The De-Evolution Of
The Flush Toilet

A Harbinger Of The Demise Of Western Civilization

Behold my nemesis. This thing hates me, and I hate it right back. It breaks catastrophically about every other year or so.

I have a nemesis. Webster’s Dictionary defines nemesis thusly, “The inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall.” I think that about sums it up. My nemesis is a toilet.

Back nearly 20 years ago when my wife and I were building our first and last house together, I had a series of modest requests for our general contractor. I was tragically born without any sense of style or taste, but I do have a knack for utility. I’m an engineer by training, so I expect stuff to work. I don’t much care what it looks like.

When it came time to scheme out the bathrooms I didn’t have an opinion about the drawer pulls or whether or not the paint matched. As an aside, matching colors for anything is simply the diabolical manifestation of some massive worldwide female cabal. I’m colorblind, so I apparently don’t appreciate color like a normal person. At least that’s what my wife claims. Whether it is drapes, socks, slacks, or housepaint, those matching rules that women are always touting aren’t written down anyplace. I don’t think they even exist. If I want to paint a room asparagus green alongside vibrant coral I don’t see how that somehow offends the fabric of the universe. Not that I’m bitter…

Anyway, I had but one stipulation for the bathrooms. I didn’t care what the toilets looked like, how efficient they were or how much they cost. I just wanted them to be able to reliably flush a freaking bowling ball. I have sons, and I never wanted to touch another toilet bowl plunger.

My buddy who built the house came through like a champ. There had been some recent federal guidelines on toilet design (apparently because we all desperately needed our toilets regulated by the federal government). The new toilets use about a thimble’s worth of water per flush and won’t dispose of anything more robust than a mature raisin. He found us some retro toilets someplace made before the Real Man Toilet Ban. I have a mental image of some seedy-looking guy dressed like a 1970s-era pimp discreetly selling illicit toilets out of the back of a derelict van, but maybe it wasn’t quite that bad. Regardless, these were some seriously epic toilets.

Thomas Crapper, toilet maker to the stars. It was he who first
brought the flush toilet into the mainstream.

The father of the modern flush toilet was an Englishman named, and I’m not making this up, Thomas Crapper. Mr. Crapper was born in 1836 and died in 1910 of, appropriately enough, colon cancer. He didn’t technically invent the toilet, but he did perfect the floating ballcock. The floating ballcock was universally acclaimed as the creepiest mechanical name in the world until it was displaced in 1967 by the Wankel Rotary Engine. In the 1880s, Crapper was granted a Royal Warrant to provide sanitary facilities for the British royal family. This gave him the dubious distinction of being responsible for the king’s excrement.

Our new black market toilets did not use Mr. Crapper’s floating ballcock. The mechanism inside these things looked like some kind of space shuttle part. It had ball bearings, sliding sleeves, and springs aplenty. It also worked like a champ … for about two years. Then, one by one, each of the epic manly toilets in our house began to die.

This is the Flushmaster. What a piece of crap.

I’m a pretty handy guy, so I replaced the entrails in each of these toilets with replacements from Home Depot. The most popular is called, no kidding, the Flushmaster. I’m presuming this was because something more accurate like Crap Blaster might unduly offend the less durable members of society. Ever since then these stupid things have died every couple of years like clockwork. I think the one I just replaced was the fifth iteration thus far, and we’ve been in the house about seventeen years.

Back in my day, the inside of a toilet consisted of little more than a big bulbous copper float and a simple but ridiculously over-designed mechanical valve. Nothing was made of plastic, and they never failed. You were expected to pass those toilets on to your great grandchildren. Nowadays, the mechanical bits are formed from something that looks like Happy Meal toys and all but come from the factory broken.

Just like tactical shooting, with practice comes both speed and accuracy. I replaced this latest fill valve in six minutes without tools. My first order of business was to throw away the instructions unopened, as I am able to quote them from memory by now. By the time you read these words this set of toilet guts will likely be well on its way to dying as well. If ever you needed evidence that the world is going down the toilet, there you have it.

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