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THE REAL PORTA-POTTIES OF SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD by Donny Levit

Relief could be just around the corner


Imagine a picture-perfect weekend afternoon in our two towns: The streets and sidewalks are chock-full of walkers, runners, cyclists, and new families gently negotiating their strollers on smooth and blemished sidewalks alike. The dog owners lead their prized canines along, bursting with pride because their particular pooch is the most well-behaved over the last quarter mile. Their hopes and dreams of a perfect morning walk are dashed as Fido busts a move at the nearest rabbit or snarls at Rex from two houses down. Yet, all in all, our neighborhoods are pleasant vistas, ripe for the boasting by many a real estate agency.


As the warmer months of the year slowly approach, it’s only to be expected that the community will enjoy the pastoral beauty of our two towns as the call of nature beckons. But what, pray tell, happens when nature does indeed call? Although they may be the most innocent of rumors, your neighbors may very well have found a rather pragmatic solution.


Behold the much-maligned portable toilet. Even the most casual mention can trigger unsavory olfactory memories and ghastly visual nightmares. And for those of you who self-identify as germaphobes, there is simply not enough hand sanitizer in the northern hemisphere to calm you after your portable toilet usage.


It’s high time that we reconsider their role in society and progress past their unfair representation as outhouses of ill-repute. On any given day, the neighborhoods of Maplewood and South Orange boast dozens of the units quietly situated on the property of your neighbors while their houses are under renovation. They sport a pleasing array of colors, including shades of forest green, papaya whip orange, the gentle taupe that conjures up memories of an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme circa 1983, or just the right cerulean blue – a color that glistens when it catches the sun on a sterling spring day in our towns. After all, we pride ourselves on being a community that respects all of our neighbors. And these temporary structures are better neighbors, indeed…much more than you may even know.


Hitherto we have devoted our discussion to the external aesthetics of the portable toilet. To put it gently, the most important function is what takes place inside these temporary domains. Of course, it’s necessary – as per the requirements of OSHA (Operational Safety and Health Administration) – that general contractors and workers are provided with said facilities on their worksites. More significantly, it’s the right thing to do.


And let’s remember these are not your music festival porta-potty farms that we approach with dread during the warmer months. In that unfortunate situation, we enter at our own risk, balance our beer so it doesn’t touch any surfaces, and strain to hear Kendrick Lamar singing “Wesley’s Theory” or LCD Soundsystem playing “Disco Infiltrator” or Japanese Breakfast singing “Machinist” only 300 feet away. Our local portable toilets are far more serene.


Herein lies the untold truth: You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that porta-potties serve a larger population of our community than one might expect. Consider the hard-working civil servant making their rounds throughout the community, bereft of a home base during the day. After consuming their 20-ounce travel mug of morning caffeine, it’s only natural that they will eventually seek out relief. These porta-potties are welcoming buoys situated throughout an ocean of quickly-filling bladders. And think about those graceful homeowners who have an unspoken understanding with these hardworking folk in need of a momentary rest stop. Other homeowners simply look the other way as the polyurethane door gently closes so that someone in need can conduct their personal business in that porta-potty.


For those of you who may be hesitant to offer your porta-potty to the general public: we must ask if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar position. Perhaps you’re training to run a marathon and need a quick place to take a rest stop 90 minutes into your 20-mile training session. You have negative splits on the line and you want to keep your pace going. Or maybe you’re catching up with a neighbor on a long walk while sipping from your 30-ounce seafoam-colored Yeti travel mug that your mother-in-law monogrammed for you as a holiday gift. Wouldn’t you like to continue your friendly walk after a brief pause?


Or maybe you just dropped the kids at school and want to take the long way home with the treasured spare minutes of your day. While passing by a house getting roof replacement surgery, you suddenly have an urge to go. After surreptitiously peeking inside the front window, you recognize a wonderful parent from your child’s first grade class. Unfortunately, they are busy chuckling forcibly on an all-hands Zoom call. Wouldn’t it be easier to use their portable toilet outside instead of appearing as an awkward presence on their Ring? Think about the fast, easy, and private flush-free experience in the cerulean blue comfort zone that gently sways in the wind current caused by the planes landing at EWR. No one has been interrupted. No harm. No foul.

For the record, we cannot officially weigh in with a recommendation as to how you manage your porta-potty, or whether or not to partake of one when caught short on the prowl. However, let this serve as a note of deep appreciation to the homeowners who engage in this quiet community assistance. We can forever view our town landscapes dotted with colorful porta-potties as a humble bladder oasis.


Honestly, neighbor, is there anything more satisfying than living in a town where you can rest easy knowing that someone else has rested easily?


Donny Levit is a writer and Maplewood resident. He is the author of Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories. You can hear him DJ his indie rock show “Under the Influence” and his jazz show “Kind of Pool” on Bone Pool Radio. Follow him on Instagram @undertheinfluenceradio and @kindofpoolradio and @newishradio.


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