Not in the Night Soil Business

Dearest Rachel –

Leave it to the Victorians to come up with such a quaint and pleasant-sounding term for a decidedly unpleasant job dealing with decidedly unpleasant material. In the days before indoor plumbing was common, human waste was removed from the privies and cesspools of urban dwellings and transported out of the city by members of a profession known as the “night soil men.” The name comes from the fact that these men operated under cover of darkness (sometimes even by law) so that the ‘civilized’ urban society of the day was not required to deal with the fecal matter they produced.

In many cities, the waste was carted off to be used as fertilizer on country farms, which we today might applaud as being eco-friendly, although it might be argued whether the Victorian diet was in fact suitably nutritious to use for agricultural application. Not always, however: less scrupulous night soil men might simply dump their putrefying cargo in the nearest water source, be it river or lake, causing further health hazards (like cholera, to name but one) to cities they served, and in some cases even going so far as to interfere with commerce and transportation, as local piers would eventually become too shallow for boats to moor, as the waste piled up beneath the surface of the water.

It wasn’t until the latter half of the 19th century, when men like Thomas Crapper – yes, he was a real plumber and inventor, although not of the flush toilet itself, but a number of improvements to make it more effective and economical on a mass scale – brought indoor plumbing to the masses (thereby proving himself quite worthy of honor, although the ‘honor’ he received of having the unit named after him, even colloquially, seems a bit… dubious), and cities realized that it would be in their best interests of themselves and their inhabitants to construct municipal sewer systems, that the occupation faded away into the obscurity of history.

All of which this must leave you wondering, what sort of an introduction is this, and what is he about to be talking about? Ahem. Yes, well… this is another one of those essays that I keep trying to steer myself away from, but I can’t seem to help myself. After all, there’s nothing like a longstanding holiday that suddenly we’re not supposed to be celebrating – for various reasons that I’m about to go into – that brings out the angry rant in me.

As far as I can see, it seems that we as a nation have been fed enough BS this past year to fill all the bullrings in Spain. And I mention the fact that the night soil industry is no longer a thing because, since we are not in that business, we are under no obligation either to take any of that crap, or to give a crap about it.

Let’s start with the more reasonable call for us to shut down Independence Day celebrations: you were already gone by the time J.R. Ewing, excuse me, Biden, leaned into his microphone, and whispered to us all, as if telling us a pleasant bedtime story, that if we were good little boys and girls, and everyone got their shots, we might, just might, be allowed to have small get-togethers by this point in the year.

Look, I’m not averse to vaccinations. I still remember Stan Freberg’s United States of America, wherein King Ferdinand asks Christopher Columbus if he’s had his shots before embarking on his trip to discover the New World. Upon Chris declaring the affirmative, the king responds with “Permission… grrranted.” It was not a controversial issue then, and shouldn’t be controversial now. For my part, I’ve had the jabs, and I feel fine (although Daniel insisted on affixing a magnet to my arm, and was actually surprised when it immediately fell off *sigh*). I’m looking forward to getting back into life, and if this moves me closer towards that goal, I don’t really have a problem with it as such.

But I don’t mind telling you, I think it rankles a lot of people – including myself – to bed be told by our supposed moral and intellectual betters in the ruling class that we might be permitted to do something, especially for the likes of Independence Day. Think about it: this holiday is specifically about our freedom to do as we please (for better or worse, as Americans can be idiots sometimes, let’s face it) and to be told what we can or cannot do for this day in particular… well, the optics are just atrocious. I just weighed in about the phrase “abundance of caution” yesterday, so I see no reason to belabor that point, but you understand where I’m coming from. Certainly over the course of the last year, you and Daniel began to come around my point of view, to the point where – and I’ve said this before, but it never ceases to amaze me – I went from being the most conservative to the most liberal member of our family without changing my point of view. So there’s all of that.

And now that I have mentioned the concept of liberal versus conservative, let’s move on to the other reason we’re apparently not supposed to be celebrating this weekend. Namely, the fact that our country is evidently a horrible, terrible, very bad, no good, systemically racist institution, utterly devoid of any value and unworthy of celebration, and those that have the temerity to do so are horrible, awful people who should be castigated, flagellated, mutilated, and expelled from polite society – after said society has (politely, of course) meted out the aforementioned sentences upon them.

It does occur to me that the promulgators of this new doctrine of America would probably be most useful deployed in the neighborhood of McAllen, Texas, or some other such border town. There, they could preach to their hearts’ content to the Mexicans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and people of – as I understand it – some 150 other countries trying to sneak across the Rio Grande into this country. “Don’t come here, you foolish people!” they could announce. “Don’t you realize how awful this place is, and how horrid the people are here? Go back to your own country, where things are so much better, and people aren’t nearly as terrible and racist!” If you ask me, that would solve two problems at once. It would keep these doctrinaires busy, and reduce the immigration crisis-that-isn’t-a-crisis, all at once.

Not that I truly believe that people from any country other than ours would buy any of that for even a hot moment. Nor do I believe that those who preach this false gospel (that’s not the word I want to use here; gospel literally means ‘good news’ – what’s the Greek for bad news?) would be willing to do this, as there’s no money in it for them.

In fact, some of these preachers can’t possibly believe the things that they’re saying. If I understand correctly, the problem with everything and everyone in this country is racism. And white people, but I repeat myself. Because white people are immutably, irrevocably and irredeemably racist. They cannot be changed, they cannot be corrected, and they cannot improve themselves. By virtue of their skin color, they – we – are pure evil. And yet, some of them I was voices promoting this doctrine are for some reason white. By rights, if I understand what they’re saying correctly, what they want to be doing (if they want to do the world a favor) is something along the lines of the Judean People’s Front:

Again, they won’t. They don’t really believe it, and they’re making bank on it.

All of which is actually making me somewhat ashamed of this country, or at least half the population within it. Because while we pride ourselves on this being the “land of opportunity,” and people are entitled to make money however they choose to, the fact that people do so off the backs of suckers doesn’t really sit well with me. Oh, the suckers are meant to be taken advantage of, I suppose, but the fact that there are such suckers among us that are buying into this, strikes me as terribly embarrassing for this nation of ours. It’s a reminder of the old adage that, as dumb as the average American is, his very existence is a reminder that half the population is dumber than that. It blows my mind that some of these things are now considered bad things all of a sudden:

Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American Heritage and Culture – sorry, but this was the largest image I could find at this point, since they took the original down a while back; I wonder why?

These are, according to our moral and intellectual betters, values associated with white culture, and therefore racist and evil.

For my part, I intend to ignore all this talk the best I can. I’m going back to the village carnival jamboree later this weekend, I’m going to visit a family that invited us over to celebrate the Fourth with them (its actually on the third, but you know, that’s Sunday, so… there are other, more important things to do that day), and I intend to enjoy myself, regardless of what my so-called bettors insist I do.

Because, as I continue to remind myself, the night soil industry is not a thing anymore. And we are not obligated to pretend that we are part of it, now or anytime in the future.

You know honey, I never got to thank you for patiently listening to me as I rant like this. As I do all too often, I wish you were still here, for all manner of reasons. Not least of which is the fact that now, by not having you – or someone like you – to talk to, I find myself compelled to spill my guts to the entire Internet, which may not be the wisest course of action for me. But I’ve got to say it as it comes to me, or it will drive me crazy.

Thanks for keeping me sane all those years. Wish me luck going forward.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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