Yesterday I learned, disappointingly, that not only did the invention of the flush toilet predate the existence of Thomas Crapper, but the use of the word “crap” to indicate evacuation did as well; I was left with an unavoidable void. That this caused any distress whatsoever is probably a cause of bemusement or maybe even consternation to some. Why anyone would care about the apocryphal origins of something so base is not only a valuable insight into the peculiarities of my psyche, but into a source of endless childhood humor: John Crapper.
John Crapper, and his mother Fanny Crapper (I shit you not), lived across the street from my maternal grandparents from the time I was a small child until I was a teen. Originally of Sicilian origin, the name was in all likelihood shortened by some well-meaning or possibly impish immigration officer to Crapper. Honestly, I’ve never done the research to nor am I inclined to, as I’ve suffered enough personal scatological letdowns this week already.
John Crapper was something of a legend in the small town from which he hailed, and not for the somewhat dubious reasons one might expect. He was something of an Al Bundy-esque high school hero from what I’m told. My father, famously — at least small town Pennsylvania famously — lost a drag race to him after missing a gear while attempting to power-shift (a way of changing gears without employing the clutch). I still give him grief about it to this day.
Expectedly, probably to all but John Crapper himself, was the rather steep declension of Crapper’s fortunes. By the time I became cognizant of our hero, he was living with his mother and his wife — his wife who idled away her time making ceramic clowns and pithy ceramic toilet seats — in a house across the street from my grandparents. For a ten year old boy, the mere existence of a man named John Crapper was a source of endless toilet humor — such wonderful redundancy. That his mother’s name was Fanny, however, was the source of pure comedic gold that my brother and I mined endlessly. I’d imagine that we could still fire off a few quick one-liners to this day.
There is a certain coarseness to these childhood memories, a déclassé collection of recollections that mix inextricably with other memories of my grandparents and their modest Pennsylvania home. I cop guilty to this accusation — in a world that is going to shit and where many take their shit far too seriously — but I have no remorse. Because it is fun to laugh, especially in a world that is increasingly joyless. Mel Brooks is my muse.
As for John Crapper, I don’t know what’s become of him. My grandparents passed years ago and I haven’t been back to that small town in years. If he is still among us, I hope the years have been kind to him. And if he is no longer with us, I hope he is at rest…