Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

When it comes to getting a few laughs, I've got the scoop

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I hate to brag, but I spend a lot of time thinking about poop.

This is partly because I am a crusading newspaper columnist defending the public's right to know.

It's mostly because I own two dogs with hyperactive digestive systems and my wife expects me to trail them around with a plastic shovel clutched in one hand and a plastic grocery bag dangling from the other.

The cruel truth is, if it weren't for dogs and their natural byproduct, I likely wouldn't have become a humour columnist in the first place.

The first real laugh I ever got in my life hinged entirely on an unfortunate encounter with poop.

It was the mid-1960s and I was a pudgy nine-year-old kid with a U.S. marine-style crewcut and a never-ending supply of elephant jokes, which, for the record, were the pinnacle of funny back then. (Q: What did Tarzan say when he saw a herd of elephants wearing sunglasses? A: Nothing. He didn't recognize them.)

What happened was my parents were having a barbecue for their friends and neighbours and, while running around the yard to display my Olympic-calibre sprinting skills, I slipped and -- BLECH! -- landed head-first in a hefty pile of misery our dog had deposited on the lawn.

This poop predicament drew huge laughs from the assembled adults, which was unfortunate, because in my fevered child's mind I thought if it was funny once, it will be hilarious twice, dusted myself off and promptly plopped down again in an encore performance that left our guests offering my horrified parents -- "Honestly, he's NEVER done that before!" -- looks of deepest sympathy.

"Wow!" I recall one guest muttering. "That boy has a fine future ahead of him in newspapers."

Speaking of which, as a pioneering journalist, I am frequently invited to speak in schools, where one of my preferred topics is -- prepare to be underwhelmed -- poop.

I tend to fall back on that little gem because, if I have learned anything in my career as a beloved columnist, I have learned this: Poop is always funny!

One of my favourite pieces to read to the kids is a hilarious article written by Al Franken, who along with being a junior U.S. senator from Minnesota used to be a comic genius on Saturday Night Live, about his beloved dog, Kirby.

Here's a taste, so to speak: "After I know Kirby has eaten dog poop, I won't kiss him for at least a day. By then he's had three bowls of kibble and a lot of water and I figure all the poop molecules are gone. If not, I figure I'm building up immunities."

This story kills with the kids, but sometimes the teachers give me looks of, well, concern, much like the pained expressions on the faces of the guests at my parents' barbecue party.

"Gee," the teachers will whisper, "You sure have a lot of stories about poop."

Sadly, they are right. I haven't kept count, but I would conservatively estimate that, over the years, I have written more than a dozen columns in which poop played a prominent role, including the time my buddy Bob, who is also my boss, was driving his new dog over to my house when its gastrointestinal system erupted in the back seat of his car.

About a month ago, I wrote an insightful column wherein I described how scientists in Spain had stumbled on the world's oldest human poop -- 50,000-year-old fossilized Neanderthal poop, to be precise -- and learned that our caveman ancestors balanced their meat-heavy diet with a healthy serving of veggies.

I assumed that would likely cover the groundbreaking poop discoveries for the year, but it turns out I was a fool. I say that because Thursday morning I slipped on this alarming headline on the CBS News website: "Longest fossilized poop to be sold at auction."

It turns out a 100-centimetre coprolite -- a 20-million-year-old piece of fossilized dinosaur dung -- will be sold at auction on Saturday at the I.M. Chait Gallery in Beverly Hills, Calif. According to CBS News and the gallery's catalogue, this "enormous and rare" specimen, discovered two years ago in Washington state and likely left by a prehistoric turtle, boasts an "even, pale brown-yellow colouring" and should fetch up to $10,000.

Sniffed gallery spokesman Josh Chait: "Believe it or not, (coprolites) are actually quite collectible and most fossil collectors and natural history buffs have, or want, some in their collections."

You don't have to convince me, Josh. If I didn't believe people were interested in this stuff, my column wouldn't be so full of... information.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2014 A2

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