Yes, I Said We Blew Up The Toilet

Herein lies a tale that has been told to death, with sound and fury, with not but a little embellishment. It behooves me, however, to record it in text form, in all its shining porcelain glory, for the ages or at least until the WordPress server crashes and we lose all this crap. As I enjoy showing my lack of wit though lack of brevity, I will start the story well before the legendary events were even a flicker in the cold black heart of Knaus.

The prime benefit to moving up from Schoellkopf to our new digs at Goodyear was the presence of a bathroom directly accessible from inside the room. This, by the way, could also be seen as a detriment as it connected us to our counterparts in the adjacent suite who enjoyed breaking in to watch TV, steal food and beer, or make out with their gay boyfriends on my bed. In all due fairness, I used the easy access myself to also steal beer and superglue pennies to JPs table. Nevertheless, it was boon more than a curse the majority of the time. While the suites themselves were the stars of many a fine shenanigan that epic year, the bathroom had its own moments to be remembered.

The first memorable item worth recalling was the time Knaus, apparently bored of the program we were watching (likely Bladerunner for the 324th time), got up and disappeared into the bathroom. While in there for a good 45 minutes we could hear some amount of straining and grunting and no doubt assumed it was the product of an enormous portion of rice and cheese avoiding expulsion. Perhaps as well he finally got around to tackling the blocked sink that housed burnt up papers and such? We lacked the courage to ask. Sometime later he emerged, a cold sweat upon his face, and plopped down on the bed. Although I had to pee something fierce, no force on heaven and earth could get me in there until some time had passed. A little while later Aaron looked over a Paul, intently watching Rutger Hauer doing his shtick. “Paul! When did you get an earring?” Knaus shot back an annoyed look. “What do you think I was doing in the bathroom all that time?”

The penultimate memoir occurred sometime later, in the last throws of winter. It began as a usual dust up for some slight, real or imagined, and an excuse to take up arms. I can’t recall how it happened, but somehow Aaron got locked in the bathroom between the two rooms and somehow finally convinced JP to set him free. Knaus, tired of the game, decided to lock them both out of our room. In protest, JP unraveled a coat hanger and jabbed it wildly underneath the bathroom door into our room. This ineffective ploy could have been easily thwarted by simply ignoring it, but Knaus, deeply offended by the incursion of the bit of wire into our room, made a grab for it. JP thrust at just the wrong time, and Knaus recoiled. There was blood on his hand and murder in his eye.

In a silent rage, he pushed past me and grabbed a coffee can with still a quarter inch of grounds on the bottom. To this, he added generous portions each of his myriad hair care products, spray deodorant; toothpaste, shaving cream, and the crème de la crème, a large yellow loogie, the kind only a heavy smoker can produce. I knew his intention, and may I be forever damned for it, kept silent and was glad he wasn’t pissed at me this time. Charging over, he flung open the bathroom door. By some degree of intuition, Aaron and JP decided to retreat from their position mere seconds from that moment and we only saw the door closing and clicking locked. Knaus never bothered to knock, but handed me the can.

He went to work on the lock itself, attempting to coax it open with a credit card, and failing. I believe JP or Aaron must have been holding the button down as this was the only time I ever saw Knaus defeated by such a simple device. He darted back in to the room and returned with a hammer and chisel. My God, I thought, he’s going to chisel his way though the wood! No, he went to work on the hinges, methodically banging away, removing the first and second pin with ridiculous ease. On the third pin he turned to me. “When the door comes down, you throw” While I have always held that those who offer the defense that they were only following orders failed the test of courage, at that moment I understood them. The door came down and I sprang though. I turned to my right, and there was Aaron, eyes wide with alarm. I turned to my left to JPs combative leer and let loose the cannon of slop with all my might. He cried out in rage, but I was already back though the door and into safety. I went to high five Knaus on a mission well executed, but his anger had not yet extinguished. He brushed by me in his dark long coat and was out the door to be seen no more that night.

Eventually thing settled down and we rolled into a spring full of plenty of fine adventures that will be recounted another time. By some miracle we survived the experience and were preparing for finals one gorgeous morning in early May. I had a Genetics final that afternoon and had grown tired of studying and was seeking other forms of entertainment. JP was in a similar mood and we decided to harangue Knaus into doing something cool to photograph. Several weeks prior, he got some spectacular shots of Dave igniting steams of spayed Thrust™ in the bathroom. We felt this could be topped with a vengeance. I don’t know who first ventured the idea, but it was spoken. “Wouldn’t it be cool to get pictures of the toilet on fire?” An idea such planted, no matter of what dubious artistic merit, begged to be grown into fruition.

Knaus prepped his camera, an archaically complex device requiring much attention, while JP and I sought flammable substances that would float on the waters’ surface. We settled on the many bottles of rubbing alcohol purchased to remove the graffiti war between Aaron and JP, as well as the famous container of charcoal starter pilfered and imbibed by Knaus earlier that year. Aaron, content to lay on his bed and chat on the phone, declined to participate in the grand experiment. Book of matches in hand, JP did the honors. The first few flicked into the bowl did no good, but eventually one took and we had a beautiful blue flame licking up from the bowl. In the dark the scene was ethereal; it was as if the ghost of Arthur Goodyear himself was taking an ectoplasmic dump in our very own commode. Knaus furiously snapped pictures before the flame extinguished itself. No worry there, for moments later the charcoal starter, finally warmed by the burning alcohol, ignited.

Where the alcohol burned in a pale, smokeless way, the starter burned in bright orange and emitted a thick pungent black smoke that immediately filled the bathroom and bedrooms, setting off the smoke detector as rapidly as had ever been done. Panicked, we looked to each other and saw only the same clueless look reflected back. In a moment of clarity, I pulled the door to the toilet shut in hopes it would burn itself out. Mere seconds after doing so, however, we heard a large splintering crack, like the bow of the Titanic kissing the iceberg unleashing a wave of destruction. In this case the wave was fire, floating on the surface of a gush of water that came shooting out from under the door, setting alight the door itself, the vanity cabinet, my room door, and the hair on JPs yet unshorn legs. The smoke by then had hit the hallway, rapidly making its way down the corridor, heedless of the shrieking alarms being set off in its wake.

I turned to Knaus and found that he as well had taken to the hallway, somewhat slower than the smoke, sauntering casually toward the dayroom. JP, in the mean time, turned on the sink and was splashing water out, serving the flaming chemicals well in their quest to further expand their domain. A few minutes later Knaus came walking back, this time with a fire extinguisher in hand. He had walked you see, to avoid causing any further panic that the smoke and alarms may have ignited, and perhaps to allow enough time to read the instructions as well. Pulling the pin, he unleashed a volley of the dry white stuff, putting out our quickly charring woodwork. Thrusting open the toilet door, he fired first before looking, and when the smoke finally cleared, there in dozens of shards both large and small, lay the remains of our dear dead porcelain god.toilet1

By now Aaron had decided that the commotion was due cause to put to an end his idle chit chat and joined us as we gazed agape at the carnage before us. My mind furiously went to work. With some glue, some newspaper and some white paint, we could construct a reasonable facsimile from the broken shards. True, it would not be usable, but it would be enough to pass inspection. My dreams were dashed as Knaus sighed and announced his intention on calling the campus security. “Yes, my name is Paul Knaus and I need to report a fire. … 709 East Goodyear…. No, it’s out now, but… No, it’s worse than you think…. Because the toilet blew up… Yes, I said the toilet blew up… Really… OK, we’ll be here.” He then explained to us that they would be coming by to verify the claim and that we should stay put.

It occurred to us that the UB housing authority might not look favorably on the fact that we in fact, with purposeful and retarded intention, initiated the sequence of events and guided them to the point of no return. Whether one of us had heard the urban legend about the exploding toilet or not, we came up with a remarkably similar story (I verified that the legend existed prior to us and we can’t take credit for it’s spawning) wherein we were foolishly dumping chemicals in an effort to clean the room when JP came though and casually flipped a lit cigarette into the bowl. We went to far as to pick though the rubble, remove the matches and inset a soggy butt for veracity. Knaus, by the way, held firm to this version so tightly that even in our last meeting, over 10 years from this event, he steadfastly insists it is indeed the truth. Our toilet story agreed upon, I sat at my desk to study, ignoring the cloying smoke and piercing alarms, as I was in shock and my final was only 3 hours away.

The inability to breath finally drove us from the rooms and we sat, lined up in the hallway, like weary war veterans. The first to come by was our resident advisor, Jason. He was a perpetually happy individual, a proud member of the Campus Crusade for Christ, and laughed his ass off when he saw what we had done. Next came the cops in their serious starched uniforms. “Want to tell us what happened?” We did. They looked at us incredulously. I thought we were busted. “Why don’t you let us take a look.” as if we may have been mistaken and the toilet was pristine and whole. I expected the worst as they entered, but instead, they turned and looked at each other, then burst into laughter until the tears ran freely. “Man, no one is ever going to believe this! These guys actually blew up their toilet!” They took our official false statement and spared us lecture as payment for the story they now could come home with. Tony, the building super, also came by to laugh and verify beyond reasonable doubt, they we had firm plans for off campus housing the following year.

Our final visit was from a close approximation to Fire Marshall Bill, a Jim Carey character from the late great Living Color, once a proud member of the Sunday Night Lineup. Like his namesake, Bill took the situation just a little too seriously and castigated us for being such idiots in the first place, then not pulling the alarm for the whole building. Visitors thereafter trickled in and out to view the wreckage and laugh at our folly. It was a few days before the thing was replaced and in the mean time we had to use the public commode on the first floor, or pee in the sink, which I’m sure none of us ever did.

In the end, the adventure cost Knaus, JP and I a hundred buck each, added to our tuition, but the story itself, as many times as it was told into the ground, was worth ten times that much. I still often wonder if the residents of old 709 E Goodyear recognize that their toilet is just a little newer than the neighbors or the tale has disappeared in dorm legend along with the green bagel and pickles Dan’s mom made that I hid up in plumbing before leaving.