Library Rambler: ‘Toilet in the Basement’ Syndrome
People who have not lived outside the upper Midwest do not realize that, for a lot of the country, a toilet in the middle of the basement is not a common feature in most houses. In Wisconsin, the stand alone basement toilet-no sink, no shower, no bath and often with no door or even walls-is a favored architectural ornament. My parents’ house included a wall-less kind.
It turns out that it is mostly men who like, and even prefer, the isolated basement toilet. My father prefers his basement toilet, and I prefer ours. We desire them, even though they come with significant inconveniences. For instance, with no walls, extra toilet paper is usually upstairs. Paper shortages can also be compounded by renegade hamsters living in a basement who steal toilet paper for nesting material. It can happen.
For several months when I was growing up, we had regular family meetings to discuss the overly liberal use of toilet paper in the basement toilet, and the impact it had on the family budget.
“Toilet paper is not cheap,” my father would conclude.
“But dad,” my sisters would protest, “you are the only one who uses the basement toilet.” This was true. I was still too young at the time to appreciate the manliness of the basement toilet, and was using the less manly upstairs bathroom.
“That can’t be true,” he would object and, because too much detail about bathroom usage was undesirable, that would end the discussion. In this, and the second toilet paper meeting, I remember appealing to them all to be on the lookout for Frederick, otherwise known as Hamster #10.
He was part of my eighth-grade science project on hamster reproduction. The goal of the project was to prove that hamsters, left to their own devices, would have loads of baby hamsters in no time at all. With 15 hamsters in just 60 days, I was close to proving my case. If, however, Frederick was really a Fredericka, I felt the project had Nobel Prize potential.
It was not as easy as it sounds. I had a public relations issue concerning the 15 squeaky hamster wheels. People said they could not sleep, and oiling the wheels only lasted an hour.
In the third meeting on toilet paper, there was a pre-meeting rumor that toilet paper had been found strung out along the basement floor, as if someone was deliberately flaunting the new toilet paper regimen. Once the meeting started, it was obvious that the ghastly rumor was true.
After describing the scene of the crime, my father said, “This has to stop. I insist on knowing who is doing this. Who was the last one to use that bathroom?”
Here you may insert a major, awkward silence. We all hung our heads in shame. The answer was, of course, our father. In the silence, I wondered about the likelihood of spontaneous toilet paper unrolling. Had anyone researched that topic? Was it like spontaneous combustion?
My four-year old sister, Amy, finally broke the silence, “Someone is eating the Indian corn down there, too.”
I chuckled to myself. Yes, I thought, if we only knew which family member liked to nibble on hard-as-rocks, ornamental, colored corn while they sat on the toilet in the basement, we would have our culprit-and then it hit me: Frederick.
It took us two days of moving furniture down there to find him. We woke him in the middle of his night, sleeping underneath a heavy tool chest. His nest was a huge flat ball of many rolls of crumbled up toilet paper, interspersed with pieces of colored corn.
The same day, I was directed to cease all further hamster reproduction, and to donate my research subjects to Howard’s pet store.
(Rhinelander District Library Director Ed Hughes is available at 715-365-1070.)