Subj:     Toilet Testers Strive To Come Out No. 2  (S232)
              By DAVE BARRY 

TASTEFULNESS ADVISORY: Do not read this column if you are eating, orplan to eat ever again. Thank you. 

Recently I watched as a professional engineer attempted to flush fermented bean curd down a toilet. 

This was not some fun engineer prank. This was a laboratory test conducted at the research center of the National Association of Home Builders, which is trying to develop a laboratory test for toilet performance that simulates the challenges facedby toilets in the real world.

This research is necessary because Americans are unhappy with the wimpy toilets we are now required to buy. We yearn for the glory years, when our toilets were among the most powerful on earth -- when the standard American household commode could, in a single flush, as proven in actual tests, suck down a mature sheep.

(Before I get a lot of mail from angry animal-rights activists, let me stress that these tests did NOT use an actual sheep. That would be barbaric! They used two goats tied together.)

But then, in 1992, the U.S. Congress -- instead of passing a law that would actually benefit ordinary Americans, such as a mandatory death penalty for telemarketers -- decided to cripple our toilets. Specifically, Congress passed a law limiting new toilets to 1.6 gallons of water per flush, less than half what the old toilets used. In terms of power and studliness, our toilets went from being the Baltimore Ravens to being Barry Manilow.

(Before I get a lot of mail from angry Barry Manilow fans, let me stress that, as a musician and a performer, he sounds like two goats tied together.)

The new toilets were supposed to save water. And they work OK when it comes to disposing of what is euphemistically referred to as ``Number One.'' The problem is that, when they must dispose of what is euphemistically referred to as ``Geraldo,'' they tend to clog, and they often must be flushed repeatedly, which actually wastes water.

(Before I get a lot of mail from angry Geraldo fans, let me stress that there ARE no Geraldo fans.)

So anyway, the plumbing and homebuilding industries have gotten many complaints about the new toilets. That's why the National Association of Home Builders has been trying to come up with a real-world toilet test, so we'll know which, if any, toilets actually work, so consumers can buy these and get rid of the bad toilets, which will then be dropped from bombers onto the U.S. Capitol.

OK, that last part is a fantasy (for now). But the NAHB really is doing serious toilet research, as I learned when I was given a tour of its Maryland research facility by Larry Zarker, Chuck Arnold and Tom Kenney. They showed me a laboratory where test toilets are mounted on a frame; the procedure is, you put your test material into the bowl, flush, then see how much material makes it through to a wire collection basket underneath. (Kids: This would be a GREAT science-fair project!)

Kenney first showed me the current test standard, in which the toilet is supposed to flush 100 little plastic balls. There are two problems with this test. One is that anybody who emits anything like 100 little plastic balls doesn't need a better toilet; he needs immediate medical care. The other problem is that the test is WAY too easy. ``Any toilet in the world can pass it,'' said Kenney.

He then showed me some of the tougher, more-realistic tests being considered. These involve various materials, including wads of paper and sponges, both weighted and unweighted, to simulate what the NAHB refers to as ``sinkers'' and ``floaters.''

But the most impressive test material, by FAR, is the fermented bean curd, which Kenney said is made, using a secret recipe, by the Toto toilet company of Japan, a world leader in commode innovation. I mean, this stuff looks EXACTLY like real Geraldo. I myself would not touch it. I watched in fascinated horror as Kenney boldly grasped a mass of it and, with his bare hands, formed 10 incredibly lifelike Puff Daddies. Needless to say, these clogged the test toilet.

I was deeply moved by this experience. I came away convinced that these engineers will, some day, develop a test that will enable us, as a nation, to once again have faith in our commodes. When that day comes, I want to shake the hands of the courageous researchers who made it possible. But first they will have to wash up.