Saturday 01 Oct 2016

Alimentary
Sjef Frenken

Jack was already sitting down when I arrived at the food court from a hurried shopping trip to Zellers where I'd picked up some requisites for daily living. One of the articles apparently caught Jack's attention.

He said "You've read a lot of travel and adventure books, right?"

I said "Yes, quite a few. Why?"

Jack said "You know how they often go on and on about all the stuff that the travellers have to take with them on their treks -- things like food and rifles, tablets to purify water, booze, medicine, bandages, toothbrushes ... all kinds of things."

I said "Sure. What's your point?"

Jack said "There is one absolutely necessary article that never gets mentioned. Guess which one?"

I said "Tooth picks? Hair brushes? Shot glasses? I give up."

"Toilet paper!" exclaimed Jack triumphantly, causing quite a few heads around us to turn our way with a questioning look in their eyes.

I said "What's so special about toilet paper?"

Jack said "Have you ever tried to wipe yourself with grass, or leaves, or some small furry animal? It's no joke! Imagine having to spend a week in the Sahara with nothing around but sand. Man, if that wouldn't hurt, trust me, it sure would once you'd taken a few steps, if you know what I mean."

Perhaps I should mention again that Jack has done a lot of travelling, and rarely by way of first-class, organized tours. He knows about the hazards of visiting the hinterlands of whatever country he chooses to grace with his presence. Last year he visited Nepal on a walking tour.

"I don't know why the books never mention toilet paper. Especially since it's becoming more and more noticeable."

I said "How do you mean?"

Jack said "When I was in Nepal last year, there was toilet paper strewn all around the walking trails. This is up in the high country, where there aren't many trees -- and what few there were have been cut down for firewood -- only bushes left, and not all that many of those. But wherever we went you could see pieces of toilet paper. I guess people don't like tucking used toilet paper in their backpacks. But it sure added an unpleasant note to the otherwise pristine air and landscape."

I said "Jack, there's just no way we can stop the spreading of the benefits of civilization."

Jack didn't pick up on that subject; he had more important things on his mind. He said "while we're on that topic, you've studied some biology, why do dogs sniff each other's butt, first thing they meet?"

I said "First of all, Jack, I've never studied dogs. But I have asked myself that question many times when I had absolutely nothing better to do, and I've never been able to figure out the answer. What could possibly be the evolutionary benefit of that manoeuvre? I have no idea. I mean if they sniffed each other's snouts, they might find out what they'd eaten recently and the scent could lead them back to food, but sniffing at the other end could only tell them what food had been consumed yesterday, which wouldn't be much help. Maybe dogs can tell by the remnants of the digestive process -- remember dogs don't use toilet paper -- whether the dogs they meet are healthy, and therefore fit for a romantic encounter. Now that would be an evolutionary advantage. But I'm only guessing. It's a mystery to me too."

"Imagine," said Jack, "if people did the same thing! 'Nice meeting you ma'am, could you lift up your skirt and turn around so's we can get better acquainted?' It would sure cut down on the preliminaries!"

I could only shake my head at Jack's way of turning any theoretical consideration to his immediate advantage.

"And another thing," added Jack, "it's a good thing that the digestive tract doesn't operate in reverse."

With that rather bizarre observation we, taking a leaf from the canine world -- although in a more civilized fashion, staked out our claim to our temporary territory by leaving our shopping bags on the table, and proceeded to test the functioning our own digestive tracts by wandering over to Kofax for some Greek food.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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