Aug 9, 2010

Flushing America

Last week, I was talking to my friend Marianne, a biologist, about things that are irreversible—a sent e-mail, a burnt pot of beans, death—things like that.

"It’s called the Flushed Toilet Principle,” said Marianne, using a term from one of her college professors. "In science there are processes that, once begun, can’t be stopped—like a flushed toilet. The water is going to go down.”

I was amazed to know that scientists thought about toilets, what with all the other scientific stuff they think about, and it reminded me of an obsession I had when I was eight years old. Many of you may remember the song “We are the World,” which played every hour on every radio station in the late eighties. What you may not know is that it was the theme song to a movement called “Hands Across America.” The idea was to get Americans all over the country to grab hands on some specific date along a predetermined route to form a chain of people from coast to coast.

Hands Across America was all the rage in my town. In fact, my grandparents liked the idea so much they decided to join. They flew to Iowa to grab hands with some strangers and add to the chain with was supposed to reach Long Beach, California. Those of us who couldn’t participate in this manner, showed support in other ways. Our elementary school had a special assembly, and afterward, the teachers led all the children to the playground. To the blaring music of “We are the World,” we were instructed to grab hands with our neighbor and form “Hands Across the Playground.”

Looking back, I suppose that the concept of this mini-gesture was to show that all
cultures, religions, and races could come together for peace. To me, however, the meaning was not so deep. I saw the coming together as a way to do something big—in this case, as big as America. I began to wonder what would happen if all of America got together on another issue. Specifically, I wondered what would happen if everyone in the country flushed their toilets at exactly the same time.

I became obsessed with the idea. I told a friend about it over the telephone; we both went into our bathrooms to flush, then came back to the phone. As we suspected, nothing happened. We needed more people behind the idea—but without the fame or the technology to make it happen, I eventually abandoned the idea.

As I was talking to Marianne, I wondered again: What would happen? With many well-connected friends and email technology, I could certainly create a chain letter that might get around the United States. But even if the letter circulated, would people actually flush just to satisfy an eight-year-old’s curiosity? Or would they need some greater cause to motivate them?

Flushing for Peace and Flush Drugs were my first choices. As far as the date, I settled on a temporary date of October 14, 2007 at 7:00 p.m., P.S.T. Why did I choose my birthday? I figured it might be more exciting than going out to dinner. When trying to choose a theme song, however, I became bogged down in stacks of CDs. I began to wonder what would happen if the outcome was catastrophic—such as earth-wide flooding and rising ocean levels? What if the CIA traced it all back to me? What if environmentalists came after me for encouraging improper use of fresh water?

These concerns never occurred to me as a child. I decided to sleep on it, (because, after all, an email can’t be unsent) and saved the draft on my computer.

I slept fitfully, and dreamt that my cat (I don’t have a cat) walked across my keyboard and sent the email to everyone in my address book.


I only wish she had chosen a theme song.

This piece was originally published at sometime in 2007. R.I.P. MAHC.