It is rather haunting, the notice above the flush button in the toilet on the aircraft: “Do Not Flush While Seated On Toilet.” One imagines the engineers of the toilet running tests with flush dummies with big flat butts and the suction ripping the stuffing right out of them, and the engineers thinking, “Oh criminy, you mean we wasted three years on this sucker,?” asks Garrison Keillor
Lawyers were brought in to write the warning, which had to be short enough to be printed in large type so that geezers would see it. So they limited themselves to those seven words and eliminated: “Flushing While Seated May Suck Your Colon Out Of You And Cut You A New Orifice While Changing Your Gender In Ways You Don’t Even Want To Think About.”
I sat down on the closed toilet seat to ponder this and saw that, from the angle of the sitter, the warning notice is not that prominent. A person could sit there and not notice those seven words, or mistake them for something innocuous such as “Do Not Flush Wallet Down Toilet” or “Use Only As Much Toilet Paper As You Need”, the sort of signage that’s written by morons for idiots. And so – distracted perhaps by turbulence or feeling rushed because others are waiting – he presses the flush button and suddenly feels the toilet grip his behind like a python seizing a rat.
He tries to pry himself loose. No go. Now the flight attendant is tap-tap-tapping on the door. “Are you all right?” she asks.
The man on the toilet, Mr. Murphy, doesn’t know how to answer. He is, basically, all right in that he is an economist with a shining resume, is married to a noble and resourceful woman, has three excellent children who are on the upward path, and is flying to Washington to interview for a job in the Treasury department.
On the other hand, he is trapped in the toilet.
She persuades Mr. Murphy to unlock the door. She tries to yank him off the toilet by his wrists and then she lifts up his shirt-tails and tries to break the seal by inserting her fingers between the seat and his posterior. But he is well and truly stuck.
One last yank and she accidentally pushes the flush button and it makes a flubbery sound that shakes the aircraft, and Mr. Murphy feels his innards being pulled downward. He faints.
When he awakens, the aircraft has made an emergency landing in Schenectady and six men are cutting the toilet with an acetylene torch. They lift him out, the seat still stuck to him, and right there, as he’s being carried to a gurney, his luck runs out.
A passenger shoots a video with their mobile phone and that is the image that makes its way around the world via the Internet.
An economist should not get stuck in a toilet seat. That is a basic unspoken rule of life. And so “ECONOMIST IN TOILET” is the headline in the Enquirer, and a promising career is cut short and poor Mr. Murphy must go into exile and teach accounting at a secretarial school in Costa Rica.
People do what they are told not to do. It happens time and time again. Here on the frozen tundra, it is known as the Tongue On The Frozen Pump Handle principle. If you put your tongue on a pump handle on a bitter-cold winter day, your tongue will freeze to the handle and you will stand there helpless, unable to cry for help. Not that it would do much good – most pump handles these days are in remote areas.
We’ve all been warned against doing this and yet we all know that we will do it some day. Somewhere there is a pump handle waiting for me.
I’ve always expected tragedy to strike around Christmas. A joyful season and all ye faithful have come and then, yikes! You flushed the toilet while sitting on it and your life will never be the same. – (Tribune media services)
Garrison Keillor is the author of a new Lake Wobegon novel, Liberty (Viking)