as a G.I. Joe, a new kind of American hero, on call to deliver the special stuff to wherever in the world there’s an outbreak of something particularly challenging to the midsection. Unfortunately, if the sector becomes too successful I’m sure it’d be only a matter of time until the tech firms try to get their hands on fecal matter transplant technology too, so IBM or the likes would probably soon after come up with a computer to generate the stuff more efficiently than we mere mortals can (would they christen the new device “Deep Brown” or “Deep Shit”?). But what I’m trying to say is, until then at least, the next few years are probably going to be the golden age of human poo donation, and I want to get in the game while the getting’s good. So if you hear any scuttlebutt on new FMT opporpunities, please do pass them along.
Now, we all know anything can be a metaphor for anything and, indeed, everything. The interesting thing is trying to figure out why this, then. What makes something stand out at the right place at the right time? Vomiting used to be the metaphor of choice I had for the kind of writing/blogging I liked to do, but as you can tell I now prefer pooping. Both are employed as an excuse for presenting large quantities of messy, un(der)edited, ill-digested thoughts to the world. But when you vomit, you have to confront the mess in front of you. At least with pooping, you can put it behind you, move on to other things, without ever having to think about it ever again (unless — wait… you’re not one of those who in the unwatched confines of your water closest takes a prideful preflush peak back at your plop? You sick, disgusting narcissist!). I never feel like anything I write is ever finished, and so that’s more like pooping too: you usually feel like there’s a little more you could get out but you’ve got other things you want to get on to so you know they’ll be another time you’ll have a chance. Hence, you hop off your seat, wipe your behind (or, in the case of this article especially, browser history) and carry on your day. Plus, when you throw up, usually other people have to take care of the mess or of you. Pooping, so long as your aim is true and plumping well-connected, finds its own way into nothingness, and you can pretend afterward like nothing happened. (The only drawback of this in our digital age is the quantification of reader response, which prevents your from being able to pretend more people appreciated your shit more than actually did). Pooping is also more of a total-body commitment, while vomiting is significantly more cerebral. And poop, as we’ve now learned, may actually have some use, when used in the right way. Finally, unlike vomming, poop at least is natural; as we said at the top, everyone’s supposed to do it daily. True, you might respond, but just because everyone shits, that doesn’t mean everyone needs to shit in public (ahem, Florida) or talk about it. Fair point, oversharing is a thing. But like Strephon, you could have turned away at any point.
Now, as you might have caught by now, I’ve kinda been talking about poop tongue in cheek. This isn’t really real to me. I’m a healthy control subject, and while for a while FMT was a way I thought I was going to pay rent it wasn’t a make-or-break for me. So obviously it just an excuse to come up with a story for my friends, to tell them I’ve been up to something a bit less boring than my ACT tutoring gig (I’ll let you come up with the standardize-testing: pooping analogies yourself). Plus it gave me chance to chuckle to myself when, for instance, I got to write a reminder on my daily calendar to poop. But for many people, a fecal matter transplant really is a life-altering opportunity. And in much of the world, what’s known as “open defecation” (going in a non-sanitary environment) is one of the biggest spreaders of disease. It’s also really sad that, in our brave new sharing economy, many people of low socio-economic standing really do have a tough choice to make about whether they ought to sell their bodies to science (or worse) to make ends meet. When you see blood plasma donation clinics, for example, are popping up in poor neighborhoods across the country, it feels like we’re getting eerily close to Never Let Me Go territory. And in general, it’s sad how many people today still have to work jobs they find less meaningful to them than using the toilet.
But, in keeping with the tone of the rest of this piece, let’s end this on an upbeat, solipsistic note. First, I still hold out hope this is not the end of my pooping career. I would still like to know the correlation between the quality of my poops and the quality of my life. I still aspire to create a definitive hierarchy of poop smells (in case you’re curious, what I’ve got currently is: Cow poop>dog poop>my poop>bird poop>other peoples’ poop>other people’s dog’s poop on my shoe). Once you’ve tasted what it’s like to be paid to poop it feels like a waste not to be. I still haven’t really figured out to get someone to pay me to write either (although grad school sorta solves that in the short term), but just as I probably shouldn’t hold in my shits until I find another opportunity to be paid for it, I probably should keep writing even if no one will pay me to. The least I can do to myself is to make sure I do it on my own terms. For this reason, I’ve developed what I’m calling the “Toilet Test” to anything I’ll produce henceforth. The Toilest Test is thus: don’t write anything that can be read on the toilet. Neither should you write anything that can be read during the duration of Sad Desk Lunch. (If you’re reading this right now at work I hope at least it’s made mincemeat of your appetite). Of course, it’d be nice if someone wanted to subsidize my useless lifestyle choices. Maybe I can convince Toto to endow a chair for me as Professor of Escatology? Butt until then, I’ll have to keep my Kackenwitz (if I may coin a new term for those nuggets of insight you produce whilst making nuggets of a different kind) to myself.And to you guys.
Thanks for reading : )
Oh spinstress of secret secretions, bewitcher of spiders’ butts, Amanda of my mind; thou, preserver of colons and semi-colons: with those same fertilizing favors you gave to make wild West win fame for finding “esophagus” rhymed with “sarcophagus,” be the enchanter of what’s beneath my pantwear. Stoop to conquer me, lady, with that same infectious touch that set the ether ablaze with twice girl’d, once cup’d. Make my liver come alive. Turn my turdplay into wordplay. Let thy laxative lips unclog the digestive tractatus on what I ate coming out my anus. Mix my diaries of diarrhea with the dithyrambs wine-splashed mobs danced to on the streets of Greece in celebration of excrement’s true ecstasy. Waste not my labor’s fruits on unprofitable plops and ill-found flings, but with thy ancient algorithms blow me a world wide web to bear these feces to far-flung places where faces’ smiles show they’re those who have the guts to know that what’s on the inside is gold, that fecal matter is no laughing matter. Amidst crapuscular duskscapes may thy full moon illuminate a silk road to the naves of the ones who need it, and, by planting there my derrière’s ranting, dear goddess, make my shit beautiful.