Everyday Orinda – October 2019


Porta Potty Pride

    WWJD? This acronym traditionally stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” I alter the meaning a bit to cope with writer’s block, occasionally substituting “Jerry.” When I’m staring at the blank screen and need some inspiration, I imagine what the comedian Jerry Seinfeld would notice if he visited Orinda. Besides, we all pretty much know what Jesus would do: The exact opposite of what we are thinking of doing. Dang.
    What would Jerry and I banter about if somehow, miraculously, he and I could cruise from MCC to OCC, sipping lattes and cracking each other up like on his Netflix show “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” Obviously, to start things off right, the first thing on our agenda would be “Dancing with the Cars,” because, first and foremost, the man loves automobiles. Actually, let’s make a note to invite him in 2020.
    Roaming the mean streets of Orinda, being finely tuned to the quirky observation, one thing I could imagine Jerry commenting about are the funny little makeshift Porta Potty “disguises” gracing numerous local home renovations.
    Some readers may not know what I’m talking about. And I’m not even sure these “personal potty upgrades” have a proper name. Recently I’ve noticed that during a renovation, rather than having a portable toilet prominently stationed in a client’s front yard, enterprising contractors designed “shells” for the potty, encasing the structure in decorative wooden siding, some even adding a quaint little roof. I’m talking about that type of mass-produced outdoor paneling with a woven, crisscross design, featured in a lot of cringeworthy prom photo backdrops from the ‘80s. I suspect the intent is to camouflage, or somehow make the portable toilet a little less of an eyesore.
    I can appreciate the thought. Steve Lambert of Garden Lights Landscape Design apologized to me in 2011 when there was no other place for the required portable toilet to go but smackdab (as they say in Louisiana) in the center of our front yard. “No apologies necessary, Steve,” I replied. I wasn’t just trying to be overly nice, in some disingenuous attempt to ensure our project was completed on time. Truth be told, I was secretly proud of that unsightly beast.
    Paying your first health insurance premium officially makes you an adult. Conquering your child’s first raging case of head lice officially makes you a parent. And sporting a Leaning Tower of Porta Potty in your front yard officially makes you a bona fide Orindan, and I would have explained it like that to Jerry Seinfeld. “A good Realtor will probably tell you: Plant one in your yard for at least two months, whether you need it or not, then you’re in.” And hopefully, he would laugh.
    My pride in my Porta Potty was real. I wanted to join the ranks of the dissatisfied, those among us who just don’t feel right unless our surroundings are in a state of potential improvement. That, plus, I quickly learned that one of the top excuses for politely declining a plea to accept an enormous volunteer responsibility is to say, with genuine sincerity, “Gosh, you know I TOTALLY would (insert sanity-shattering, all-consuming, vendetta-inspiring, non-paid chairmanship here) but unfortunately I cannot because (wait for it, here it comes, it’s either “I’m going back to work” or… ) we’re RENOVATING.”
    Since I’d not yet pulled my act together to return to a role that was in any way associated with earning actual money, I might have told Steve he was welcome to leave that Porta Potty in our front yard for as long as possible. No one needed to know our renovation was all patio and involved no selling of kidneys, inconvenient showering at the gym or the refrigerator in the master bedroom for six months. A front yard Porta Potty was as good as a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on the honeymoon suite. Much like the sacred hair appointment, renovation is another iron-clad excuse to weasel out of anything.
    Why then would anyone want to disguise this coveted capsule, an unlimited hall pass, alerting all passersby that property value enhancement and the disruptive inconvenience of transformation is taking place. Everyone knows: When there’s a toilet in the front yard, there is some exciting one-upmanship going on here!
    Besides, it’s not like anyone is NOT going to notice the Porta Potty just because its halfway concealed in some decorative wooden siding that looks like something you would use to block the dumpster view with some ferns on a coffee shop patio. Can’t you just hear Jerry, “Oh, did the Johnsons build a tiny guest house in their front yard? Nice but it’s awfully small. It almost looks like a …. wait a minute ….”
    Just by their very nature, Porta Potties are awkward. There’s always the pervasive fear that you will fumble and drop something of vital importance into the menacing abyss of sewage, or that some conniving prankster lies in wait to topple the structure whilst you are busy inside. There’s only a fleeting amount of glee over the sight of a Porta Potty, and that is only if one is desperate, possessing of exceptional gymnastic ability to avoid contact with any of the surfaces, and prescient enough to carry hand sanitizer. The walls echo with the sound of young mothers’ frantic “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!” orders to their newly potty-trained toddlers, who, quite frankly, are either intrigued or petrified by this experience that has their mother so wigged out.
    A sow’s ear will never be a silk purse, and a portable toilet will always be a portable toilet, no matter how much one tries to beautify it. So I say, let there be no shame. Let the potty simply be what it is meant to be: Pungent yet practical, frightening yet faithful, the awkwardly upright sidekick of Orinda contractors. Friend of the skilled laborer, the delivery driver, the curious toddler and the over-caffeinated dog walker; monument to the continuing suburban quest for excellent resale value.

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