Humans have had a complicated relationship with their waste for millenia. Our ancestors learned long ago to avoid their own ordure. Feces are rife with pathogens that cause diseases like cholera and typhoid, illnesses that still kill hundreds of thousands of people every year around the world. Ten thousand years ago, when humans lived in nomadic tribes, we simply kept moving and let the soil break down what we left behind. Then we settled, and our droppings couldn’t be left behind. Archaeologists believe the earliest sanitation systems were likely built in the Middle East—either Zabol or the ancient city of Ur. In the Indus Valley (present-day Pakistan), they had flushing toilets and drainage pipes as early as 2500 B.C. Some historians argue that the greatest strength of the Roman Empire was not its army or Senate but its public sewage system.
In his 1978 book, Histoire de la merde (History of Shit, whose cover features an illustration of an eel-like monster emerging from a man’s bottom, poised to devour its own progenitor), French psychoanalyst Dominique Laporte argued that the development of Western European sanitation systems led directly to our modern concepts of individualism and capitalism, what he considered a bourgeois, odor-free lifestyle. Laporte also thought these waste systems sanitized our language, ushering in a world where the natural is unnatural and where that particular byproduct is the most offensive reference imaginable.
That we could even be capable of defecation became a source of shame. Across cultures, both men and women go to great lengths to hide the act. We avoid going at work or school and worry about our feet being seen under public stalls. We run water—or, as is popular in Japan, play recordings of babbling brooks and chirping birds—to conceal any sounds. We light candles, run fans, and exhaust endless cans of aerosol, all in an effort to mask any evidence.
At the same time, the word “poop” is funny. Not to mention the associated phrases “dropping the kids off at the pool,” “knitting a brown sweater,” and “releasing the Kraken.” Bathroom humor is labeled immature because no child would deny its appeal, but even Shakespeare couldn’t resist a good flatulence crack. In The Comedy of Errors, Dromio of Ephesus delights: “A man may break a word with you, sir, and words are but wind. Ay, and break it in your face, so he break it not behind.” It is precisely because we find this universal deed so upsetting and foul that we also find it funny. Humor, like indoor plumbing, is just one more defense mechanism.
Now Suzy Batiz, a stylish, fair-haired mother of three who lives in Prestonwood, a woman who dropped out of college and twice declared bankruptcy, has dedicated the better part of a decade to easing the strange, tortured relationship humans have with their own waste. She has built a thriving business out of her home, and, after an improbably popular YouTube video made her company a worldwide phenomenon, she is figuring to do $30 million in sales this year. In the words of one of the women on her staff, “We have been so stinkin’ successful!”
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Her offices, tucked into a nondescript commercial stretch off the Tollway in Addison, smell wonderful. In different rooms you might notice various blends of citrus, or a hint of peppermint, or lavender, or sandalwood. Suzy’s office is in a corner. She’s sitting next to her husband, Hector, talking about their lives. She’s tall and slender, with a dental model’s smile. He has long hair and a goatee bound by a rubber band. A speaker on the other side of the room quietly plays a mix of classic rock. “The Weight” by The Band comes on. Take a load off, Fanny. Take a load for free.
Her business card identifies her as “poo executive officer,” but her story begins in a small town in Arkansas where she grew up. She didn’t always dream of changing the way we void our bowels. More than anything, she wanted to leave Arkansas, live a glamorous life, and find fortune and fame. When she was a teenager, she wanted to be a fashion designer. In the early ’80s, she noticed that heeled pumps were in style and a lot of women wore them with jeans. At 17, Suzy got the idea to design her own pump, made of denim.
“I was the official tester,” Hector jokes. “But Suzy was the official sniffer, and that’s worse.”
Everywhere she went, people complimented her shoes. Strangers asked her where she bought them. She was so proud of her creation that she decided to call Guess Jeans in New York—looking back, she doesn’t remember how she even found the phone number—and tell them about her shoe. A representative said the jeans company was already working on a new shoe line and invited her to New York to talk about her design.
“It was like, ‘Holy crap! They want to talk to me?’ ” Suzy recalls.
But Suzy’s mother, wary of the world outside of Arkansas and worried about her sheltered daughter, convinced her that the people in New York would only steal her idea. So Suzy didn’t go. And she regretted it. She would wonder for more than two decades if maybe she missed the only chance she’d get at her dreams.
Before the age of 20, she’d saved enough money to buy a small bridal shop. But soon she realized the inventory was old and out of style, and within two years, the business went under. She declared bankruptcy. “Then it was like, ‘Crap! What do I do now?’ ”
She met a guy and moved to Kentucky. She got married, had two boys, and tried selling things. First exercise equipment, then exercise clothes. She was in an abusive relationship, though, and she knew she needed to get out. So she moved to Memphis with her two young sons, filed for divorce, and took a job working retail at a Merry-Go-Round store in the mall. That’s where she met Hector, the inspiration for what has become her life’s work.
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He was a touring musician, a drummer, with a day job working at a store in the mall that merged with hers. As they began dating, she continued to think of potential business ideas. Through her background with clothes, she got her hands on a wholesale lingerie catalog. She thought maybe they could sell to exotic dancers in Memphis, and she instructed Hector to take the catalog to strip clubs. The women would pay up front—they tended to have a lot of cash on hand—and when he would return to deliver the wares a few days later, someone else always wanted to order more. She jokes that in all her business planning, she didn’t take into account that her boyfriend would be spending so much time around naked women.
“I was naïve,” Suzy says.
“It was good work,” Hector says.
The fun stopped, though, when a strip-club manager with a missing finger politely demanded a cut of the profits. Suzy and Hector decided to abandon the endeavor and eventually moved to Dallas.
After they married, she found work recruiting talent for Ernst & Young. He got a job as a network engineer. She had a new idea for a website aimed at corporate recruiting, called Greenergrass, and Hector put together a site. She hadn’t felt this excited by one of her ideas in years. This, she knew, could be the one.
“That was around 1999,” she says. “Right when the dot-com bubble burst.”
She declared bankruptcy for a second time. The banks took both cars, then the house. She was dejected, depressed. Her friends convinced her to travel, to take a sabbatical. She tried to shift her thoughts away from business. She focused on painting, on yoga, on relaxing essential oils.
Some time around then, while visiting Hector’s family in Austin, they got into a conversation with his brother. Both Hector and his brother inherited an unpleasant trait from their father. It’s something of a family joke. Suzy says that when they started dating, she had to buy an industrial fan from Home Depot to deal with the ill wind that lingered after Hector’s visits to the bathroom.
“You do what you have to for love,” she says, smiling.
Now Hector’s brother had an idea to fight that wretched scent. He had been looking for ways to trap the odor, experimenting with a foam he could spray on top of the water before doing the deed. Suzy said that women would not want to go on top of a foam. But she’d learned a lot about scented oils and wondered if that could work.
Suzy says, “I just thought, ‘Crap, I might be able to do this!’ ”
For months, she experimented. Every time Hector went to the bathroom, she had a new oil mix for him to try.
“I was the official tester,” he jokes. “But she was the official sniffer, and that’s worse.”
They invited friends and family over for dinner parties and asked them to test it. If a visitor needed to use the restroom in their house, that person would first have to declare: No. 1 or No. 2?
Finally, after more than nine months of trial and error, Hector walked out of the bathroom one day and uttered something they both remember. “Honey,” he said. “We’re going to be millionaires.”