The Toilet Police

Miami Herald, July 20, 1997

IF YOU call yourself an American, you need to know about a crucial issue that is now confronting the U.S. Congress (motto: ``Remaining Firmly In Office Since 1798''). This is an issue that affects every American, regardless of race or gender or religion or briefs or boxers; this is an issue that is fundamental to the whole entire Cherished American Way of Life.

This issue is toilets.

I'm talking about the toilets now being manufactured for home use. They stink. Literally. You have to flush them two or three times to get the job done. It has become very embarrassing to be a guest at a party in a newer home, because if you need to use the toilet, you then have to lurk in the bathroom for what seems like several presidential administrations, flushing, checking, waiting, flushing, checking, while the other guests are whispering: ``What is (your name) DOING in there? The laundry?''

I know this because I live in a home with three new toilets, and I estimate that I spend 23 percent of my waking hours flushing them. This is going on all over America, and it's causing a serious loss in national productivity that could really hurt us as we try to compete in the global economy against nations such as Japan, where top commode scientists are developing super-efficient, totally automated household models so high tech that they make the Space Shuttle look like a doorstop.

The weird thing is, the old American toilets flushed just fine. So why did we change? What force would cause an entire nation to do something so stupid? Here's a hint: It's the same force that from time to time gets a bee in its gigantic federal bonnet and decides to spend millions of dollars on some scheme to convert us all to the metric system, or give us all Swine Flu shots, or outlaw tricycles, or whatever. You guessed it! Our government!

What happened was, in 1992, Congress passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which declared that, to save water, all U.S. consumer toilets would henceforth use 1.6 gallons of water per flush. That is WAY less water than was used by the older 3.5-gallon models -- the toilets that made this nation great; the toilets that our Founding Fathers fought and died for -- which are now prohibited for new installations. The public was not consulted about the toilet change, of course; the public has to go to work, so it never gets consulted about anything going on in Washington.

But it's the public that has been stuck with these new toilets, which are saving water by requiring everybody to flush them enough times to drain Lake Erie on an hourly basis. The new toilets are so bad that there is now -- I am not making this up -- a black market in 3.5-gallon toilets. People are sneaking them into new homes, despite the fact that the Energy Policy and Conservation Act provides for -- I am not making this up, either -- a $2,500 fine for procuring and installing an illegal toilet.

I checked this out with my local plumber, who told me that people are always asking him for 3.5-gallon toilets, but he refuses to provide them, because of the law. The irony is that I live in Miami; you can buy drugs here simply by opening your front door and yelling: ``Hey! I need some crack!''

Here's another irony: The federal toilet law is administered by the U.S. Department of Energy. According to a Washington Post article sent in by many alert readers, the DOE recently had to close several men's rooms in the Forrestall Building because -- I am STILL not making this up -- overpressurized air in the plumbing lines was CAUSING URINALS TO EXPLODE. That's correct: These people are operating the Urinals of Death, and they're threatening to fine us if we procure working toilets.

The public -- and this is why I love this nation -- is not taking this sitting down. There has been a grass-roots campaign, led by commode activists, to change the toilet law, and a bill that would do that (H.R. 859 -- The Plumbing Standards Act) has been introduced by Rep. Joe Knollenberg of Michigan. I talked to Rep. Knollenberg's press secretary, Frank Maisano, who told me that the public response has been very positive. But the bill has two strikes against it:

1. It makes sense.

2. People want it.

These are huge liabilities in Washington. The toilet bill will probably face lengthy hearings and organized opposition from paid lobbyists; for all we know it will get linked to Whitewater and wind up being investigated by up to four special prosecutors. So it may not be passed in your lifetime. But I urge you to do what you can. Write to your congresshumans, and tell them you support Rep. Knollenberg's bill. While you're at it, tell them you'd like to see a constitutional amendment stating that if any federal agency has so much spare time that it's regulating toilets, that agency will immediately be eliminated, and its buildings will used for some activity that has some measurable public benefit, such as laser tag.

So come on, America! This is your chance to make a difference! Stand up to these morons! Join the movement!

Speaking of which, I have to go flush.