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Dave Barry

Smell the roses

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, May 18, 1997

I have received a number of letters from readers complaining that I focus too much on "bathroom humor, " instead of using this forum to educate my readers about important issues that are of deep concern to our nation. OK, fine. I can take criticism, and I admit that maybe I have become somewhat fixated. So today my topic will be: China.

China is a large nation located over in Asia. You readers should be more concerned about it.

Now, with what little space I have remaining, I'd like to talk about a fascinating newspaper-insert advertisement for Vanish brand toilet cleaner. You may have seen this ad: It features a portrait-style color photograph of a middle-aged woman standing next to a toilet. She's smiling and holding a package of Vanish, and next to her head is this quotation, which I am not making up:

" 'I have the cleanest and the nicest smelling bathroom in the neighborhood. If anybody doesn't believe me, ring my doorbell and you can smell my toilet.' -- Pat Mayo, Hometown, Illinois."

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This ad was sent to me by alert reader Lee Burtman, who states: "As a very busy teacher and mother of four (including two young boys just learning to aim) I cannot imagine encouraging people to ring my doorbell and ask to smell the toilet."

That was my reaction also. I mean, I don't want to get explicit here, but there are times when I don't want my own loved ones going near my toilet. If total strangers were to start coming to my door and asking for a whiff of it, I would purchase a Sears Craftsman brand home flame-thrower.

So I decided to contact Pat Mayo of Hometown, Ill., which turns out to be a real place, right next to Chicago (a large city). Pat said that she did, indeed, invite people to smell her toilet; in fact, she makes the same invitation in a TV commercial. Here, as she explained it to me, is what happened:

A while back Pat, who is a real stickler for housework, purchased some Vanish at the supermarket. She tried it and was very impressed with its toilet-cleansing properties.

"I threw away my toilet brush, " she said.

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She was so impressed that she called the Vanish people, and they decided to put her in one of those commercials wherein they use regular humans. As you know, with a lot of TV commercials, when you see "typical homemakers" getting worked up into an advanced state of rapture over the cleanliness of their toilets, you are actually watching paid professional actresses who, in real life, would no more clean a toilet than they would French-kiss a leech.

Also, remember the Ty-D-Bol man? the guy who used to float around the toilet tank in a little boat? I hate to burst your bubble, but he wasn't real, either. He was just a professional actor who happened to be six inches tall. The real Ty-D-Bol man is only four inches tall and is always watching you via a little periscope. Try not to think about it.

(Also, for the record, the so-called "Energizer Bunny" is actually Sylvester Stallone in a costume.)

But getting back to Pat Mayo: She told me that she was filming the Vanish commercial, and she was wearing a long-sleeved outfit under these hot lights, and they kept putting powder on her, and the director kept badgering her to say, in her own words, WHY she was so fond of Vanish, and finally she just blurted out a blanket invitation to the world to come and smell her toilet, and that's what they put on TV.

I asked Pat if anybody has actually taken her up on this offer, and she said that about a week after the commercial started running, she was cleaning her house, and the doorbell rang; it was two neighborhood boys on bicycles, and they said "Hey, Mrs. Vanish, can we smell your toilet?" So Pat let them in, and they flushed it a couple of times, and she gave them soda pops and sent them on their way.

"They were bragging around the neighborhood, " Pat said. " 'We smelled the Vanish Lady's toilet!' "

Yes, Pat has become a celebrity, and not just in her own neighborhood: She has been interviewed on several radio programs, and she even got mentioned by Jay Leno. You have to love a country where one day a person can be just a regular private citizen in Hometown, Ill., and the next day her toilet is being discussed on nationwide television. That is the beauty of the American way of life, in stark contrast to the way of life in China, where -- even now, in the late 20th Century -- there IS no Jay Leno.

NEXT WEEK'S TOPIC: "The Federal Reserve Board: What does it do? Who belongs to it? What kind of toilets do they have?"

© Dave Barry

This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited. Ordinary links to this column at may be posted or distributed without written permission.

This story was originally published May 19, 2014 12:00 AM.

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