Bathroom Chatter and Panty Talk
In my experience, there are two types of people in this world: those who discuss their bodily functions openly and at length, and those who do not.
(In case you haven’t been following along, I will give you a moment to guess which category Dr Smiter falls into.)
Alas, as with many such things in life, nature abhors a vacuum and those of us who dwell in the latter group are veritable magnets for those in the former.
In my case, for example, there was the friend, several years back, who was a voracious reader, had an encyclopedic knowledge of films and was an all-round excellent pal except for the fact that she would not, nay, could not, stop talking about excrement – hers and her dogs’. Ignoring the fact that the moment she broached the subject, I would clamp my hands over my ears and yell “Stop, please!”, she would regale me with lurid tales of everyone’s latest digestive happenings and provide intricate sensory details of the most recent Events.
She was always sorry afterwards (the way one is when one realizes one’s audience has left the room to be sick) but things finally came to a crescendo one evening at her cottage. We had been to a farmers’ market and I had made a rhubarb and strawberry crumble for dessert, topped with homemade ice cream. We were sitting by the wood stove, watching the sunset with our desserts in hand, and as I put the first spoonful in my mouth, my dinner companion said, meditatively (and apropos of absolutely nothing at all), “Gosh, I had a really good poop this morning.”
With no fanfare, I leaned forward over my bowl and let my mouthful of half-chewed dessert drop back into it. I marched out to the kitchen, bunged the whole thing into the garbage and tossed our friendship in with it, for good measure.
And not that long ago, I had to jettison another friend who had a similar fascination and would spend long swathes of time speculating about the effect that a given meal was going to have on her “pipeline.” Any odd look that crossed my face was referenced back to my own system. “Ha,” she would say, pointing. “You look like you’re about to pinch off a loaf.” Even her website was named after a toilet, of sorts.
(In contrast, I have a friend who has Celiac Disease, another couple of friends with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and yet another whose mother passed away of colon cancer. These folks feel no need to discuss Plumbing Issues with me, or anyone but their doctors, ever. )
There was also the guy who wanted me to watch him squeeze his pimples, and the woman who was fascinated by boils, from which she and her sister suffered intermittently. (I understand they also had plagues of frogs, as children.) I would ward her off with the palms of my hands and flee the room as she approached the mirror with a needle and a tissue, and she would say, genuinely puzzled by my apparent prudishness, “Oh, my sister just LOVES to watch this!” (Now there’s a gene pool that needs a nice dose of chlorine tossed into it. I’m just saying.)
And who among us hasn’t met (and fled from) the friend or colleague who just has to drivel on about her yeast infections and menstrual difficulties, or the minutiae of fertility treatments? The phrase “we’re trying to have children” is just WAY too much information for my graphic little mind, thanks to a mother who was a nurse and an aunt and uncle who bred cattle.
I think it’s safe to say that as small children, many or even most of us are fascinated by Matters Pertaining to the Nether Regions. It’s part of how we’re toilet-trained, and later, it’s part of how we come to learn about the birds and the bees. But there is a time and a place for these things, and call me a priss but that place is not in polite company.
It’s a lesson that most of us learn hard, but learn it we must, and the best time for it (as I told Loaf-Pinching Girl) is probably around the time of potty training.
There’s a wonderful bit about this in A Thorn in My Pocket, written by Eustacia Cutler, who is Temple Grandin‘s mum. It is Ms Cutler’s autobiography and the story of Temple’s childhood, and in it there’s a scene where she catches Temple and a couple of other kids engaging in what she calls “bathroom chatter and panty talk.”
(In our house, this was called “Bathroom Talk,” and being a literal sort of child, I would dutifully shut myself in the bathroom and say all my naughty words before emerging to have my mouth washed out with soap. In fact, the F-word was one of the first words I ever read for myself, shortly before my third birthday; it was spray-painted on the sidewalk in front of a neighbour’s house and my mother didn’t know whether to slap me or be suitably impressed that her toddler could read. She settled for both.)
But I digress. Ms Cutler, like my own mum (who had been a nurse, pre-Smiterlet, as I said), was a firm believer in knowing and using the proper terminology for bodily parts and functions. So, confronted with the aforementioned bathroom chatter & panty talk among her cubs, she administered a swift lesson in anatomy, a couple of swift swats for good measure, and sent the youngsters on their way.
Those of you who live in Ontario will be aware that Premier Dalton McGuinty’s efforts to amend the school sex education curriculum to include earlier and more in-depth information for kids (who seem to be getting older, younger and younger, as kids do) were nixed by the usual lobby groups of religious zealots and prudes. There are those who would argue that children should be kept “young” as long as possible, and that childhood is something to be cherished. I could not agree more. But do we really want nine-year-olds who still blushingly talk about “down there”, or thirteen-year-olds who don’t know that oral sex is, in fact, sex? I think not.
One irate Letter to the Editor likened the situation to the fact that most kids will learn to drive around age 15 or 16: to paraphrase, trying to keep kids innocent of sex and body parts till they’re in their teens is like telling them not to look at “vroom-vrooms,” and talking about the “beep-beep” (for the horn) and the “eek-eeks!” (for the brakes) — and then suddenly throwing them behind the wheel & expecting them to know what to do with it all.
In contrast, friends of mine raised their three girls in the Waldorf School tradition, which keeps children very young and innocent indeed — but all three girls knew a vulva from a foreskin by the time they could talk, and no harm ever came of it. However, they also knew not to talk about it in front of house-guests, and therein lies the key, I suppose — that fine (and eroding) line between the public and private spheres, and the (admittedly personal) differences among anatomically correct, funny, and vulgar.
It occurs to me that two things may result from this blog. One is a volley of hate mail containing the words “prude,” “schoolmarm” or “repressed.”
The other is a tsunami of Letters of Apology from those of you who know me and are now frantically casting back over conversations past for possible conversational offences that may result in a smiting.
To the first group, I say only that I have a very good filter on my email system, and “nyah” to you.
To the second, I say, “Stop, you haven’t done anything. Now go have a nice G&T and enjoy the next bit.”
…which is where I remind all my readers that, the previous page notwithstanding, there really is nothing funnier than a Trouser Trumpet, is there? It is the Great Leveller, and people across all cultures crack up at the unmistakeable slapstick sound of the Accidental Toot. My friend Katerina’s late father, bless him, was a lovely gentleman, and he possessed a Toot Machine (not quite the trade term for it, but you know what I mean) that fastened under the victim’s chair and was operated remotely. He especially enjoyed deploying it at family gatherings, usually under the chair of the unsuspecting guest, which was often me. My fondest memory is of him quietly shaking with laughter at Thanksgiving dinner as he racked up another victim.
At his funeral a couple of years ago, as we filed past his coffin and paid our respects to the family, Katerina’s husband Steve embraced me, thanked me for coming and then leaned very close to my ear and whispered, “We put the Toot Machine in his coffin.” I laugh my head off every time I remember this.
And for the record, I like Family Guy and Beavis and Butthead and South Park (mostly) as much as the next guy, which is to say a lot. I swear like a trucker in traffic (I keep a bar of Ivory in the globe-box, just so you know) and I also have in my possession two very good Whoopee Cushions, and I know how to use them. Check under your sofa cushions carefully the next time I visit, for I travel fully armed and I am very, very good.
But just be sure, when all is said and done, that you call it a Toot. And spare me the details.