"Over here," the salesman said, understanding my wife's question perfectly, "you can see a top-of-the-line system."
We were in the middle of Remodeling Hell. I had had no idea there were so many decisions that could be made: kitchen cabinets, appliances, countertops, sink, faucets, floors. Wall colors, trim, furniture, accents. Window sizes and trim. Bathroom fixtures. And now: one very specific bathroom fixture.
"This one," he said rather triumphantly, "has the Champion Flush." My wife's question had been whether all toilets flushed the same.
I almost burst out laughing right there. I pictured the day, sometime in the distant future, when the remodel would be done, and I would be boasting of its features. "And the toilet!" I would say. "You should see it!"
I could take people on a tour of the house, complete with demonstration. "Listen to this!" I'd say. "It only uses one point six gallons in less than a second!" Then, like the salesman was doing now, I'd say, "Go ahead, reach under the rim there, feel the size of those holes!" Although since the showroom toilet hadn’t ever processed any actual waste, reaching into it was something we were more comfortable doing.
But even better, I would invite friends over to play with the new toy. "Hey guys, why don't you come over for chili dogs and beer. Then each of us can do a champion flush."
The salesman was a lovely man, knowledgeable, attentive -- but maybe taking his job a bit too seriously. "In tests," he said, "this unit was able to handle 29 golf balls in a single flush." Then he saw the smirk on my face. "I don't know what happened to the 30th," he deadpanned.
When I got home I Googled the phrase "29 golf balls." Sure enough, the first result at the time was the American Standard Champion Flush system. The company was exceedingly proud of its technology. It had trademarked the term “champion” in the context of flushing toilets. It took to the road for live demonstrations, encouraging customers to "Bring the whole family to Flush Fest."
Who could have known that toilet technology would be such a hot topic? In less than two years since my project began, the innovations have flowed even faster: water-saving "green" toilets, toilets with remote controls or automated sensors to raise and lower the lid, and toilets with bidet-like functions to rinse and dry your nether regions.
I can almost picture engineers sitting around their brainstorming sessions. “We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better than it was. Better... stronger... faster.” The Six Million dollar Toilet.
Obviously I have no idea how much such technology costs. But I’ll bet it's worth it. Our lovely salesman informed us that the Champion Flush was something like 30 percent more expensive than the standard technology. And he said they were selling well.
My wife finally convinced me that we didn't really have the budget for a Champion Flush. But weeks later when Greg, our plumber, arrived to install the unit, he told me about a mix-up at the warehouse. "You didn’t order it, but this is actually the top-of-the-line model," he said.
"Not the Champion Flush!"
Now that it’s the distant future and the remodel is totally finished, one of my favorite memories of the entire experience is the look of approval the plumber gave me right then. He knew I knew enough about his job to be up on the latest trends in sustainable toilet technology. It was like having a secret handshake as we said, in unison, “29 golf balls.” And grinned.
John Clayton is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes and flushes in Red Lodge, Montana.