Pit Toilet


My wife was driving. We were on the way home from yet another work-related trip to a remote corner of California.

“Ha-ha, laughs and giggles,” I told my wife.  “This is funny but I really, really need to stop and use the rest room as soon as we see one. Funny, I know, because there’s no place to stop.”

We were in the middle of nowhere, amidst hayfields on both sides of Highway 395, 65 miles south of Alturas CA, 116 miles north of Reno NV.  Luckily for me, a sign appeared on the horizon, “Rest Area 1 Mile.”

Sure enough, we came upon said rest area and I toddled off to the side of the building marked “Men’s.”  Happily, no one was occupying the premises.

To my chagrin, as I bolted the latch, I found myself in the dark.  I felt around for a light switch and found none.  By the bit of sunlight coming in through three small grates, I stared deep into the filthy bowels of what I vaguely recognized as a pit toilet.  Perhaps it was the lack of a flush handle that gave it away.  Or perhaps it was a flashback to a camping trip with my family when I was eleven years old.  Six of us crowded into a tent, and my father would wake up to ferry us to the latrine in the middle of the night by flashlight.  The venue was a campground near the tiny town of Gilboa in upstate New York.  I had no idea that the place was named after the location of a Biblical battle, but I did develop an impressive case of butt rash.

I hope I avoid that ignominous fate in my current situation.  In my urgency, however, I was left with no choice but to grit my teeth and sit down.  I count my blessings, for there is not one, but three rolls of toilet paper at my disposal here.

I brought some trash from the car to dispose, but no trash basket is in evidence.  Worse, however, is the fact that there is no sink.  So, after squatting over this putrefying hole, I won’t even be able to wash my hands.

Oh, gee. Some poor soul is rattling the door handle, desperate to get in.  I hear a slight moan, and then what can only be described as a retch.  Listening to the wretch retch, I can only feel sorry for this poor person.  “Look,” I privately reason with him, “you can puke your guts out on the lawn of this rest area, making a horrible mess in the process, and everyone will take pity on you.  I, on the other hand, do not have the option to drop trou, grunt loudly, and violently defecate in the sunshine without being promptly arrested for indecent exposure and summarily hauled off to jail in the CHP paddy wagon.  And what would I tell my boss when I call out from work tomorrow?  You, my friend, can call in sick.  I, on the other hand, will have some splainin’ to do.”

Back at the car, my wife gripes about finding a similarly disgusting situation in the women’s room.   “Do we have any hand wipes?” She asks.  “Ah, we have one left.  There should at least be a place where you can wash your hands!”

We share the single remaining pre-moistened towelette as we fly down the road.  We need to find someplace to stop for lunch.

But first, we need to wash our hands.  With lots of hot water and soap.



California’s AB 1266: Equality, Respect and Peeing

rest room

So I’m still trying to help the niece get through quadratic equations.  Factoring some of these babies is like wrestling with a grizzly bear, I tell you.  Particularly the ones with fourth powers and such.  Just remember to rationalize your roots and use integer factoring before resorting to the quadratic formula.  Oh, and get rid of the variables in those denominators.  Simplify your expressions.  Show your work.

I’m so glad I’m not in school anymore.

My niece loves her psychology class but is stumped on choosing a topic for her final paper.  It has to be a current issue and she must introduce it by expressing her position in a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.  The instructor wants her students to stay away from topics that are “redundant.”  Whatever that means.  “Not gun control” was the example offered.  My guess is that this teacher doesn’t want to see any topic that has been debated to death in the news.

I asked my niece whether she had anything in mind.  She told me she’d like to gripe about why 18 year olds can die for their country in a war but can’t drink legally.  I asked if she’d Googled the topic and she said she had, but found nothing.  I suggested this could be because 18 year olds who are active military can drink legally.

So now we’re back to square one.  I suggested doing something on bullying, a topic that has returned to the news in the wake of last week’s murder/suicide at Sparks Middle School.  But we couldn’t decide whether or not this falls within the purview of the “redundant.”

One topic that interests my niece is California’s AB 1266, the recent law that modified the state Education Code to grant transgendered students the right to use their choice of the school’s boys’ or girls’ rest rooms and locker rooms, even before sex reassignment surgery.  Massachusetts and Colorado already have adopted similar laws, so our Golden State legislators are not exactly being mavericks here.

I rather like this topic, because it exposes entirely unreasonable societal fears for the warrantless cultural bugaboos they really are.  Tell me how this goes now?  As long as the student in the skirt still has male equipment, that student needs to stay out of the ladies’ room?  But as soon as she (yes, I said “she”) has her junk removed, it will be okay?  After all, we wouldn’t want any transitioning male-to-female transgendered people committing rapes in the women’s.  (Say what??)  Preoperative female-to-male transgendered people we don’t really care about, as they haven’t the equipment to rape anyone with.  Does this sound as insane to you as it does to me?

Of course, the conservative right and the evangelicals are up in arms.  That’s okay, go ahead and withdraw your kids from the public schools.  It may reduce the state aid available to our district, but at least it will improve the student-teacher ratio (until they start laying off teachers, that is).  Besides, home schooling rocks.

I went a step further and suggested that the whole issue of who is permitted to use which rest room is little more than a tempest in a teacup.  I am thinking in terms of all public rest rooms, not just those in schools.  Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that rest rooms were segregated by race.  Why should they continue to be segregated by gender?

If rest rooms in airports, stores and public buildings were not segregated by gender, the idea wouldn’t seem so radical in the case of schools. And when is a better time to teach gender equality, respect and human decency than during the formative years?

One thing that all of us of both genders have in common is that, sooner or later, we gotta go pee.  Standards of common decency should be no different in a rest room than elsewhere.  Like so many things, this goes back to how children are raised.  In the home, the bathrooms are not labeled “men’s and “women’s.”

I had to tell my niece a story about the rest rooms in my freshman college dormitory.  Each floor of the dorm had two wings, one for men and one for women.  Each gender had a large rest room and shower facility in the center of its wing.  In the men’s wing, the problem was that many of the guys had girlfriends who liked to stay overnight and didn’t want to have to trudge all the way over to the other wing to go pee in the middle of the night.  The residence assistant called a meeting to take a vote of the men living in our wing as to whether women should be permitted to use our rest room and shower facility.  The “yes” vote would have been unanimous if not for the fact that yours truly took the coward’s way out and abstained.

As I saw it, I no more wanted women walking in on me than the women in the other wing wanted men walking in on them.  So what terrible things happened?  Absolutely none.  I became accustomed to exiting a rest room stall to find a woman in a bath robe coming out of the shower with a towel wrapped around her hair.  It occurred to me that this was not that different from what I experienced with my sisters back at home.

I think the increasing popularity of “family rest rooms” is a baby step in the right direction.  This solves the problem of what Dad should do when his four year old daughter has to pee during a shopping trip to Wal-Mart.  The naysayers point out that family rest rooms are “single occupancy;” if the parent locks the door, no one else can walk in.  As I say, it’s just a step.  But it’s better than nothing.

A rest room should be just that, a rest room.  A neutral location divested of political and religious issues, an equal opportunity place where anyone can go pee.  I suppose there will always be those who obsess over who is a woman, who is a man, and who may legally step into a particular rest room.  I think those people have bigger problems.


The Men’s Room at Wal-Mart

mens room


The measure of a store or a restaurant is its rest rooms.

Everyone compares prices, service and quality, but the bottom line is that the customer is not going to be happy without a satisfactory place to pee.

This evening, we took a jaunt over to Yuma, which, while a substantial drive, allows us to walk the aisles of Wal-Mart and eat dinner at one of our favorite chain restaurants.  Living out in the desert, the closest Wal-Mart is 45 miles away.  Yuma is twice that distance, but provides a much larger variety of opportunities to divest us of our money (an activity that my wife refers to by a strange foreign term, “shopping”).

The drive down U.S. 95 takes you through featureless desert and hence is mind-numbingly boring.  To compensate, nature provides heart-stopping thrills for the driver’s entertainment.  We have not been to Yuma since last June, at which time we wondered whether we would ever go back at all.  That was the time we almost didn’t make it home.

It was a Saturday, a day we normally sleep late, but we had rolled out of bed at the crack of dawn to make an 8:00 car maintenance appointment at the car dealership.  By the time we finished all our business with the local merchants, it was late afternoon.  Donna began the trek back up the 95, but soon felt sleepy and pulled over for me to drive.  I hadn’t been driving for more than ten minutes when it started to rain, a light spattering of drops at first.  Soon, it began to pour.  I came to a dip in the road and notice that, in the space of a few minutes, it had filled up with water that had begun spilling onto the roadway.  Having stopped, I woke up Donna and asked for advice on whether to cross.

I didn’t think we had any choice, so I moved into the center of the road and began to creep across.  Donna, a very calm person in most circumstances, was as close to hysterical as I have ever seen her.  “We’re gonna get swept away!  Go faster!” she yelled.  We made it across, but two minutes later we approached an even deeper dip that was filled with water just like the other one.  By now, the rainwater was running furiously down the wash like a whitewater rapids.  Cars were stopped in both directions, everyone fearing that they would float downstream if they dared attempt a crossing.

We switched drivers again.  We consulted with the driver of the vehicle in front of us, who had no words of wisdom to offer.  As the water washed over the road, we began to wonder whether it would rise enough that we would need to climb onto the roof of the car to await rescue.  Donna phoned her mother and her sister to ask them to pray, as this might be the last of us.

We realized that there was nothing we could do but wait it out and hope for the best.  It might take hours for the water to recede, I thought, and only if it stopped raining.  Well, we had bottled water and the food we had just bought.  Let’s just hope we didn’t need to use the rest room.

Finally, the huge motor home stopped in the opposite direction gunned the engine and barreled across.  Encouraged, the truck behind it zoomed across as well.  The vehicle in front of us gingerly picked its way across, followed by us.

My story was met with much laughter when I told it at work.  We had always ignored the “Flash Flood Zone” signs, but apparently they weren’t kidding.  “You don’t go to Yuma when it rains!” my incredulous coworkers exclaimed.  “You don’t go to Yuma when it might rain!  You don’t go to Yuma when there is a cloud in the sky!”

After that, we were gun shy for nine months.  But today, with a clear, blue sky, we decided it was time to try it again.  Passing the “Do Not Enter When Flooded” and “Flash Flood Zone” signs, we expected an uneventful trip.  Nature, however, had other plans.

I noticed a sign that warned “Watch Out for Animals.”  Animals?  What kind of animals?  A couple of times we had seen a fox tear across the highway and once we saw a buck with impressive antlers on the side of the road.  I figured that’s what the sign referred to.  Donna mentioned that animals were usually not too hard to see due to the reflection of their eyes in the headlights.

That’s when we spotted a donkey on the side of the road.  I told Donna that I had read that the desert was full of wild donkeys and horses.  She asked where they came from and I told her that they were the progeny of beasts abandoned many years ago after they had outlived their usefulness as work animals.

Not ten minutes later, I was barely able to see a set of legs running furiously across the road, directly in our path.  Donna blew the horn.  Whatever it was couldn’t have been more than a few feet from our tires.  “Did you see that?” she exclaimed.  “That was a horse!  That was almost some accident.”  I agreed that our car and the horse would probably not have survived such a collision.  Nor would we have, she added.  The horse was entirely black except for some patches of white on the legs, making it all but invisible to a driver.

Having managed not to pee my pants, when we arrived at Wal-Mart I desperately needed to use the rest room facilities.  Not just the urinal, mind you.  I needed to go the full monte.

Just like many Wal-Mart locations, the men’s room in the one we visited today offered only two stalls, one of them a “handicapped” stall, enlarged to allow entry of a wheelchair.  The handicapped stall was occupied.  As I was about dying at this point, I was very grateful that the remaining stall was available.

The stall had no lock, but in my extreme need, I was undeterred.  I pretty much knew what would happen.  The next customer to need a stall would simply push the door open and then embarrassedly mutter apologies.  I have been through this routine many times over the years.  When the door begins to open, I yell “Excuse me!” or “Occupado!” and hope that my visitor will quickly go away.

When I heard someone walk into the rest room, I gave out a here-we-go sigh.  But the handicapped stall had been vacated and the guy made a beeline therefor.  My neighbor felt the need to announce himself and his mission.  “Time to release the Old Yellow!” he sang out.  Moments later, he was done and I heard him call out “mission accomplished!”

Thank you, dear sir, I really needed the running commentary to get a full picture of your activities.  You do realize you could have just posted a status update on your Facebook page, right?  Or perhaps you could pull out your cell phone and send a tweet:  “Now peeing in Wal-Mart.”

I have always believed that it is in good taste to flush the toilet when you are done.  Am I wrong here?  The problem, however, is that it is often a challenge to figure out how to do this in a public rest room.  As alluded to in previous posts, in many things I am hopelessly old-fashioned.  I actually still expect there to be a handle for this purpose.  Good luck with that, mister.

In the absence of a handle, I hope for some manner of instruction, such as a button emblazoned with the helpful label “Press.”  Nope, not in Wal-Mart.

My last best hope was that perhaps this was one of those newfangled self-flushing toilets.  I seriously doubted this, as those usually flush before I am ready, sending a jet of water up my butt like some kind of diabolical bidet.

I was ready to give up.  I said a silent apology to the next visitor, who would withdraw in revulsion upon opening the door to God’s little excretory acre.

That’s when I noticed what looked like a steel bolt that helped to hold the toilet apparatus together.  I felt foolish as I touched it, as if for good luck.


I should mention that I am one of those people who feels the obsessive need to wash my hands before leaving the rest room.  I attribute this to early religious training.

One would think that, at my age, I would have learned how to use a freakin’ sink.  Hahahaha!

My father always told me that one place is pretty much the same as the next.  “The grass is green, the sky is blue and they have hot and cold running water.”  Perhaps in most countries, Dad, but definitely not in Wal-Mart Land.

Like the toilets, the sinks at Wal-Mart do not come with instructions.  This should not be a problem, as I have been using sinks for a while now.  I expect two handles or knobs, one on the left and the other on the right.  Typically, they are labeled C for “cold” and H for “hot” or, in Spanish-speaking areas, F for “frio” and C for “caliente.”  I don’t know what language they speak in Wal-Mart Land, but I was horrified to find that there were no handles or knobs whatsoever.

How was I to get a little hot water and soap?  My intention was to lather up and wash not only my palms, but also between each of my fingers.  With the flu going around, I keep reading about the importance of hand-washing to avoid the spread of infection.  And it’s important to make sure that you scrub long enough to kill all those nasty bacteria.  Some recommend that you recite the entire A-B-C song, including the part about “next time, sing along with me” (when I was a kid, it was “teacher, teacher, don’t hit me,” but I suppose the modern version reflects the general disappearance of corporal punishment in the schools).  As for myself, I prefer to sing “Mary had a little lamb.”

In public, I try to sing very quietly, almost under my breath, to avoid icy stares, laughter and the chance that the nice young men in the clean white coats will come to take me away.

Not having a clue as to how to turn on the water in Wal-Mart’s rest room sink, I simply placed my hands under the spigot and hoped for the best.  Voilà!  Out rushed the water — ice cold water.  I came to the realization that Wal-Mart’s sinks do not offer hot water!  I resigned myself to settle for cold.  At least I could wash my hands.

“…It followed her to school one day, which was against the rules.  It made the children laugh and play to see a lamb at school.”

As soon as I withdrew my hands, the flow of water stopped!  Will modern marvels never cease.

Next came the matter of drying my dripping hands.  Heading straight for the paper towel dispenser, my task was to determine from whence said paper towels could be pulled.  I generally expect a little bit of white or brown towel to peek out from some part of the dispenser to give me a clue.  No such luck.

I looked for the little, circular knob on the side of the dispenser that one is supposed to be able to turn to make missing paper towels magically appear.  I was unable to find such a knob.

Finally, I ran my hand along the bottom of the dispenser, which was probably loaded with germs and counteracted the whole purpose of hand-washing in the first place.  My hope was that I would feel a paper towel stuck in the opening.  I did feel the opening:  An empty hole.

Next, I proceeded to the electronic hand dryer.  “No Touch!” it proudly advertised.  I waved my hands back and forth under the opening, as if making some type of magic incantation that would cause hot air to begin flowing from the loins of the machine.  No luck.  Perhaps I forgot to say “abracadabra.”

Thinking I would have no choice but to wipe my hands on my pants, in a last act of desperation, I touched the No Touch machine.