Full Circle: Life on the edge

Published 10:58 am Saturday, August 11, 2018

Picture this: you are happy as can be, everything in your world copacetic. Then, completely unaware — as if in the grip of a raging tornado — you are stripped down, plucked high in the air, dangled for a brief moment and then plopped down.

You land with a thud on a very cold, very hard, very slippery surface.  Instinctively you reach for something to hold onto. There is nothing. In utter terror you realize you are suspended on a perch with absolutely nothing under you but a great large hole much bigger than your body. Never in your life have you been so afraid. Virginal  muscles, which until now have never been called into action, must hold you tight or you will fall to a certain death.

Your feet, having known only terra firma, are dangling lifelessly over a great white cliff.  Impulsively you lean over the edge and glance down. In disbelief you see there is nothing below but hard, shiny tiles. Furthermore there is no trace of anything that will cushion your fall from this great height.  Utter hysteria courses through your body.

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You reach out to hold onto the cliff edge. Suddenly alarm bells go off as a loud voice shouts that you must never EVER … under threat of dire consequences … touch this germ ridden horror. What to do?  With no hope for rescue, you spread eagle your legs across the chasm and use them to grip the forbidden periphery as tightly as you can. Then you make the biggest mistake of your life: you peer down between your tautly stretched legs to discover you have been deposited over a great sink hole.  Even the slightest movement will result in your disappearing into the unknown beyond.

Until this minute you have never known anything but love. Sure, every now and then you have cried out for food and a wee bit of attention, but other than that your sweet existence has been on the receiving end of never-ending adoration. What has just happened to that life?  And who is the ghoulish, macabre person who forced this trauma upon you?

Peggy Keener


Sitting beside you on the edge of the bathtub, there she is with a look of high expectation on her face. Moreover, she is fervently telling you to do something. What’s she saying?  Relax?  RELAX when you’re about to die from:  No. 1. a blunt trauma fall to the floor or  No. 2. a slip into the depths of a watery pit. Mommy has got to be kidding.

Every fiber of your being is grievously afflicted; your mind a turmoil of incredulity.  Isn’t Mommy the same woman who not long ago gave birth to you?  Okay, okay, so you caused her a world of hurt, but honestly, you didn’t mean to. After all, it was she—not you—who was doing all that gut wrenching pushing. You were just going along for the ride. Moreover, up to now it seemed as if she had forgiven you for those endless hours of wretchedness. Actually she’s been really, really nice to you like she didn’t hold a grudge for all that childbirth nonsense.

But, oh, my, how things have suddenly changed.  Your dirty diapers just hit the fan. Clearly Mommy is getting her revenge. There is a name for this retaliation. It is called “potty training.”  No two ways about it, the look on her face is loud and clear. She means to pay off an old score.

But, but … what about your carefree, let-everything-rip life with Mr. Pampers? Is it over? Time to get real?  For Pete’s sake, life as you’ve known it has just taken on a decidedly serious tone. From now on you are expected to “perform.”  And just what happens when you do? Mommy’s reward is to reach behind you and flip a silver handle causing a Niagara Falls explosion of gushing water that ends in a swirling, sucking tsunami to nowhere.  Hysteria reigns anew.

It’s a pretty sure bet, dear readers, this is the horror that goes through every American toddler’s mind when he is abruptly introduced to the toilet. Thankfully, as adults, we are saved from a lifetime of psychological scarring by blocking out this jolting experience.  But did you know that all children do not have to go through this? My children, for example, never knew this brand of misery because many years ago they were potty trained in Tokyo.  The secret to their success was the benjo: the old style Japanese toilet that is flush (no pun intended) with the floor.

A benjo is an elongated white porcelain basin about two feet long by twelve inches wide.  At the far end the porcelain curves upward into the shape of a deflector, thus keeping the deposits within the vessel. The benjo is sunken into the floor and designed to squat over.  Best of all, the child is in charge when using it.  Never is he/she perched on a tall cavernous mountain of white porcelain, but instead remains securely on the floor, standing upon his/her own two feet. The only thing a boy must do is work on his aim.  For a girl—it will come as no surprise to learn—it is more problematic. She must master the squat … without falling in.

Attached to the wall, built into the top of the benjo, is the world’s smallest sink, no larger than a shallow soup bowl.  Fresh water for hand washing flows from its miniature faucet.  Then that same water drains into the benjo’s holding tank and used for the next flush.  The economy is startling simple, the efficiency masterful.

In 1962, our first Japanese home had a very small room dedicated to housing only the benjo.  Toilet training our two young boys was a breeze.  Even, when in desperation they rushed in at the last moment, they could simply aim for the room.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because later washing down the tiled walls of the dinky enclosure was a cinch, and with practice they both quickly mastered their focus. Sounds messy, I know, but it really wasn’t. And, best of all, everyone’s mental health stayed intact. For our boys, life on the edge did not exist.  Sayonara Curity diapers.  Hello undies.