There is no more vile household tool than the toilet plunger. Not just because of what it physically does and what it sloshes through during its work, but because of what it seems to imply: “John has a digestive system that plugs up the plumbing.”
In truth, my apartment’s biggest flaw is its lack of hardy flush power. It doesn’t take very much at all to stop the outflow dead in its tracks. Blow your nose and flush the Kleenex at your own risk.
As a result, it’s close at hand in my bathroom. And trust me, even the daintiest of houseguests has uttered an embarrassed “Oh” and put the tool into use. (Another unfortunate flaw is the paper thin wallboard that allows me to hear the “oh” and other sounds that are really meant to be private… Hint to visitors - the faucet is nice and loud and can drown out most noises.)
So there the plunger sits, right there in plain sight. All I have to do is look at it, and I’m forced to scrub myself head to toe with bleach and antibacterial gel.
The house I grew up in, however, must have had industrial strength suction in its bathroom facilities. I don’t recall ever needing to use a plunger. Not once. And I do remember flushing entire rolls of toilet paper, just because as a 5-year-old I thought it was fun.
We did have a plunger, though. It was part of a gag gift my parents had received; a plastic parking meter that was a piggy bank. It was called the “John Timer.” The post on which it was attached was actually a plunger.
As I child, I was unaware that John was a name for a toilet. All I knew it was my name. I also didn’t recognize the plunger for what it was. To me, it was a giant suction cup with a long wooden handle. Like other suction cups, the best way for it to get a firm grip on the wall or a window was to have its rim moistened. The whole contraption was a big toy.
Others didn’t see the fun. There was one cocktail party at which I turned my parents’ friends gray. I marched through the crowd, licked the plunger rim, and then stuck it on the wall of the living room. I still remember the shrieks of disgust.
Really, it had never been used.
I do worry that I may have played with plungers at friends’ homes, also thinking they were big lickable rubber toys.
Just the thought makes me want to gargle more of that antibacterial gel.