Sunday, October 18, 2009

COLUMN: This column gives you the straight poop

I received an e-mail this week that started, “Hello Peter. Two advanced biofuels companies are announcing today that they can turn poop into petrol, and I thought you’d want to know about it.” My first thought in response to this was: Apparently my reputation has preceded me.

So how is it that I was the one who got flagged as the resident poop correspondent? If anything, I’ve been notoriously anti-poop — scour my published works and I guarantee you will find them almost exclusively poop-free. Taken as a whole, my body of work would seem to indicate a massive poop cover-up.

Granted, the minute kids enter your life becoming a poop denier becomes much harder — first when they’re babies and you find yourself praying that the bulk of the pooping will happen when you’re at work, and even worse during the potty-training stage, when you spend your days following your child around looking for any outward sign that it might be time to find a rest room — they’re like a tiny, poop-filled explosive device ready to go off at any moment.

One thing I didn’t anticipate, though, is how significantly the word “poop” would figure into my son’s vocabulary long after the potty-training stage was behind us. Turns out that to an 8-year-old boy, “poop” is the ideal expression: It works as a noun, a verb, an adjective and, of course, an interjection. Ask any 8-year-old and he’ll cite the word’s versatility, its utility and its sheer elegance, mainly by yelling “Poop!” at the top of his lungs.

All that is fine (I guess), but what bothers me is that somewhere along the line, poop went mainstream. Take the aforementioned biofuels companies, Qteros and Applied Clean Tech, which apparently spent six years developing their integrated sewage recycling solution: “We ate, slept and breathed poop for six years!” they declared. Well, they didn’t say that exactly, but it seems to be what they’re trying to get across.

And granted, it sounds like a pretty good idea — making electricity out of “recyliose,” an element extracted from human wastewater, in an effort to make the environment cleaner and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Even Republicans should be able to get behind this idea, given what they seem to think people who believe in global warming are full of.

There’s not just that, though: A Google search on “poop” turns up more than 1,000 current news stories, including one about the growing problem in Florida of manatee poop (otherwise know as “reason No. 5,674 not to live in Florida”), the popularity of elephant poop among gardeners and the disturbing tale of radioactive rabbit poop found around a nuclear waste dump in Washington state. Presumably this means there are also radioactive rabbits, which scientific experience would indicate are probably 40 feet tall and capable of breathing nuclear fire from between their nubby little front teeth.

Even the Ig Nobel awards, the much-less-serious answer to the Nobel Prize sponsored by the Annals of Improbable Research, spotlighted a poop-related development. Apparently, researchers in Japan found out that panda poop can break down bacteria, as long as you’re willing to slather it all over your kitchen, which of course doesn’t seem like a much better alternative. This is what scientists refer to as “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” although instead of “bathwater” they say “panda poop.”

(Incidentally, these same awards honored the invention of a bra that doubles as a gas mask — actually two gas masks — which you have to admit could come in handy, especially if you happen to work in the recyliose plant.)

In short, there’s poop everywhere you turn, and I’ve decided to do something about it. It’s time we got back to the days when we pretended that unpleasant bodily functions didn’t exist — the days when there were no children’s books about gas-passing, and cartoons featured good, old-fashioned dwarves, not flatulent rodents.

I plan to begin by banning the word in my house, in exchange for something more socially acceptable, like “horsefeathers.” It’s a long shot, yes, but I figure I’ve got to start somewhere, and who knows? If I’m successful you may never have to open the newspaper and see the word “poop” again.

Er … After today.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

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