Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Flashback: Deadly Toilet-Seat Social Disease Hits Saint John’s, Almost Killing One of Fright.

[Memoirs from 60 plus years of living for my kids and grandchildren].

This could only have happened in the relatively innocent school year of 1947-48 at Saint John’s, an all-men’s university appended to its more important feature—the Benedictine monastery.

One of the great psychological rewards that came from dining with the ex-ex-GIs at Saint John’s…which was awarded me because I staged an unsuccessful jail break from strict monastic enclosure mid-week to rendezvous with a nurse from Saint Cloud hospital…was, at my tender age of 19, to benefit from the ultra-sophisticated humor of men who were 28-29-30, home from Iwo Jima, beneficiaries of the GI bill and who had had no desire to go to college heretofore except that the federal government allowed them to. Some became Benedictine monks, most got married, some dropped out because they grew dissatisfied with learning—especially four straight years of Thomistic philosophy and theology as mandated by the Benedictine abbot to purify us from the secular world..

We sat 10 at a table in the monastery student refectory and waiters came rushing out of the kitchen with hot steaming food on tin trays. One of our number at our table of 10 was a common scold. He tsked-tsked us when we swore, observed that we must be charitable to our neighbors, would bring the book “Theology and Sanity” by Frank Sheed and occasionally read to us which bored us greatly. He never went to the service because he had been a priesthood student at many seminaries—with the Jesuits where he left because they were too worldly, the Franciscans but they were insufficiently non-materialistic. The Trappists? They were a powerhouse of work rather than as he wished them to be, a powerhouse of prayer.

So he came to us as a lay student, starting as a freshman at age of 22.. He somehow had been assigned to the table because he had come late in the school year. I was totally ashamed of him because he was a pious prig, afflicted with solemnity to the death. He was quick with little admonitions. I found on my plate one night before dinner was served this note: “Please try not to swear as much as you do. It is very disturbing to me—Roger.”

Each day we mentally counted off the remaining days of the semester until we could get one of our choosing for his seat and by common vote drop him off the pier. As I was condemned to sit next to him, he began to affect my appetite and then my morale. When we complained about the rigor of our schedules he asked us to think of Jesus and how He never complained. When one of us exclaimed the physical beauty of a girl we had observed in Saint Cloud on the weekend earlier, he leaned forward and admonished us to think of the Virgin Mary. We all thought very highly of the Virgin Mary but we did not particularly need to be instructed by this pompous prig.

We were, all of us, downcast one day when an ex-GI chemistry major Tony Bizot (pronounced “bee-zoe”)—about 32--came charging to his seat at the table with a maddening grin. Roger the Prig was late arriving and so he had just enough time to fill us in with machine-gun rapidity. Even as he explained it to us, Roger came sauntering into the refectory a few minutes late after meditating in the chapel.

“Now listen before he gets here,” said Bizot quickly. “I have a friend who works at the abbey infirmary”—the place where sick monks were treated and, on occasion, students who came down with influenza. A physician from Saint Cloud would visit each week to take a look at the patients. One such patient…an old monk, 87 years old, was diagnosed with obstruction of the bladder and was undergoing x-rays to see where the obstruction was. Before the x-ray was taken, the monk was given a pill which dyed his urine so that the camera could record its passage to the point where it was stopped up.

“Here’s the pill,” said Tony Bizot holding aloft a small white capsule. “It dyes the urine a brilliant blue. Actually a vivid royal blue so it can be seen on the x-ray.” That’s all he said since Roger was perceived as on the way to our table. Bizot broke the pill and scattered it atop a platter of mashed potatoes. We did not touch the mashed that dinnertime.

Roger joined us and ladled his plate heaping with vegetables, topped by a generous mountain of white mashed potatoes.

“I see you’re not eating the mashed,” he said brightly. “Oh well, all the more for me.”

As he wolfed down the food with potatoes, he asked brightly: “What’s new?”

We all looked at ourselves dumbly and said “very little.”

“Well no, not really,” said Tony Bizot. He turned to his roommate, a prematurely graying Jack Canard, veteran of the South Pacific, and said:

“Terrible isn’t it?”

Yes, said Canard. Terrible. Ghastly.

“That it can take the life of a young man…” and Bizot snapped his fingers dramatically…”just like that!”

In the prime of life, said Canard.

“What are you talking about?” inquired Roger.

Oh, said Canard, nothing.

“No,” said Roger defiantly. “What is it? Some awful dirty joke you people are sharing? You know that is the sign of immaturity and really a lack of decorum, far from the wishes of Saint Benedict in his Rule who said that conversation must be about elevated things. Life he said is so short our conversation must be devoted to useful things. Holy things.”

“Well if you must know,” said Tony Bizot, “it is about the shortness of life that we were discussing. It seems that Saint Cloud has been afflicted with a severe and fatal sexual social disease which you can get…not by immoral sexual contact…but from a toilet seat. It started at the Fox Hotel there which is the place where traveling salesmen stay.”

The one thing about it, said Canard, is that it is fatal. Instant death and in agony.

“Really?” said Roger. He disliked conversation about sexual things but his curiosity was piqued. “REALLY! How dreadful!”

Yes, really dreadful.

“One can pick it up from a toilet seat, you say?”

Exactly. As a matter of fact very few who die of it have done so through venereal sexual contact but by simply resting one’s buttocks on a public toilet seat. The genitalia make some contact on the bowl, you see. The infection seeps into the organs from there.

All of us understood the play by now and we sensibly acted reserved. One of us even tried to change the subject.

What does today’s reading from the Benedictine Rule deal with?

Bizot said, “What The Abbot Ought to Be.”

We all nodded. Interesting.

“No,” said Roger, ”I’m interested. Does it come from toilet seats that are not sanitized?”

Well, yes, said Canard. But what toilet seats ARE? Like for instance here at Saint John’s. We have a common lavatory on our floor; there are common lavatories on all floors at Benet Hall. The janitor comes in once a week and scrubs the floors and all that but all during the week the seats are utilized…especially in the morning before classes…everybody using them.

“I suppose that’s true,” said Roger. “I never thought that a social disease can be contracted that way.”

Yes, said Canard, who was pre-Med. Cultural decadence.

“I suppose that’s true,” said Roger. “I never thought that a social disease can be contracted that way.”

Yes, said Canard, drawing himself up as the expert who was pre-Med.

“I suppose that’s true,” said Roger. “I never thought that a social disease can be contracted that way.”

Yes, it can, said Canard.

Yes, said Canard authoritatively. Yes-yes-yes. That is coming to be the most frequent way. We have been studying it in my classes.

I asked a question, the answer to which I knew full well.

“What is the symptom of the disease do you suppose? I mean what are the trademarks?”

Roger said, “yes—what?”

Canard said, I hate to be indelicate here because you don’t care for that kind of talk, Roger but I feel I must—in the interest of health education, of course.

Roger said, “yes—what are the symptoms?”

Whereupon Tony Bizot said: “Don’t go any farther if you please because it will spoil my appetite. You see, I heard Canard tell me this before and I warn you it will be greatly upsetting.”

We all agreed we should go no further. All except Roger.

“No,” he said, “the conversation has gone this far. It can be instructive. What is the main symptom?”

The main symptom, said Canard, and the 100% indication that it is to be fatal, is that it turns one’s urine blue. Bright blue. When the urine turns blue, one only has a few hours—sometimes minutes—to live. It is a severe variant of gonorrhea and is highly contagious. It’s technical name is Neisseria gonorrhoeae which describes it fully—Neisseria is Latin for toilet seat. Gonhorrhoeae is, well gonorrhoeae.

“Toilet seat gonorrhea,” mused Roger.

Yes. But it goes by a scatological name.

“Please,” said Tony Bizot. “Enough.”

“What is the scatological name?” pressed Roger.

Blue balls. So named because shortly after the infestation of bright blue urination one’s testicles turn blue, fall off…drops off or actually--.

“Not DROPS OFF!” said Tony Bizot. “Not DROPS OFF but withered becomes atrophied.”

Well, growled Canard, so what? Same difference. Withered, atrophied.

We finished dinner.

“Doesn’t anyone want these mashed potatoes?” gushed Roger. “Nobody’s touched them. If you’re not going to eat them, I will. With gravy mashed is terrific. Pass the gravy, please.”

At benediction or grace after meals, we all stood while the Dean intoned the prayer, each man not looking at the other but feigning solemnity.

“Well, it’s studying late for me!” said Roger. “Really, night time is the best time for studying when the mind is susceptible to new thoughts.”


It was lights out at 11 p.m. which is when the Prefect pulled the switch and the electricity ended. I lay awake for some time, then fell asleep only to be awakened at about 2 a.m. like a bolt of the blue by shouting. Resonant echoes from the lavatory.


The Prefect leapt out of his bed in his room across the hall from me and raced down the corridor to the lavatory.

None of us left our beds but listened. The words were audible not just to our entire floor but all the floors and classmen and prefects stormed up to our 2nd floor lavatory.

“Roger! What has happened?” screamed the Prefect.


A confluence of Benedictine priests, Prefects all, gathered in the lavatory.

“What do you have, Roger?”


The Dean of Men said sternly, “Roger. ROGER! Calm down! WHAT DO YOU HAVE?”


The shouting continued.

“I’ll be damned,” said one priest who rarely used the word gosh. “Look at that! As blue as Skrip ink!”


The screaming finally stopped to be replaced by a murmur of priests’ voices. Then muffled laughter.

Gradually I eased into slumber.

Roger was not at Mass the next morning. Nor at breakfast.

By lunch it was reported that he had transferred to the monastic seminary where he would once more make an effort to become a priest.

“I want to say,” said Fr. Martin Schirber, OSB, the Dean who stopped by our table, “that Roger has determined to join the Order.”

Then he frowned. .

“What have you given the Benedictines?”

We all answered in modified way: HI YA! I GOT IT! THE BLUE BALLS!.

He didn’t wish us to see him laugh so he went to his table to begin prayers.

So we chose a successor at our table—a grizzled ex-pilot who had flown the Burma hump.

A year later Roger left the Benedictines too. Seems like the story got around even in the cloister.

When I heard about him next at an alumni meeting twenty years later it was said of him that he had left the Church to become a libertine through the `50s and `60s where he lived in the University of Minnesota sector of Dinky Town and frequented coffee houses, discoursing about Nietzsche.

1 comment:

  1. A capital jest! If only we could administer some of those same pills to certain politicians with similar end results!