Salty Stool

Dearest Poopers,

The POOP Project is proud to invite you to our final event of the year, in partnership with The Salt Salon.

Join Shawn “The Puru” Shafner this Sunday, Dec. 18 at 5:00pm for a journey through the bowels of history, from the fall of Rome to the modern day, as we unearth the rise of “civilized” man over that most uncivilized of actions. A communal Mediterranean meal by chef Marina Berger will be served in a casual, home setting (togas optional, Bacchanalian revelry and lounging expected). Guests are encouraged to bring your own bottle of wine. $10, Brooklyn locale off the Church Ave. 2/5. More information on The Salt Salon invite.

Why Mediterranean? Why togas? Why revel in Bacchanalian fashion?

For most of us, the holiday season means making time to pop in the ol' Mr. Hankey DVD, light your alternative energy menorah, or beat that wooden log until it poops out candy and nuts. When the days are getting dark, it sure is nice to feel that maybe--just maybe--everything is right with the world.

For our ancient Roman brethren, December was the time when everything was wrong, and society turned upside down. After spending the Autumn planting and sowing, December 17th began a 7-day festival generally known as Saturnalia. The most popular holiday of the year, Saturnalia was a time of reflection and celebration in honor of Saturn (Kronos in Greek), the God of agriculture and the harvest, as well as his wife, Ops, Goddess of bounty, and Consus, the God of Storage. Because all that grain isn't gonna put itself away.

Saturnalia was the Roman equivalent of the RESET button. The celebrated God had presided over Earth's most prosperous time until his son, Jupiter (Zeus), deposed him. But for seven cold days each year, the ropes binding Saturn's feet were loosened and so were the rules of everyday life.

Gambling was allowed in public. Slaves were permitted to use dice and did not have to work. Instead of the toga, less formal dinner clothes (synthesis) were permitted, as was the pileus, a felt cap normally worn by the manumitted slave that symbolized the freedom of the season. Within the family, a Lord of Misrule was chosen. Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters' clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god. (Encyclopaedia Romana)

Saturn is of particular interest to the POOP because he (or his son, depending on who you consult) was sometimes known as Stercutius, the demigod of manure ("Stercus" means poop; you might also find him called Sterquilinus and Sterculius, as he is referred to in the Beavis and Butthead episode below.). Saturn was the grain--the life, growth, and nourishment. But he was also the scythe--the death, decay and, in his role as Stercutius, the doody. Because you can't have one without the other.

During the medieval Feast of Fools, inspired by and adapted from Saturnalia,

[Excrement] was used in place of incense during the serious service, and later the clergy rode in dung-flled carts 'tossing it at the crowd (147)' (Janik and Bakhtin)

Sure makes you wistful for the old days, doesn't it?

This Salt Salon, the second night of our glorious holiday, I'm hoping we can turn things upside down by bringing a little potty talk into our dinner conversation. It's like a revival of the communal baths, but different. Io, Saturnalia!

Wishing you a wonderful season, and a new year full of peaceful pooping.

Shawn "The Puru" Shafner

Eight Festive Flushes

The Puru has begun making house calls.  The house (that is) of the Lord. Last night, I found myself at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, eating latkes and eggplant parmesan alongside two dozen too-cool-for-religious school 7th and 8th graders. Following dinner, they lit the candles and sang Chanukkah songs while I drank ginger ale and worried about how this crowd would react to what I had to say.  And then I was on.

Most Jewish occasions are consecrated over food, which is itself consecrated by a blessing. Religious schools teach these blessings, well, religiously, and these kids knew them by heart.  None of them knew, however, that there's also a blessing for the other side of the food equation, called the Asher Yatzar.

I love this blessing. The basic translation is "Dear God, Thank you for making a body with many holes and openings.  Should any of them ever come open when they shouldn't, or close up when they shouldn't, I would really be in trouble.  Seriously, thanks."

Earlier that day, I had taken myself to the doctor after feeling for two weeks like I was in danger of wetting myself inopportunely.  (Ironic, I know, for the poop guy to suddenly have pee-pee problems, but the world works in mysterious ways...) After a flirtation with adult diapers (more on that soon) and two days on antibiotics, I not only have a renewed respect for modern medicine, but also for the importance of a working urinary and digestive tract.  You might say it's the best holiday gift one could receive.

But that would be corny.  So instead, and in honor of the last night of Chanukkah, the impending Christmas, solstice, Kwanzaa, etc., I give you:


1. After that afternoon coffee, make a pit stop at the Bryant Park public facilities, which were nominated for a 2010 Best Restroom Award.  Feel free to stop and smell the fresh cut flowers on your way in.

2. For a few years now, the Charmin toilet paper company has taken advantage of the holidays to provide a Times Square home for all those tourist tushes out there. It's all part of their "Enjoy the Go" campaign, and this year's offerings include the ability to poop in all 50 states.

3. For the technologically interested, WIRED has opened up a kinky-cool space on Broadway and 4th Street showcasing all sorts of gadgets and doo-hickeys, including the Envirolet FlushSmart Composting Toilet System.  Don't get caught with your pants down--the store is only open Wed-Sun until Dec. 26, and the composting commode is only for viewing.

4. Give yourself the gift of a well-washed rear, and try a Toto Washlet at a restaurant near you. (For more info, refer to prior post Wade in the Washlet.)

5. Head on out Dec. 15 for the free launch party of the new essay collection Toilets: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing edited by Harvey Molotch and Laura Noren. 5:30-8, FREE + wine & cheese, but you gotta RSVP.

Mr. Hankey, the South Park masterpiece

6. Let the internet help you put the reason back into the season.  Click here to watch the episode that started it all: Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.

7. Consider giving the gift that's both green and a little gross.  There are a few companies making beautiful stationary, picture frames and more out of all sorts of recycled poop.  Check out Haathi Chaap for paper primarily made from elephant poo, options of elephant, cow, horse, and panda PooPooPaper or even Sheep Poo Paper.  Just think: if you move to Wales then it could be YOUR job to pick up all those pellets!

8. Join The POOP Project on Monday, Dec. 27 at 7:00pm for a hilariously highfalutin reading of Jonathan Swift's 18th century scatological poetry.  Hosted by Swift's Hibernian Lounge.

Wishing you a very happy holiday season and, as always, peaceful pooping!

Shawn "The Puru" Shafner



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