Toilet Training

There are two ways of doing just about anything in this world: You can either do it yourself or you can hire someone else to do it for you.

The same principle applies to fixing toilets: You either get a wrench or call the plumber.

Weaker beings – those afraid of pain, daunted by physical labor, and threatened by sewage – are expected to pursue the latter option, especially when faced with faulty toilets.

This is not unnatural.

After all, the possibility of encountering sewage brings out the worst in humankind. Whether in amounts both big and small, in forms both raw and processed, no one wants to see it, smell it, touch it, let alone find themselves tasting it, accidentally or otherwise.

Which probably explains why the toilet – despite its usefulness – has always been kept out of sight in most buildings and establishments. Very few individuals are comfortable with being reminded of what these facilities represent.

For better or for worse, I consider myself one of them. Thanks to a voracious appetite, a weak stomach, and a superhuman resistance to constipation, I remain awed by a technological marvel that swallows virtually anything that can fit in its receptacle. And as someone who has used restrooms in more than 15 cities around the world, I have become familiar with all sorts of knobs, buttons, and yes, pedals used for flushing toilets.

In Kuala Lumpur, I almost took a shower while testing a handheld bidet that could have been better used as a water cannon against protesters in Mendiola.

Just last year, I nearly fell into Parisian sewers, courtesy of a slippery squat toilet 10 times the size of my ass. And twice in my life, I have been caught using the facilities, so to speak, while the plane I was on was busy making a rough landing at Ninoy Aquino International.

All these experiences, I believe, were sufficient to prepare myself for fixing a faulty toilet on our apartment’s first floor.

The problem seemed simple enough.

All I had to do was to stop water from coming into the tank once it was filled to the brim. However, complex issues came into play. The mechanism, already old and rusted, needed replacement.

To do so required taking the whole thing apart, a plan that involved using tools, many of which were either misplaced or left unreturned by well-meaning friends.

In short, I had to abandon the project altogether and shut off the water flow to the tank.

Now, instead of pushing a handle to flush, you had to turn on the faucet, and wait for facial hair to grow until the pail was full of water.

Not that I actually bother to do that.

There was still a perfectly functioning restroom on the second floor.

While I now have to run up the stairs every time I need to go, huffing and puffing to beat the deadline, I at least have the convenience of a flush toilet. On top of the fact that I need the exercise anyway.


Shown are toilets and urinals, as the case may be, at (from left clockwise) the Malpensa Airport in Milan; the Villa Melzi in Bellagio, Italy; the Il Papiro store in Florence, Italy; the Pearl Continental Hotel in Bhurban, Pakistan; and the Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC. These pictures just go to show you that I’ve got a world-traveled class.

The Locked Restroom Mystery

C. in Milano

THE police officer didn’t understand the word “trapped.”
“What is trapped?” he asked me, giving me a slightly amused look, gesturing with his hands, which were wide apart, as if emphasizing a point in a high school declamation contest.
“Trapped,” I said, nodding, returning his gaze. “What indeed is trapped?”
I looked at the pigeons in the square, thinking how easy their lives were.
Every single day without fail, these birds got by on leftover pieces of bread people fed them.
Meanwhile, here I was, at Italy’s famous Piazza del Duomo, grappling with a quandary rarely experienced by anyone, both in Manila and Milan. No, I wasn’t hungry. Nor did I have to go to great lengths to get my next meal—it would come from my wife who held our cash and planned our no-frills vacation.
Despite the privilege of being in Europe, I still felt that the pigeons were luckier than me.
After all, as I was contemplating the various synonyms of the word “trapped,” my wife was locked inside a nearby restroom trying in vain to get out. So how do I tell a carabinieri in very simple English that my wife was trapped inside a cubicle with a jammed lock?
I was stumped.
But only temporarily.
After all, I was an English major.
And this was my one chance in a million to prove to everyone that a Bachelor of Arts degree—or at least the one that I had—was useful in real life.
It was very easy. All I had to do was to process the knowledge I gained in college and put them to good use. Except that I had extended my stay in college because I was always drunk and/or sleepy, which, by the way, explains why I also dropped my basic Italian language class.
Had I known that ditching Italian would prove crucial some fifteen years or so after college, I would have completely aced it, just like the time I got a 1.0 after taking a Philosophy course the second time around.
But then again, as the Romans say, praemunitos, praemunitas, a phrase which I occasionally use to show that I understood Latin. I don’t.
Which explains why I didn’t rely on my tertiary education when my wife called out my name the minute she discovered that she was locked in.
Like all neanderthals who mistakenly consider themselves heroes, I rushed into the ladies’ room, knowing that I was venturing into unknown and dangerous territory.
Fortunately, it was still early in the morning and the area wasn’t congested.
Of the three women using the facilities, only two were able to exit their cubicles with ease. None of them happened to be my wife.
To justify my existence inside the ladies’ restroom—and to avert any attack from formidable Italian women armed with thick leather handbags and stilletoes—I went to the cubicle in question and assisted my wife with the lock.
After a few minutes of fiddling with it, I gave up and told her that I would be back with someone to help us.
This now brings us back to my original quandary.
“Trapped,” I told the carabinieri. “My wife is in the restroom and she can’t open the door.”
Restraining his smile, the officer agreed to accompany me.
However, when we arrived at the scene, my wife had already escaped the clutches of the stubborn door lock. How she did it, I will never know. After all, she was the acclaimed poet in our family and I was just the useless English major.
“Grazie,” I told the police officer as he left, grateful that I didn’t have a hangover the day the professor told us how to express thanks in Italian.

Photo above shows a cheerful Conchitina R. Cruz posing at a statue located at the Piazza del Duomo, unaware of the dangerous consequences that would befall her while inside a Vittorio Emanuele restroom a week later.