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Lost Journal

Humor Column
by Tim Mollen

Field Trip to the Sewage Treatment Plant

Journal Entry:  March 11, 1982 (age 12)

As a typical 7th-grader, I have been instructed on many occasions to “get my mind out of the gutter.”  The confusing onset of hormones and my growing understanding of human biology have made this difficult.  But it had never been as difficult as it was today.  Today, our well-meaning science teacher made the grave error of taking me and 30 of my seventh-grade classmates on a field trip to the local sewage treatment plant.

Our teacher apparently thought our burgeoning interest in the natural sciences would win out over our innate desire to make jokes about anything having to do with the bathroom.  She was wrong.  I would wager that none of us had ever ridden past the sewage treatment plant on a hot summer day, sniffed the foul stench in the air, and thought to ourselves, “Gee, I’d like to go to the source of that smell, and see how it’s made.”

But that was the lesson we were given today.  We toured several buildings, each of which had its own olfactory horrors to visit upon us.  Each building had its own purpose in the treatment of sewage.  We guessed that a promotion at the plant would mean a transfer to a building with a slightly less offensive odor.  I observed that none of the buildings appeared to have break rooms.  Presumably, employee breaks and meals took place in sealed bunkers deep within the Earth’s crust.

The highlight of the field trip was the question-and-answer session at the close of the tour.  This unleashed the creativity of our 12-year-old minds, as we struggled to craft questions that would amuse our classmates while avoiding the scorn of our teacher and chaperones.

“What would happen if everyone in town flushed at the same time?,” one girl asked.  “Does the West Side of town produce more solid waste per capita than the East Side, and if so, why?,” asked another.  Then the boys started to chime in.  One wanted to know, “Why is Building Number One used for number two?”  Another asked, “Have you seen my goldfish?”

The questions and answers being muttered amongst ourselves were, to use the industry parlance, somewhat less refined.  One of the comments I heard broke at least three of the existing Commandments, and seemed to require the codification of several new ones.

Our guide was a nice man who is an engineer at the plant.  He answered the questions as best he could, and he didn’t hide his laughter at several points.  But even he had had enough when, for the third time, a student raised his hand to ask, “What’s that smell?”

Our tour concluded, we returned by bus to St. Patrick’s Middle School with enough material for several weeks of lunchroom jokes, classroom notes, and detention writing topics.  Our teacher rode the bus in silence, with a resigned expression that seemed to say, “I hope they got it out of their system.”  And isn’t that what today was all about?

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