Battle of the Alimentary Canal


by Jerry Woodfill

Battle of Alimentary Canal Comprehension Questions, Spelling List and Vocabulary Test

Video of How NASA Astronauts Win Battles of the Alimentary Canal in Zero Gravity (SPACE)


It had to be one of those “when in the course of human events” kind of things, an assignment by Highland High’s grid-iron coach to teach his sophomore biology class.  Since I only played basketball, he could deal with coaching duties while I taught.                         


Yet from earliest childhood, I’d  known my true academic forte was not biology but scatology.  The word has a pair of dictionary meanings.  I’d like to assign the first to my gift, the study of excrement, but that second meaning, is, perhaps, the more appropriate – that is,   interest or treatment of obscene matters, esp. in literature.  To that end is composed the following recollection from an experience in the Lincoln Lion’s boys restroom more than a  half century past:


* * * * *


The sign said,  Wash Your Hands.” 


No one could miss it.   It was posted on the exit side of every bathroom door in the school house.  Remarkably,  I’d only noticed it after being assigned the demonstration of  urination/defecation hand washing.  This was the era of extreme germ warfare, when the mere contact with a contaminated playground swing might lead to polio.  Nevertheless, my deft antiseptic hand cleansing demo was artful.  It would have done an OR nurse proud prior to open heart surgery. I displayed  microscopic slide drawings showing all manner of  bacteria and fecal contagion deposited on unwashed hands, followed by, of course, the Louie Pasteur award winning post-wash-photo.         


Statistics gathered from surveys and surveillance systems had one out of three defecators ignoring the restroom sign.  Such failings were ominous.  My schoolmates  were virtually shaking hands with someone’s private parts.   Additionally, the hand-shaker’s wiping malfunctions left fecal matter on fingers.  Rather than being flushed into the commode’s void, his victim’s hands became toilet paper.


I consulted a bookish friend about an invention to deal with the “unclean” of Lincoln Grade School.  Perhaps, we might enter our invention in this year’s science fair.  Besides, the device was sure to instill hand-washing resolve.  The  concept dealt with an alarm system. Failure to run tap water after a toilet’s flushing sound triggered the device.  The moment the toilet flushed, a timer started a launch-rocket-like  count down.   The sucking whooshing toilet bowl discharges had a distinctive audio signature. An electronic noise discriminator (one of us hiding in an adjacent stall)  recognized such  sounds.  It launched the count.                              


With a stop-watch bought at Millikan’s Sporting Goods, we timed the hand-sink-washing process, i.e., from toilet flush, user mount up, pants pull-up, re-zip-up, belt-up, stall open-up, and finally,  hand clean-up.  Again, a unique wash basin tap water sound reset our counter, the stop-watch.  Elapsed time of ten seconds from toilet flush would activate the alarm if not  reset.  After a number of simulated runs, the alarm time was set for  twenty seconds.                


But technology of the 1950s posed a handicap.  No Radio Shacks with myriads of electronic contraband imported from the foreign shores of Taiwan and Singapore existed to automate our contrivance.   We would have to make do with Beard’s Hardware Store gadgetry.                                            


Our preliminary design was begun  employing a door-bell button mechanism cleverly wired to the toilet’s float lever.  From there bell wire was dressed down behind the stall then run along the wall, and finally up into the light fixture over the sink.  Hidden within the overhead apparatus would be our timer with a battery to activate an  alarm.                                                     


But what might our alarm be?  An audio siren, i.e., my Schwinn Panther bicycle horn?   A scolding voice intoning the statement, “Please return to the sink your hands are unclean?”    Perhaps, a red light flashing above the mirror over the wash basin might serve well?  The sound of tap water would extinguish it.  But there was a better way.  Entering the boy’s restroom one morning to wash my hands led to the discovery.                                                              


The gravest among the hand wash abusers nested either immediately after breakfast or  lunch, i.e., a b.m. in the a.m. or p.m. (We were great on acronyms. B.M. stands for bowel movement.) Somehow, a belt busting breakfast or belly bloating lunch launched swollen bowels into  warfare of the alimentary canal.   Therefore, horrible noises blared into the boy’s room from the far stall on the left.  My hand rinsing was a whisper in comparison.  The decibel din sounded like World War II with mortar rounds firing and depth charges dropping into seas below.          


Ghastly poison gases accompanied the half foot olive-drab torpedoes.  Such fumes were more acrid than any mustard gas carried down-wind from the trenches of World War One.  However, the carnage of this battle included the moans of defecation, grunts akin to extracting a bullet imbedded in  flesh.  Perhaps, it was hemorrhoids, piles, an inflamed urethra,  enlarged prostate or constricted anus.  My sympathy for this male combatant arose as the battle raged.   Surely, I must offer condolences when my Lincoln School warrior emerged from his foxhole.      I paused awaiting his exit.   Certainly, in light of the grossness of his combat, those hands, devoted to removing refuse from the field of battle, would be cleansed.  At that time, my well-wishes would be voiced toward the embattled soldier at the adjacent sink.                                       


Thinking about our alarm system and the timed events, I heard the flush, the pants pull-up, the up-zippering,  the re-belting, the stall unlatching as the count preceded to twenty seconds.   At the count of twenty, I looked into the mirror as the washroom warrior  passed behind me, through the exit door, ignoring the HAND WASH sign.  He had entered the general population of Lincoln Grade School as a Typhoid Marty, an unclean leper, a contagion carrier.   His handshake would deposit bodily wastes on every innocent victim  greeted with a smile and extended hand. 


“Why hadn’t I yelled at him?   Wash your hands!”  Perhaps, knowing he’d been found out, embarrassment would mend his disgusting ways.   Having a witness to his nefarious act of restroom depravity was the answer.  No longer would he remain incognito among a caste of untouchables, the UNCLEAN of our proud school.                                     


This led to my  epiphany, the  solution:  a listing  of such violators.  Yes, I’d  post a notice, not on the inside of the restroom door but on the outside:





 “The Shadow Knows.”



A sign could do it all…no alarm needed!


However, our project was never to become the gold medal winner of the Lincoln Grade School science fair.   But who knows how many lives might have been rescued from the ravages of polio had it been employed not only in the halls of Highland, Hammond, and Hessville grade schools but across America?  Yes, indeed, Jonas Salk would have been proud!


If you are so disposed, post the sign below.  It just might work!





 “The Shadow Knows.”



               Name                       Date/Time

1. _________________     ______________


2. __________________    ______________


3. __________________   ______________



Note: For the first offense, only the date and time will be listed.

On the second offense, your initials will be listed.

The third offense earns a full name inscription.



The Never Patented Handwashing Enforcer Invention Design

(circa 1953)