Wiping B.C. (Before Charmin)
Humanity hasn't always had toilet paper. It's only recently in our history that we've been able to wipe in colored, scented, quilted, two-ply comfort. Toilet paper didn't really hit the masses' asses until the late 19th Century; before then, according to ToiletPaperWorld.com, people were likely to use anything from sheep's wool to snow to the ol' stinky southpaw to buff their bums.
This PoopReporter recently accepted an assignment with a retro rear-end quality to it. Put succinctly: our fearless leader (not so fearless that he wouldn't assign this project instead of doing it himself!) asked me to review the wiping effectiveness of various items that were employed by the general public before the advent of ordinary TP. After much deliberation, the eight retro items chosen for review were: a corncob, Sears catalogue pages, an old sock, a finger and water, an old newspaper, smooth rocks, the green leaves of summer and, for the finale, a vinegar-soaked sponge. I feel that some measure of human progress allows me to fairly dismiss considering rope, hemp, burlap and rough-edged rocks as too abrasive and potentially painful to experiment with. (Can you say "Ouch?" I thought you could.)
To ensure parity of testing conditions, I needed to make sure that every wiping substitute had the same type of turd to contend with. So, as a control, I used the scientific method: every day during the test period, I took the same nutritional regimen. Orange juice and mineral water to drink; applesauce, raisins, turkey hash with red onions, diced tomatoes, chilis, banana slices and vitamin supplements to eat. On a daily basis, this diet produced a consistently firm -- but not rock hard -- six- or seven-inch turd that was softer at one end and arrived right on schedule during my usual naked morning crap at home. In the course of my experiment, I attempted to wipe as I normally do: standing up and facing the bowl, pulling apart my left ass cheek with my left hand as I wipe with my right.
I ate an ear of corn (the one addition to the nutritional regimen posted above), and then microwaved the cob for about a minute and left it out on the kitchen counter overnight to dry. The next morning it was completely dry, but not overwhelmingly stiff, as I took it with me into the bathroom.
During wiping, I inserted the cob into my ass crack with my right hand and twirled the area around the tip several times slowly. It felt surprisingly soft; and when I extracted it, the entire lower third was a solid brown color. I carefully inserted it a second time, twirling it slowly once again -- this time, closer to the middle of the cob. There was still a small amount of fecal material remaining, but the first two passes had absorbed nearly all of it.
Overall, the cob was reasonably absorbent. As a checkup measure, I did a quick pass with toilet paper after I was finished. I found almost no shitstain to speak of.
VERDICT: Corncobs are a viable option, if there are dried corncobs lying around or prepared for this purpose. The problem is they don't grow on trees if you're caught outdoors; but our pioneer ancestors had the right idea keeping a supply of them in the outhouse.
SEARS CATALOGUE PAGES
Going out to the local Sears store to pick up a catalogue, it took all the control I could muster not to reveal my purpose. I was sorely tempted to blow the salesman's mind by saying: "Could I have one of your catalogues, please? I'm not interested in buying anything, I just want to wipe with it!" But my saner side prevailed, and I merely thanked him when he handed it over.
...but would you wipe with it?
My, how times have changed! The Sears Catalogue is no longer one big, anvil-like tome. Now, it's divided into two separate publications -- one of which concentrates on Craftsman Tool kits, benches and the like; and the other focusing on clothing of all kinds. Being a guy, I decided to use the Craftsman pages to wipe -- it just seemed like the macho thing to do. I tore four pages ripped out of the catalogue, ripped them in half, folded those halves again and then wiped with them as flat, quartered squares. The stock on which the Craftsmen products appear is neither the pulp newsprint kind nor the slick National Geographic variety, but somewhere in-between.
The modern Sears Catalog is grossly ineffective for wiping from any standpoint you choose. The first two squares I used collected a lot of softer crap; but the odor (upon inspection at a modest distance) was very objectionable. Six squares later, there were still smudges, and still a lot of odor. This time, the quick follow-up toilet paper produced a substantial amount of muted asswipe.
VERDICT: Sears Catalogue pages completely lack absorbency, and your bunghole gets very sore after all those ass passes with something so stiff. This couldn't have been any easier or more effective for previous generations; in many cases, it must have been the best they could do.
AN OLD SOCK
A worn-out white ankle sock, to be specific. It was a very pleasant experience. I was able to insert the sock into my crack using my fingers as a pressure point behind the fabric. A modest brown circle or spot resulted. A second penetration produced a fainter circle. A third produced nothing, and a follow-up toilet paper wipe was spotless. The sock was far more absorbent than the catalogue pages, and somewhat more absorbent than the corncob.
VERDICT: If you can truly spare the sock, this is not a bad wiping alternative. There is a lot of surface to work with. I suppose you could wash one that you intended to reuse, but -- ewww!, on principle.
FINGER AND WATER
This was the option to which I was least looking forward. Just because I'm well known as a Shameless PoopReporter doesn't mean I enjoy putting my finger in my poop. This was the only experiment in which I did not stand -- instead, I squatted in the bathtub with a bowl of water to handle any messy eventuality. This technique was not much different than many people's morning tradition of jumping into the shower after pooping and just reaching down there -- except they get to use soap, of course. I used my right index finger and scooped out my crack as best I could, then dipped the finger into the bowl of water and rubbed it thoroughly with my thumb. A bit of residue floated to the bottom and slightly discolored the water.
...but would you wipe with it?
Two passes later, my finger was clean, so to speak, though it did not smell too good; and the water was somewhat murky.
VERDICT: Fingers and water will certainly swab the poop deck, but the concept may be distasteful to some; and without a bit of soap for a wash-up, the process will turn you into that infamous James Bond villain, Stinkfinger.
AN OLD NEWSPAPER
Next to corncobs and the old Sears catalogue, I'll wager this was the item many people used most often in the turn-of-the-century outhouse. As with the catalogue, I tore a newspaper page in half, folded it into fourths, folded the fourths into squares and then wiped with them. Absorbency was greater than with the catalogue pages, but less than with the corncob. There was some odor and a lot of smearing, as a final toilet paper check-up revealed.
VERDICT: You are just as likely to get ink on you as poop off you. Absorbency is the issue here. You'd do better to use the newspaper for reading purposes.
I have some rounded marble chips of various sizes as landscape accents around my backyard deck. I lifted a few and took them into the bathroom with me.
...but would you wipe with it?
Absorbency, of course, is not a factor with rocks. The aim here is to use them as scraping devices, much as you would your finger. Therein lies the problem: you can only do so much clean-up scraping, although you can get the major muck out of the way. There's just no way that you can totally get rid of that final fecal film that coats your asshole -- and my checkup TP wipe proved it. (Do you suppose cavemen used rocks, or went au naturel après poop?)
VERDICT: By using rocks as scraping devices first and then dipping them in water as a follow-up second might just pass inspection. It avoids direct finger contact, at least.
THE GREEN LEAVES OF SUMMER
I picked several handfuls of leaves off the Bartlett pear tree in my front yard and pressed them into duty as wiping warriors. I had to bunch and layer them together, fanning them out a bit like a hand of cards in order to get any surface and substance out of them. They did a passable -- but hardly exemplary -- job of crap clean-up combat in that formation. As you might expect, absorbency was again a problem, as was smearing; there was no way they could completely vanquish the vile enemy.
(As a boy, incidentally, I was able to observe my brother using dried fall leaves to wipe himself during an emergency outdoor crap. The problem there was that the more brittle leaves tended to crumble, leaving an ass-residue -- as he confided in me later, when he had a chance to use actual toilet paper -- resembling peanut butter and Frosted Flakes.)
VERDICT: Leaves are truly a last resort. There's no absorbency, and you can't really bear down all that hard and scrape the way you can with rocks, unless you can get hold of a stiff magnolia leaf or two. And if you are careless and pick out the wrong leaves, you could be sticking poison oak or poison ivy up your ass, which is just itchin' for trouble.
VINEGAR-SOAKED SPONGE ON A STICK
I saved this one for the 'serious' finale because these devices were both used in ancient Roman toilets and were mentioned as implements used to torture Christ during his crucifixion. I purchased the closest thing to what might the Romans might have had (a small loofah sponge) and soaked it in some white vinegar I had on hand in the pantry. As with the Sears catalogue, I felt slightly subversive purchasing something in the Wal-Mart cosmetics department that I actually intended to wipe my ass with.
...but would you wipe with it?
The vinegar-soaked sponge was a pleasant experience. Absorbency was high during several passes, and the vinegar completely masked any unpleasant fecal odors. I had steeled myself for possible stinging, but there was none. The check-up wipe revealed a spotless sphincter.
VERDICT: I am now wondering why the manufacturers of the fussier brands of toilet paper don't inject vinegar, rather than lotion or aloe vera, into their products. I felt extremely refreshed after this technique.
While all of these options will do in a pinch -- and while some acquit themselves surprisingly well in the wiping wars -- ordinary toilet paper is still a technological triumph. For the proof, I only need point out that I used it as the backup mechanism to determine just how effective the other methods were. Even something as advanced as a bidet -- a water-driven cleaning device --- relies on toilet paper for that final 'flush of confidence.' Leave rocks and leaves for wilderness survival fanatics and reality show contestants; I'll keep squeezing my Charmin.