WASHINGTON -- I am on the phone with Tom Herbort of Franklin, North Carolina.
Me: When my 10-pound cat somehow managed to knock the 10-pound porcelain lid off the toilet tank in my bathroom, and it shattered, I figured this sort of thing would be something that happened so infrequently I'd have to replace the whole tank, or, as my landlady dryly suggested, the whole toilet. So imagine my surprise when I went online and found your company, which is Cheaptoilettanklids.com. You make a living out of this?
Tom: Yes, and I have four employees, two full time.
Me: Is there an epidemic of cats killing toilet lids?
Tom: You're not the first person with a story about a cat. I don't know if cats just don't like toilets, or if they just don't like people. If they enjoy breaking things, they could break things more convenient, like a lightbulb, but what's the fun in that? You'd just go to the store and replace it, and it doesn't cost $80. Now, this never happens with your basic dog. Your dog will poop on your floor, but he won't break your toilet. He doesn't hate you that much.
Me: How much toilet-lid breakage is there, nationally?
Tom: We average 20 to 30 a day, seven days a week.
Me: Wow! Why?
Tom: I think it's a mathematic certainty. There are 330 million people in the U.S., which means at least 100 million toilets. At least 100 lids are going to break every day.
Me: How does it happen, if not cats?
Tom: Weird anomalies, mostly. No one imagines it could happen until it happens to them. I hear all the stories. I can't get people to stop telling me. A lot of people are heavily invested in individual stories of how their lid broke, and there are fairly similar plotlines. Very seldom is the person responsible -- it's always "my brother broke it," or "my wife," or "the cleaning lady." People never say, "Yeah, I'm the dumba-- who did it." It's much better to be the hero of the story than the damn fool.
Me: Do you suspect there's some secret, embarrassing reason that explains a lot of breakage -- one you never hear? Maybe something sex-related?
Tom: Well, a lot of toilet tank lids get broken in strip-club toilets. I can only imagine what goes on in there. Also, I've been told that some people hide vodka bottles in the toilet tank. You keep dipping in and out, you're gonna eventually smash the lid.
Tom: Yeah. Also, violence, if it happens in the bathroom, it could, a lot of times, involve the toilet lid. It could be a weapon, and a fairly effective one. It's heavy and hard, but, additionally, if it breaks and shatters, you've got a sharp object. I mean, what else do you have to defend yourself with in the bathroom? I don't think you could do anything with your safety razor, and shampoo would not be effective. You could make the person stand barefoot in water in the tub and throw the dryer in, but you know that's not gonna happen. But if you take the tank lid off, tap it on the ground, it'll break in half, and now it's a very deadly weapon that could instantly slice someone open! Plus, I think they'll think you're pretty crazy and back off if this person is coming at them with a broken piece of porcelain.
Me: You've given this a lot of thought.
Tom: It's what I do.
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