Gerry sighed and gazed at the clock in his dorm room. He’d already visited the bathroom for himself and three of the professors on his client caseload. It was four o’clock in the morning, and this term paper was due by nine thirty. If he didn’t drink any water then he would only be interrupted by the needs of his clients, and he might be able to save his college career from yet another failing grade. Might. He was the first in his family to go to university—he wanted this so much. Gerry took a deep breath and tried to believe in himself, then shook out his fingers. Time to hustle.
Prof. Daniel Johnson
The Economics of Waste Sharing
Perhaps it was in caveman times when man first discovered he could borrow or withhold his waste products, sharing them with other men. It must have seemed like magic that he could transfer the urine from his own bladder into the bladder of his fellow caveman. As for excrement, how novel to be able to foist off the burden of constipation or diarrhea upon your enemy! There are cave paintings in both France and Latvia (Lam, 2014) depicting what might be urinary exercises, with men pissing in a circle. But the true economics of waste sharing did not evolve for tens of thousands of years.
It is in artifacts that we seek early confirmation, and these are mostly found in middens. Indeed, for ancient cities such as those in Turkey or Greece the larger latrines tend to be located in particular sections of an urban area (Patel & Tinkle, 2008). We assume these were in the poorer quarters, for the other artifacts found in these areas do not indicate wealth. In Pompeii, the discovery of pissing pots in the houses of lower-status individuals points to waste sharing as a means of economic trade (Thompson, 2011).
Apart from the physical evidence, there are classical literary references throughout the ancient world, from Socrates to Virgil.
“Anybody can become pissy,” Aristotle wrote. “Yet it is not within anyone’s power to pay the piss away.”
It was in Medieval Times when waste sharing was truly formalized in an economic fashion. It was said that lords and ladies never urinated nor evacuated their own bowels, from infancy to the grave. It was then that common surnames such as, “Latrineson,” “Bowelman,” and “Garderobe,” became common (Simon, 1996). Just as a man named Fisher would work in a boat and repair his nets, and just as a Smith would heat iron at the forge, Latrineson would be the biological recipient of other people’s waste products.
It is clear that serfs did the excreting while lords made the decisions, as social structures were unquestionable during the Dark Ages. Yet Renaissance greats and the thinkers who followed frowned upon such rigid caste lines (Kramer & Asswipe, 2019). Philosophers such as Rene Descartes reflected, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you piss as far as possible in all things.” He was not alone in his disdain for the rich to foist their undesirable urges upon the poor. Thomas Hobbes wrote, “There is no such thing as perpetual tranquillity of the buttocks while we live here; because life itself is but a golden fountain, trickling down, and can never be without desire, nor without its unfortunate brown smear.” Thus it is clear that waste management had become fodder for the philosophical man, not the slobbering, beset poor.
The Royal Science Academy in Great Britain during the 17th century conducted many experiments on waste sharing, which led directly to its use in warfare and colonialism (insert citation here, OMG so tired). Dark Africa became darker with excrement, and even those Europeans who proudly bore waste-related surnames looked down upon them. Perhaps it is in the slavery of American South and Caribbean, though, which—
“Goddamn it,” Gerry muttered, waddling with bowed legs toward the bathroom. “What, again? I don’t get paid enough to deal with this. Ugh, what did Professor Johnson have for dinner, roofing nails? Shit.”
Tre Luna is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. In October of 2021 he had a short story accepted by the anthology Nightmare Fuel by the Sci-Fi & Fantasy Writers Guild in partnership with Cloaked Press, and in December 2021 he had a poem published by The Spotlong Review. Last summer his non-fiction essay, “Love, Loss and Mandarin Orange Chicken: How I Broke Up With Trader Joe’s” was published by the non-profit NeuroClastic. His blog can be found at panfae.medium.com, and his Twitter handle is @TreLuna5.