End Product: The First Taboo,
by Dan Sabbath and Mandel Hall (Urizen Books, NY, 1977)
You cannot escape. Every day a part of you turns to
Of course you can deny it. Millions do. At this moment in
Orangeburg, Greensboro, Red Hook, Yellowstone, Brownsville,
someone does not defecate. The urge arises and, quicker than thought
itself, is gone. Spirit has conquered flesh.
But the battle is not ended. Deny your body today, be mocked
by your body tomorrow. Flesh has a weapon to make the spirit
creep. Constipation sets in.
What revenge! Headache, sloth, depression; fears of coated
tongue and bad breath. The old lady who gave no thought to her
bowels last week now thinks of nothing but. The frenetic rock star
watches his dog evacuate, and envy fills his heart. And you? You
promise to reform. The pressure is on.
You set aside a time to defecate. You gulp your morning coffee,
grab a smoke, and dash for the john. But your bowels are obstinate.
Their time is not your time. There you sit, brokenhearted, horror
stories teeming in your brain: the eighty-seven-year-old woman who
died of peritonitis when impacted feces perforated her colon; the
child stillborn when labor was obstructed three days by its mother's
crammed rectum; the boy whose bladder was emptied surgically be-
cause his bulging bowels had cut off urinary flow; the old Russian
whose abdomen was cut open because doctors mistook his rock-hard
feces for tumors; the youth whose colon was removed because doc-
tors could not milk the obstructing dung downward, and who will
spend his next fifty years defecating through a hole in his abdomen.
You decide to show who is boss. You get out the mineral oil or
a Dynamite Candy. Your bowels erupt. The volcanic pressure on
your rectal veins reminds you of lava rivers at the earth's core. You
get hemorrhoids. Your intestinal muscles are soon too weak to move
without laxatives. You do not connect your excrement with the
amount and kind of food you eat. You do not think about constipa-
tion in terms of regular sleep and exercise. You keep increasing the
Finally, the pressure is enough to kill. With all your might, you
thrust against a plug of hardening dirt. The usual constant pressure
on your rectum and anal sphincter is measured at twenty millimeters
of mercury. By doubling that rectal pressure on your feces for five or
six seconds and relaxing the sphincter, you would normally defecate
with ease. But you are constipated. You increase that pressure to two
hundred millimeters, and hold it there for ten or fifteen seconds. You
are in trouble. To reach that pressure you hold your breath, contract-
ing the abdomen and thorax, which holds your heart and lungs. This
is the Valsalva maneuver. The tension of this maneuver blocks your
flow of blood, which quickly pools in the extremities of your body.
Your heart does not fill with blood at the normal speed, and the re-
duced nutrition of that muscle may cause a myocardial infarction, or
heart attack. Otherwise the pressure in your veins rises, while in the
arteries it drops catastrophically. You are already holding your
breath, and now the flow of blood to your brain almost stops. If you
are healthy you can stand the strain, but if you are anemic or have
trouble breathing, the oxygen loss may leave you in a state of shock
mimicking epilepsy or delirium tremens. When you stop straining the
danger is not over. Now the blood dammed in your veins "over-
shoots." Rapid change in the size of the blood vessels may loosen a
clot that travels to your heart-coronary thrombosis. Or the sudden
pressure of the renewed blood flow may cause an artery to burst at
the base of your brain-cerebral hemorrhage. The abdominal strain,
meanwhile, may rupture your spleen. The result in all cases is the
same: you scrunch on the toilet. This was not what you had in mind
when you dreamed of dying in a moment of supreme passion. This
was never your idea of Ultimate Truth. But your body cries out, and
the truth-though you must die to learn it-will be told: you don't
When it comes to shitting, each of us is a barbarian.
The problem is acknowledged in a story from the Talmud. Nine-
teen hundred years ago, Akiba, a disciple of Joshua, followed his
teacher into the privy. Asked how he could have done such a thing,
Akiba replied, "It was a matter of law and I was required to learn."
Jonathan Swift saw the problem too. The defecatory habits of
his eighteenth-century contemporaries were a disaster. Changes must
be made. He proposed the creation of academies "under the direction
of persons of distinguished good breeding and ingenuity." Young
men would be trained to be gentlemen in these matters and young
ladies, no matter how lowly in origin, could learn to shit like a grand
dame. "The awkward postures in sitting, the frightful grimaces and
barbarous exclamations" would end. The young would learn "how
to take up or let down their clothes in a genteel manner, and to sit
down . . . in an inviting posture . . . and to utter musical and signi-
ficant interjections." At last we would learn to enjoy a good crap.
Anyone who sniffs her underwear to "see" if
it is clean knows
the truth. The shock comes when you realize that you would rather
sniff your dirty panties than your dirty blouse. Three physicians from
the University of Pennsylvania have studied reactions to body odors.
Except for children from three to six, who are learning contempt for
shit, humans prefer the odor of feces to the smell of sweat.
These three men made a more disturbing discovery. Four-fifths
of the three-year-olds found the smell of shit pleasant. Only an eighth
of the adults liked the odor. We have to be taught to hate.
Of course we examine our feces before we flush. What I
understand is the absence of the German toilet in any home with
plumbing. The bottom of this john is constructed with two levels.
The lower tier is covered with water. The deposit, however, is made
on an upper platform. This is closer to the patron and offers a view
of the product unhindered by the refraction of the water. How appro-
priate that the culture which gave us the introspective philosophies of
Martin Luther and Sigmund Freud should nourish keen observation
and analysis of even this humble aspect of the self. Clearly, wisdom
has found a fatherland where the people have responded so enthusias-
tically to Socrates's command: "Know thyself."
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