I CAN STILL REMEMBER how shocked I was when I first saw a book called How to Shit in the Woods. I was shocked at the word shit appearing on a book cover, and I was also shocked that anyone would need instructions on how to do a Number Two (as I was taught to call it in childhood) in the woods.
Nevertheless, I overcame my double shock and bought the book. It turned out to be a serious and valuable treatise for hikers and campers on how to avoid polluting our natural water sources. Despite its title, or perhaps because of it, it was a best-seller.
Once I had got used to seeing the bold and honest Anglo-Saxon word shit on a pure white page, my mind naturally turned to plagiarism. I thought of writing a bestseller called How to Shit on a Boat. But my genteel upbringing rebelled at the thought of that title. After a lot of pondering I daringly came up with How to Crap on a Craft. But that was still too vulgar, too plebian, and not half clever enough.
Then I remembered one of my all-time favorite newspaper headlines. After a ship in Durban harbor accidentally discharged thousands of gallons of sewage into the bay, the Sunday Tribune ran a picture of it with the headline caption: THE SHIP THAT LAUNCHED 1,000 FAECES
That was a reverse nod to the classics, of course, and Helen of Troy. So now I had the title of my new book — FAECES AFLOAT — but no ideas about what to put in it, except the fact that nobody but a small-boat sailor knows how difficult it is to do a Number Two at sea when the boat is bouncing up and down and you’re wearing six layers of storm-proof gear and the toilet is in a tiny cabinet the size of a midget’s coffin and you’re feeling seasick.
Only a small-boat sailor understands how profoundly the psyche of sailing is affected by the fact that you have to carry your poo around with you, because you can’t simply pump it overboard any more unless you’re way out on the ocean. You have to hide your Number Twos, along with your Number Ones, in a holding tank. And that holding tank is often furtively situated under your bunk. When you sleep, your head could be six inches from two weeks’-worth of other people’s Number Threes.
There are many other concerns regarding the creation and disposal of human waste on a boat, and decent people mainly don’t talk about them. But now that I’ve got started, I might as well vent my feelings, if you’ll pardon the expression. So watch this space next Friday for Faeces Afloat, Fart 2.
► How to Shit in the Woods, Kathleen Meyer (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif.)
Waste brings woe.
Robert Greene, Sonnet
“Any Royalty in your family?”
“No, but I had an uncle who was a Peer.”
“Really? I had an uncle with bladder trouble, too."