Heapin’ piles o’shite

That’s what I’m reading about these days. Infrastructure fascinates me. How do we move all the stuff we move from place to place? How do we store all that stuff and process it? How do we get rid of it when it becomes a nuisance? How do we get more of it?

Stuff is the most important subject. I’ve long lamented the lack of good Stuff Management courses at the high school and college level. Living here in the States even those near the bottom of our economic pyramid can accumulate one hell of a lot of stuff.

And that’s the stuff we make outside of our bodies. What about all that stuff we make inside of our bodies? You know, shit. How do we deal with all the shit we generate each day? Seven billion people you have to figure seven billion turds per day and that’s not including the two-a-day types, the dogs and cats, the cows and chickens, you get the idea it’s a hell of a lot.

This book An Underground Guide to Sewers by Stephen Halliday plunges into the subject of shit removal. There’s a lot of pictures, and they are all really cool, but other than the occasional fatberg there are no pictures of shit. Instead you get pictures of the remarkable and beautiful structures people created to deal with their shit over the centuries. The subtitle of the book is Down, Through & Out In Paris, London, New York &c. so you get a lot about those cities in particular. (Note the very British ampersand-c. instead of our preference in the States for etc.)

book cover


My dad was a plumber and pipe fitter so I have an appreciation for things like drains, sewers, pipelines, pumps, valves, and whatnot. Toilets, too. How can you not appreciate the toilet? Think about what a remarkable societal advance that is! Now think about the fact that millions of people in the world still shit outside.

Proper disposal of urban sewage is an enormous engineering task. But it is largely hidden from us. In fact the only time we think about it is if the toilet backs up and we have to call the plumber. After that it is out of sight, out of mind. That’s OK, of course. But be glad we have folks who keep that vast network of underground things working so that our shit keeps flowing.

2 thoughts on “Heapin’ piles o’shite

  1. It has been said that plumbers have done more to increase the human lifespan than have doctors. I don’t doubt that is true.


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