Every day of my life, I thank my lucky stars when I get up, go into my clean bathroom, and take care of business.
Some days of my life, I’m less thankful when I am somewhere where the only “facilities” have no running water. No handle to push. No way to wash my hands.
Of course, with my potty problems, I guess I’m more in tune to toilet issues than most people.
Why am I telling you this? You see, Sunday, November 19, is World Toilet Day. And of course, I’m (1) telling you about it; and (2) celebrating it.
A toilet stands outside the Llamocca family home at Villa Lourdes in Villa Maria del Triunfo on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, October 7, 2015. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
The point of World Toilet Day is actually pretty important. People without access to hygienic facilities risk illness, many women are preyed upon and attacked as they seek out a place to go. Diseases are transmitted, including infections, cholera, well, here’s a picture.
The “F-diagram” (feces, fingers, flies, fields, fluids, food), showing pathways of fecal-oral disease transmission. The vertical blue lines show barriers: toilets, safe water, hygiene and handwashing. Source Wikipedia
Hope you’re not eating.
World Toilet Day is to help the fortunate ones of us around the world realize that:
2.4 billion people around the world don’t have access to decent sanitation and more than a billion are forced to defecate in the open, risking disease and other dangers, according to the United Nations
We in the West are rather spoiled. And the reality of what some folks, many folks must deal with can be eye-opening.
About 25 years ago, my brother Fred got a grant and went to Africa to study something or other. It was his first experience visiting the Third World. When he came back, he talked only about poop.
It seemed that the city he had visited ran with raw sewage. Poop was in the gutters. Children played in those gutters. The sewage ran into the river that was used to irrigate crops.
Piles of poop were everywhere. In the street. Under trees. In the corners of buildings; everywhere, he said. Even inside. Fred described a memorable elevator in the middle of a hotel lobby, that he had seen. The decorative ironwork around the elevator shaft was delicate and beautiful. But the elevator didn’t run — in fact, the elevator itself had been removed. But people would stand with their backs to the elevator shaft, pull down their pants/up their skirts, hang their butts over the open elevator shaft. And they’d poop.
“I realized something incredibly important, “ said my horrified brother:
“Civilization all comes down to what you do with your poo.”
So when you’re thinking about the craziness in today’s world, maybe we all need to realize that part of our problem is that so very many people just don’t have a pot to piss in.
Yup, it’s a rerun. But you didn’t really think I’d miss World Toilet Day, did you?
Yesterday, Tic Tac USA condemned Donald Trump’s use of their products to “score” with women.
Today, I have my own Tic Tac crime to report. I firmly believe that without Tic Tacs, Donald Trump would not be the scumbag he is today.
An International Life of Crime
When we got Cooper in 1998, we owned a Toyota Picnic, a little six seat van not available in the U.S. It was kind of a vomit van, actually, because it was well known to induce vomiting by anyone who traveled with us. We kept a large supply of cleaning supplies with us at all times.
Anyway, I read an article about how, if you stop suddenly, while traveling at 60 mph, a 50 lb Springer Spaniel dog — exactly MY DOG will travel significantly faster as he flies through the car. He will, in fact, become a projectile and might end up killing your kid.
Now I liked the dog a lot even at that early stage. But I didn’t really relish the idea of the dog killing my kid to whom I was quite attached. So, to scorn and jeers from John, I bought Cooper a special doggie seat belt that attached to the seatbelt of the seat behind the driver’s.
Cooper, however, did not approve. I presume I hadn’t adequately educated him on the importance of self-restraint. Because he ate his restraint. In fact, he had started eating the seatbelt too when I realized what was happening and released the rebel. He then happily sat wherever he wanted in the back of the vomit van.
Fortunately, Cooper hadn’t really done much damage to the seatbelt. There were only a few bites taken out of it; it worked perfectly well and was not a safety hazard.
But when we moved across the border into France a couple of years later, well, we had to have the car inspected. And the French car inspectors are famous for flunking Americans. According to my husband, anyway. I faced the villains alone.
Now, before you jump all over my husband for sending me into the lion’s den, well there is something you should know. My husband cannot lie. He cannot stretch the truth. He cannot exaggerate. Worse in this case, he would not have been able to restrain himself from explaining to the inspector that it really was not a safety issue.
Me, well, I’m different. I grew up getting away with high crimes and misdemeanors. I rarely got caught, and when I did, well, I got out of it. I’ve had practice.
So whenever we needed to deal with the French government, well, it was all up to me.
I drove to wherever it was, produced my paperwork, and waited my turn. Truthfully, I was nervous. I didn’t want to have to spend $1 zillion replacing a seat belt (car repairs in Switzerland/France are tres cher). So I fidgeted with the container of mints in my pocket. Tic Tacs.
When my turn came, I was outside with the inspector, chatting to him. He was a young guy, and was nice and helpful as I tried to have a chatty conversation with him in my pigeon French. In fact, he couldn’t have been nicer to me.
Plus, the car was in great shape, clean and nearly perfectly maintained. He found nothing wrong on the outside. Then he opened the front passenger side, and tested the seat belt. He closed the door and went to the rear passenger seat, and tested that one.
I started to sweat. The chewed one was next.
He went around and opened the rear driver’s side door. And that’s when I did it.
“Tic Tac?” I asked him, holding out the container.
“Oui, merci, madame,” he responded, closing that door without looking at the damaged seat belt. He took a Tic Tac, and proceeded to inspect the driver’s seat belt.
My car passed inspection with flying colors.
And I continued to live a life of crime in France, just outside of Geneva for two more years.
This is a replay of an old story. But How could I resist in light of the news about Donald Trump and how he was forced to be a cad and a boor and a truly disgusting human being.
This story kind of haunts me. I change my mind about it all the time. I try to work it out in my mind, but I can never be certain of what really happened. So now I’ll let you think about it, too.
In late June 1998, John, Jacob and I took my Dad, then aged 81, to Normandy, France, to visit the D-Day landing beaches, museums, the works. Dad was a WWII vet – he was in the U.S. Navy during the War, stationed on two different aircraft carriers in the Pacific. He fought in some of the big battles in the Pacific, as a gunner on an SBD Dauntless, a seriously cool little plane.
Dad was always fascinated by the D-Day landings, and he’d always wanted to visit Normandy. The planning, the strategy. The very real possibility that it could have failed. And he had lost friends there. Two of Dad’s closest childhood friends died there, they’d gone ashore at Omaha Beach. So when he came to visit us in Switzerland, we took a road trip.
The folks in Normandy, well, they love Americans. We stayed in Sainte-Mère-Église at a lovely farmhouse on the outskirts of town. The owner of the farm treated Dad like royalty, even though he told her he was fighting in the Pacific. The trip was, my Dad said forever afterwards, one of the highlights of his life.
Now, you know what happened on D-Day. The invasion began when the Allies sent paratroopers into some of the strategic areas slightly inland from the Normandy Beaches they would invade later on that day, on the morning of June 6th. There were many problems with the drops of these paratroopers. Some of the most dramatic stories came from survivors who dropped into Ste. Mère-Église.
You see, that night, June 5/6, there was a fire in the town hall. All the townspeople were out, along with the German occupiers, trying to put out the fire. It spread to several nearby buildings.
Ste Mere Eglise on fire, June 6, 1944. Photo credit: Normandie44canalblog.com\archives
Into the midst of this chaos, American paratroopers fell. Many of them were shot by German troops as they dropped, butchered. Others were caught on trees, on buildings –including John Steele. Steele had parachuted into the middle of town, and his parachute was caught on the church steeple. Steele played dead for many hours, with the church bell ringing in his ear, watching many of his fellow paratroopers die. Steele was memorably portrayed by Red Buttons in the movie The Longest Day.
There are still parachutes on many of the buildings commemorating the landings.
Things changed, the Allies won, the day/night. Ste. Mère-Églisewas the first town liberated by the Allies on June 6, 1944. D-Day. It was a vital victory for the Allies, for the French, and for the world.
John Steele survived and returned to Ste. Mère-Égliseafter the war.He opened up a restaurant that became a huge draw for tourists, including us. Our first night in town, we had reservations. But we were early, and the restaurant wasn’t yet open. So we went to a cafe/bar around the corner to get a drink while we waited for half an hour.
John, Dad, Jacob and I sat at a table, excitedly talking about our tour of the town. Ste. Mère-Église is seriously cool for all ages. There are still parachutes hanging in trees, on buildings. It is still a real town, but it is also a memorial to the men who fought and died there, and a place that welcomes veterans with affection and gratitude. Unlike much of France, the folks in Normandy remember. They made us feel very welcome
So sitting there at the table having a drink, we enthusiastically recounted what we’d seen so far. With two history buffs in the group, Jacob and I learned a lot from John and Dad. Placards explain the events of the night so that it is easily followed. We chatted about the history, explaining more to Jacob. We had seen so much already, and it was only our first night! The next day, we would visit the beaches. We were excited.
A man standing at the bar behind us was pretty excited too. Quite animated, in fact. But perhaps that was just because he had had three or four drinks too many.
“Damn, if I had it to do over again,” blared the drunk American at the bar. He followed it up with a string of obscenities that made my Dad, the sailor, blush. Then the drunk caught sight of me and 7-year-old Jacob. He wandered over to us and offered us his apologies. We politely accepted them. But he didn’t seem to take “no problem” as an answer. He introduced himself as Howard Something-or-other, and stood talking with us about how he had retired to Normandy.
Stupidly, I asked “What brought you to Normandy?”
“Well,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I happened to drop into town one night…”
“Oh, uhh, wow,” I said, looking skeptically between John and Dad. They didn’t seem to believe the guy either.
But Howard proceeded to tell his story:
“Yup,” he said, “I dropped in here one night. I landed in the cemetery over back by the Town Hall, which, as you know, was on fire.”
He continued: “First, I crapped my pants,” he announced, looking straight at my 7-year-old son who was mortified. I was pretty sure we didn’t need to hear that.
“Actually,” he said, “I really lucked out. The cemetery had a tall stone wall around it. And the Germans were occupied with the fire and then with the guys who were dropping into the middle of the town square. Me, I hid behind some gravestones until I realized that, hell, a cemetery is no place to die. So I made my way out, and linked up with my buddies.”
We didn’t believe a word of it. For one thing, the guy looked way too young. Remember, it was 1998, fifty-four years after the Normandy Invasion. Looking at him, I could see Howard couldn’t then have been more than 60 or 65. That put him in grammar school during the War. Besides, there was just something about him. None of us believed him.
Howard was meeting someone, and we had a dinner reservation. So we didn’t pursue his story.
But the next day when we went to buy postcards to send back home, well, we saw something rather surprising: A postcard of Howard Manoian.
Our Howard from the night before. The drunk. The faker. The guy whose heroic WWII story we didn’t believe, and to which we only listened to a bit of, and then only out of politeness.
We felt really stupid at not having tackled the guy and listened to the rest of his story. Peppered him with questions. What a horrible lost opportunity. Imagine, to hear a first-hand account of what happened that night. June 6, 1944.
“Well,” said Dad sadly, “he was a bit of a weirdo.”
* * *
Fast forward to May/June 2009. The Sixty-fifth Anniversary of the Normandy Landings.
A few days before the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, John sent me an interesting email. It was a link to a Boston Herald article that exposed “an American fraud.”
Yup, you guessed it. Our Howard was revealed in the article to have not “dropped into” Ste. Mère-Église, after all. The article claimed that military records stated that instead, Howard was part of the invasion force that landed at Utah Beach.
Even though I hadn’t believed him when he was standing next to me, I was really sad to read the story. Imagine living a lie for all that time. For sixty years. Howard had lived, part-time, in Ste. Mère-Église for decades. He had attended many D-Day ceremonies over those sixty-five years. He had been telling his story, albeit often under the influence, for many, many years.
And so I was sad. Yes, the guy had been “a bit of a weirdo” to quote Dad. And yes, he had been rather inebriated. But was he a fraud? Could “Weird Howard” have been living a lie for all those years? If so, how sad, how pitiful. But how could that happen, I wondered, to tell this lie in a place where veterans of D-Day flock? In a place where, I thought, sooner or later, someone would recognize him?
* * *
In traveling about, and especially visiting many battlefields with John, the history buff, I am often astonished at the images of what soldiers and sailors face in battle. But I have never been anywhere like Normandy.
When you stand on the beaches, you crane your neck to look up the cliffs to and look up at where the troops had to go, the price of what we often take for granted looms out of the ghosts. The cliffs are high, ragged. With no climbing skills at all, I can’t imagine trying to get to the top, much less with guns pointed and firing in my direction. And yet they did. Many died. Many were wounded. Many are still there, buried at the top of the cliffs, overlooking Omaha Beach. I felt an almost religious appreciation for the Greatest Generation‘s sacrifices. There is no physical place that to me represents the ancient struggle of good versus evil. It is awe-inspiring.
And really, it all started in and around Ste. Mère-Église.
* * *
In researching this post, I found conflicting information about Howard. Some folks say Howard was a fraud.
Others, including the French Government believe his story. And at the 65th Anniversary of D-Day, in 2009, the French Government awarded Howard their highest medal, the Legion of Honor for exemplary valor and service, even after the Boston Herald article “exposed him” as a fraud.
Howard in the center at the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings (Google Image)
For the longest time, including when I originally wrote and posted this piece four years ago, I didn’t know what to think.
But today I find it hard to believe that anyone could live such a lie for over 60 years and not be exposed much, much earlier. He told his story over and over, like Mr. Bojangles, for drinks and tips. If he had gone ashore at Utah Beach, he would still qualify as a hero. Was “dropping into” Ste Mere Eglise somehow more heroic?
The folks who fought at Normandy, who fought in Europe and in the Pacific, regardless of in what capacity, division or from which country, well, they are all heroes. They all deserve our thanks.
More practically, the likelihood that Howard would have run into someone who recognized him from that day was pretty high. Folks return. Folks remember. I’m pretty sure at least some would have clear memories of who stood next to them on the landing craft or on a glider soaring silently above Ste. Mère-Église. Of whom they linked up with on the ground.
So in the intervening years, I have thought about Howard quite a bit. I wish we had heard more of his story. I wish, at a minimum, that we had bought him a beer (although he didn’t really need another one). I wish that Howard, who died in 2011, didn’t pass with a cloud over his head.
Today, my son Jacob is taking his very first airplane trip alone. So of course I woke up wondering if John and I had told him everything he needed to know before hand.
It was a very early morning flight, so he’d arranged to stay with a friend near the airport and take a cab from there. When I woke up, I immediately checked up on him. Err, in on him.
He was at the airport in plenty of time, and had even found his gate. But I could feel his eyes rolling from across the miles when I suggested he sit at the gate and not move until they called his flight.
Because once I made the mistake of not doing that …
It was March 31, 1997, and my mother had died the day before. John, Jacob and I picked up my sister Beth who lived not far away, and they dropped the two of us off at National Airport, to take our flight south to Florida to help Dad with the funeral arrangements. To be there with him. John and Jacob would follow in a few days.
“The Terminal is under construction, so leave yourselves extra time to get to the gate,” John warned us as he said good-bye.
Yes, National Airport’s Terminal A was a complete mess. There were barricades everywhere, dust, dirt, grime. The air was thick with it.
We found the US Airways desk conveniently located just outside of an Au Bon Pain.
We got some drinks and sat down at a table. I took a seat facing the US Airways desk, with the information about our flight scrolling across the top.
Like every shy person I’ve ever known when they’re with someone they know, Beth began talking and kept on. She talked about Mom, about being a kid, told stories that I had heard, and ones I hadn’t. It was really wonderful, just sitting there. Neither of us wanted to be going to Florida. Neither of course, wanted to be motherless, either.
I kept looking at my watch, and at the information desk, which kept displaying information about our flight. I was just about to go and check, when the display began giving information about another flight.
“Grab your stuff, Beth,” I said over my shoulder as I headed to the desk to find out what was going on. We hadn’t heard any announcement. Fortunately, Beth was right behind me.
“Ma’m,” I said to one of the two women at the desk, holding out my boarding pass. “What happened to Flight 183 to Ft. Myers?”
“That flight just pulled away from the terminal.”
“NO!!!!!!BRING IT BACK!!!” I shouted, with a voice full of all the pain of my loss, “IT’S FOR MY MOTHER’S FUNERAL!!!!”
I began to sob. Loudly. In the empty airport terminal, my sobs echoed off the ceiling.
“Lease,” Beth said, starting to console me, “It’ll be OK.”
I got what we call the “sup-sups” — where you can’t stop crying, and you can’t quite breathe either. I couldn’t stop.
The clerks looked at one another. One grabbed the phone, the other grabbed my arm and pulled me.
“The gate is down here,” and she ran with me, my sister right behind us.
The gate was, in fact, a long fucking way away. Miles, it seemed. WTF?
We got there just as they had clicked the landing tunnel back into place. They opened the door and we ran down it to the plane.
US Airways had brought the plane back so I could get to my mother’s funeral.
As Beth and I moved down the aisle, I was still trying to catch my breath, still trying to stop crying.
Heads were turning, as the other passengers were trying to figure out just who we were, and why we were important enough to bring the plane back for. (And now doubt that if we were so damn important, why were we in coach.”
But another problem emerged. Someone was in my seat.
There were dozens of seats on the plane. But in my rather frantic state, I wanted my seat.
“There are lots of seats, Lease,” said Beth. “Here, we can sit here. Or here.”
But I made the person move.
Beth sat next to me as I shook and wept the whole trip. “We nearly missed Mom’s funeral,” I said, again and again.
“It’s OK, Lease,” she’d say, shaking her head. “We made it.”
I never got the names of the two US Airways desk clerks who helped us. I did write an incredibly nice letter to the company, though, giving times and flight numbers in the hopes that they learned how much their kindness meant to me.
I’ve always been amazed that a big company, which no doubt faces things like this every day, would demonstrate such kindness.
But Beth said they just wanted to shut me up. And you know, she may have been right.