COLUMN: A toilet story

Here is my Sunday column for the Jan. 15, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

A toilet story
By Aaron J. Brown

Let us begin with this reflection: people are disgusting. All people. Everywhere. You need look no further for evidence than the toilet found in your very home.

I’m sure you’re a very neat person. I’m sure you clean that thing every week, scrubbing and polishing away every speck of grime. But in some tiny corner of the commode lies a grimy remnant, a greasy reminder of all things foul.

We learned this first hand recently when my wife and I attempted our first joint “do-it-yourself” job since the ill-fated roof rake assembly of 2002, a project that firmly established the boundaries of our tolerance for one another. And so, a revelation:

Life on the hardscrabble, blue collar Iron Range of northern Minnesota carries certain expectations. Among these are the expectation that you smile at pictures of dead deer, limit any complaints about cold weather to one sentence, and the big one, that you do it yourself. Do what? Everything that doesn’t involve paper or public speaking.

Naturally, being a person who works almost exclusively with paper and public speaking, this is a problem for me. People of the Range, especially men, are expected to attempt to do home improvement projects themselves, regardless of their level of skill or experience, whether it takes 36 hours of reading directions in a crawlspace, whether the thing they are doing catches fire and burns uncontrollably for four days requiring helicopters to extinguish the unrelenting oily flames.

It doesn’t help that I am a mechanic’s son from a five-generation Iron Range family. The fact that I call plumbers and bring my car to the shop for routine maintenance is even more damning.

We live in the country now, a half hour from most service professionals. A leak from the base of our toilet prompted a call to our longtime plumber who put the matter in stark terms. It’s a long drive, a small job and he’d rather see me pay $1.50 to put on a wax seal myself than drive out there and charge me a bunch of money.

So now even service professionals wonder why I am not more proficient with tools, despite my vast profitability to them. One could regard this as a new low in my “do it yourself” record. But I think I hit the real bottom a few moments later when our plumber spent several minutes trying to explain to my wife that yes, this really was a DIY job even for me. At least everyone involved seems to know me pretty well.

And now, back to the toilet and the specter of human taint that casts its shadow over all toilets, everywhere. When you think about it, we humans are the only creatures who concentrate our waste into one distinct engineered receptacle. There is simply nothing else for a toilet to become except for dirty and contagious.

Nevertheless, we successfully drained the tank, removed the nuts and bolts, yanked up the commode and replaced the wax seal. One of the bolts was bent and that provided the only drama as we had to rustle up another. Christina and I ended the project without yelling at each other, storming away, doubting our original decision to spend our lives together, or breaking the toilet in a fit of rage. The kids call this a “Win.”

I can’t say that I’m a DIY pro now. I’ll still need the help of professionals on most of the specialized machinery in my home; and that’s fine by me, so long as I am employed. Still, it was a confidence booster to see the underside of a toilet and live to tell. Hey, maybe someday I could have my own cable TV show, “Brown on Toilets!”

On second thought, maybe not.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer from the Iron Range who teaches at Hibbing Community College. He is the author of the blog and host of the Great Northern Radio Show on 91.7 KAXE.


  1. Very funny,Aaron ,although you may not view it as such.

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