Monday, January 21, 2008

sigh. Mel Brooks found out, too.

Mel made his first movie, The Producers; won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, and earned a little money at it.  Everybody's heard of that one these days, particularly since it was beautifully recycled into a wildly successful Broadway play version a few years ago.

What did he do with his earnings?  He made his next movie, of course.  Which flopped; totally.  Nobody I know has ever heard of it (until I tell them.)  It's quite possibly my absolute favorite movie (and I don't DO "favorites").  Brilliant.  Beautiful.  Chaplinesque humor, mixed with hard social commentary and primal human pathos.  Intelligent.  Moving.  Mel himself has a minor role as well as directs (spectacularly well) - and his line "Master?..." - gets me every time.  He can act.

This was The Twelve Chairs, easily available now on DVD from NetFlix etc.; but a few years ago, almost the only way you could get a copy was by begging- Mel, himself, to run you off a VHS copy.  He'd do it.  He knew how good it was, and was delighted when someone else knew.  But you DO have to have a measurable IQ to enjoy it.  Ergo - commercial flop.  Watch it if you possibly can- nobody I've ever talked into it has been disappointed.

Then (I imagine) Mel said to himself, "Ok, you don't want class, you want cheap commercial humor??  Fine, it's fart jokes and potty humor for you!"   And Blazing Saddles was born - and Mel made LOTS of money.  Bless him.

So, having given you my brilliant, original, and highly intelligent analysis of why we as a species cannot afford to design and build our world for perfect constant comfort- the primary response so far is a) silence, or b) a request for the "prurient" details of frigid potty function!  (apart from BillyM and Heather- bless you).

Ok.  As Milton Berle (or someone) always said - "If you're losing your audience; just drop your pants.  Works every time."  (or something like that).

Ok, you want prurient details?  Fine, I'll drop my pants.

Rule 1 - WAIT, until you REALLY have to go, onesies or twosies.  This will make the process faster, a good idea.
For #1, as in, pee.  In Farbelowzero weather, we still try to pee outside, when reasonable.  Usually that depends on the wind, more than the temperature.  15mph winds at -20 can lead to serious discomfort, pretty quick; when the mere air temperature would be unnoticeable otherwise.

As mentioned in the previous Potty House Posts, (and pics) pee is one of the biggest problems in composting toilet design- there's a lot of it, too much for a PDORS (poop digester of reasonable size) to hold.  You have to do something to evaporate it; like heat everything and run a fan.  Lots of energy used there.  Or- just don't pee much in the composting toilet.

The world would use far far less water, pipe, and energy if we could just get everyone to pee on a tree, whenever possible.  The trees love it, and then you don't have to flush, or pipe, or process, or dispose of.  Granted, this is not a reasonable option inside a city.  Alas.  But it's pretty reasonable for us.

#1 outside is easy for me, pretty much regardless of the conditions.  Just don't pee into the wind.  It's more trouble for ladies, of course.  We do go so far as to keep an area away from the house swept clear of snow, so ladies in residence can squat without dipping their nether regions into snowbanks.  It can be done.  If it's REALLY cold and windy, then ladies are welcome to pee in the THWASPCO; a little pee is no problem.

And it's probably good to remind visitors that "don't eat the yellow snow" is not a joke.
To go, or not to go?  (hike out, that is)

It's a relative question.  The thing is, a chamber pot of any kind is extra work.  And stinky, and messy.  So far, the people living here have quickly come to the conclusion that they can stand a LOT of cold, before it's so cold they want a chamber pot.  Personally, the only time I've used one is when I'm really ill.  Otherwise- in Minus 40; I'll still walk out to the Potty House.

If you read the comments on the original posts, Spice left this: "I was pregnant in the winter, delivered Smidgen in Feburary. I had to troop out to the potty house on average of 10 times a day in January. It can be done, and it wasn't all that bad. In fact it kept me in better shape for labor!"  It's not that bad. 
re: #2, as in poop-

I don't drop my pants all the way down.  Now you know, Chrunch, for your visualization pleasure.  (I do figure I owe you there, for all my own fun visualizing your well described gyrations...)

If it's a mere 20 below, I'll just drop trou, sit on the cherry seat, get well situated, then pull the pants back up to cover whatever can be covered.  Yes, I'm wearing a jacket, and a hat.  Bare hands, for dexterity, tucked inside the pants legs while waiting for critical operations.  I know, this sounds clumsy for folks used to doing these operations virtually unclothed- but it's not a big deal, and way more comfy to stay warm.  It can be surprisingly comfy; the THWASPCO is well supplied with good reading material, and even below zero, I can find myself so involved in some reading that I quit paying attention to the cold.  Until it reminds me.

On sunny days in late winter, when the potty house may be quite warm inside, we may indeed just skip putting on the coat- it's cozy in there.

If it's colder than that; like 30 below (coldest I've been here is -42°F, not including wind chill- coldest including wind was -102°F) - I'll probably lift the lid, and sit on the seat with my pants ON for about 30 seconds- to warm the seat- then proceed to drop.

It's really true, you just don't feel the cold in your behinder parts.  Good thing.  Likewise, however, gentlemen; your winky does not have extensive cold sensing capabilities.  I've never had this problem myself, but I had a friend in grad school who reported minor frostbite there when he was peeing outside during some really extreme weather- windchill of -60 or so.  He didn't realize it was happening- it's not sensitive.  To cold.  So be aware.  There's no windchill inside the Potty House, of course.

When it's time for the TP - (water is SO not going to work here) the pants go all the way down again, for easy access.  No big deal.

Typical follow-up on re-entering the actual Little House- jacket comes off, and you spend a minute or two backed up close to the woodstove, re-warming the fanny area, and hands.  Nice.

There is another inobvious aspect to winter outhouse technique- coping with the poopsicle.

See- if it's really cold, the pit freezes.  So successive depositions of "material" will result in an ever-growing poop stalagmite, known here as the poopsicle.  Some foresight is required- if you wait too long, it can grow right up to... where you don't want it to be.

Hence, we have an old broken axhandle handy; and once every 2 weeks or so, I'll take that, reach it down the hole, and gently whack the frozen poopsicle sideways.  It'll crack off pretty easily (not a lot of tensile strength there) and just fall over, alleviating the problem for another couple weeks, or more, if the weather warms.  But you don't want to forget.

The path to the Potty House we keep open not by shoveling, but by sweeping with a push-broom.  It's not a matter of removing the snow, but collapsing its structure- in a matter of 6 hours or so, its structure rearranges after being disturbed and it freezes very hard, and makes a good, non-slippery path.  In spring, the hard snow stays longer than the adjacent unpacked snow, and provides us a clean path through the spring mud- until it's too far gone, then the adjacent areas are usually past the mud phase, and can be walked on just fine until the main path is dry.

In case of very heavy snowfall, we'll likely walk to the potty house with snowshoes on a couple times, before sweeping.  That'll pack it down and firm the snow.  No shoveling.

So.  What else do you want to know?  :-)


Crunchy Chicken said...

Crikey, Greenpoops. With the description of the poopsicle management system (PMS), I can say, with assurity, that you have finally topped me on the graphics of bodily functions.

Anonymous said...

Do you know if it's good for trees for women to pee on them? I've heard that female hormones, especially in the urine of women on the Pill, are really bad for trees. I quite often have to use a bedpan (I'm mostly bedridden) and have often wondered about getting my husband to empty it onto one of our trees instead of down the toilet. I've heard that urine is particularly good for citrus, and we have a lemon tree that could do with some TLC, but it's in such bad shape that I don't want to give it anything that might be bad for it.

Meg said...

I've been reading for a while, but this is my first time commenting....I had to pop out of lurkdom and say that I'm glad to finally meet someone else who likes the Mel Brooks movie version of The 12 Chairs!

I actually came to it from the book (and it's sequel, The Golden Calf). The original book by Ilf and Petrov is one of my favorites, and I was raised on Mel Brooks (I could recite Young Frankenstein verbatim as a small fry) so I was excited a few years back when I found that he'd made a film of the book. I actually managed to score a copy of it on clearance on VHS for 2 bucks at that time, so I guess I was lucky.

Susan M.B. Sullivan said...

I'm not sure what to say, except to note you are a brave man. I don't even have bumper stickers on my car in the name of privacy.

Thinking of your mud hut comments on the previous post, I don't know which future to prepare for. The sane one where I still have a job and care about the fuel efficiency of my car as a responsible citizen? Or the one where we messed up big time and I better have my own self-sufficient systems? Clearly both would be best, but I have to prioritize. I don't have the answer. Thanks for helping us learn.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the big picture post, as well as the 'details' on the THWASPCO. I might have posted to yesterday's post except that I'm trying to spend less time online. Oh, and super sweet pic of Smidgen!

We're still getting used to living at the family farm, and looking at what our options are on buying a small farm of our own (well, probably with some friends).

I've been getting a little discouraged of late; health hasn't been allowing me to be as energetic as usual in trying out new things -- I did manage to make chili starting with dried kidney beans instead of canned though, and it should be even better next time.

Thanks for sharing both your philosophical thoughts and your everyday practical ones too. Yours is one of the few blogs I have on my page (it tells me when there's a new post).

Best wishes,

Heather G

Heather said...

Oh, yeah, and next time you don't want people to ask about your toilet habits at the end of a serious essay, maybe it would be best not to title the essay "how we use our outhouse in winter" and then not say much about how you use your outhouse in winter.


--Heather from New Zealand

(who has finally worked out how to both sign with her NIM name and let blogger link to her blog).

Lisa Zahn said...

I'm enjoying your, um, frankness, Greenpa. Thanks for all the details.

Lisa in MN

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thanks for the details.

I'll be perverse and comment on the big-picture post now. I didn't before because of a combination of distraction (how difficult is a poop house in temps I can't even imagine?) and a bit of a lack of things to say.

I mean, "Yup, you're right," isn't much of a contribution to conversation, is it?

Digging a little deeper, I'll say that I first encountered the idea that being comfortable all the time wasn't to our benefit when I was in my teens. I vaguely remember seeing "staying close to the rhythms of nature is a good thing" connected to the idea that "Winter is supposed to be cold! Summer is supposed to be hot!" and deciding that it was sensible.

I was helped along in agreeing with the point by my parents' habits. Our home was hard to heat and hard to cool (I live in Georgia), so by comparison to the homes of other people I knew, it was uncomfortable. They kept it pretty cold in the winter and pretty warm in the summer, and used fresh air to cool the house whenever the weather permitted in spring and fall. Adopting the idea that this was a good thing made accepting it easier. *grins* They did it as much for financial reasons as anything else, but I never thought about the sustainability aspect of it.

I do wonder how people growing up with perfect climate control are going to turn out. It seems weird to me.

So. Yup, you're right.

historicstitcher said...

I tend to lurk, and not comment a lot on most blogs. But I had to come out - your last post, on mud huts, had me thinking and I continue to ponder it. I don't write about sustainability on my blog, but I think about it every day. I read your blog regularly. You give me hope - ou live the life I want to live and have dreamed about for years. You give me hope that it can be done in this age and country. I take home ideas from you that find outlet in my home.

I was proud of being labeled "crunchy" for making homemade babyfood from organic ingredients (and nursing for 2 years), for cloth-diapering, growing an organic garden, etc. Your posts, and the insight into your life, inspire me to go one more step...and one more...and more again.

Thank you!

And I, too, have been a Mel Brooks fan since long before I knew his name!

Greenpa said...

Crunch- you always make me smile; thanks.

Heather fnz- you got me curious, and I did some serious searching- I can't find ANY indications that Pill P is a problem. As a biologist, too, it seems very unlikely.

How did such a rumor start? My guess is somebody killed a tree- either with too much p, or p that had turned to ammonia, or a tree that happened to be unusually sensitive... etc. Sometimes plants ARE sensitive. Trees, rarely, particularly if you take a moment and pee out under the branches, and not in the same place all the time.

Meg- Yay! I'm delighted to meet another! I used to wake Beelar and Middle Child up to the tune of "Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst." Mel wrote the words, but the tune is folk; also stolen and used by Brahms, which is maybe where Mel got it... oh, don't get me started. :-)

Susan B- yep, it's hard to figure. My own take is- it seems to take the old bad ways a long long time to go away. People hang onto them, and they're more resilient than we'd guess. I doubt collapse is imminent. I could be wrong, of course... :-)

Heather G- hang in there. sounds like you are. I sure know about lousy health; hope your family is helping.

Heather fnz - that was marketing! known as a tease! that's why I said "more tomorrow" - which is what I did - :-) Humor!

and everybody - thanks.

BoysMom said...

Greenpa, it is a well known and accepted fact that musicians steal tunes. When we want to pretend to be presentable we call it 'paying homage'. Only RIAA complains, really, and everyone knows they're spoiled little brats. Okay, BIG brats.
Tradition is on our side :-D

Susan Och said...

My husband always "pees on the trees" when he's working in his shop, a short hike from the house. We live on a busy corner, but there is a dense line of cedar trees that provides cover year round, and we thought nothing of it.

At least we thought nothing of it until an attorney friend had stopped by to chat and saw my husband going for the trees.

"I'd be careful! If the anyone complains about that, you could be arrested for indecent exposure. Get caught twice, and they have to put you on the sex offender list!"

He wasn't just blowing smoke. He had represented a tribal fisherman who had been cited for peeing on a tree, part of the old feud between sport fisherman and tribal fisherman. One of my coworkers tells me that her sister (also Indian) got prison time for "exposing herself to a minor" because she peed in the woods walking home at night with her younger cousin.

I still pee in the woods. My mom taught me how, as she thought it was an essential skill.

Greenpa said...

Susan- cripes. I was not aware of THIS bit of nonsense. Yeah, sounds like a good bit of it is nice old fashioned racial garbage- but something to keep in mind regardless.

There's also a weird component from the same people who go into shock when a woman breast feeds a baby in public. A lot of states now have laws on the book stating that a woman does, in fact, have the right to breast feed her baby anywhere- insane that such laws had to be passed. Though it's not quite the same, of course.