Elegy For An Outhouse

by Jason Peters on April 23, 2013 · 3 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Culture, High & Low


Williamston, MI

Wherein the Barn Jester, having stepped in it, encounters an unexpected trial.

The travails of home ownership (where “home” should be “house,” but we leave that for another day) are well known to the owners of “homes.”

  • There is no plumber’s assistant ready and waiting in the corner of the main WC when one Patty McFaddenkeister visits and, half-way through dinner, excuses herself to lay a record-setting length of cable. Embarrassment ensues, especially when the children (and who can blame them?) begin to giggle uncontrollably.
  • A skunk moves in under the front porch and, at the provocation of the ever-meddling Johnny from down the way, raises its bi-colored tail and avails itself of a better defense against Johnny than any parent, teacher, or grammar-school headmaster has heretofore conceived.
  • The shower in the master bath begins to leak; water, favoring, like history and undergraduate males, the path of least resistance, begins to drip from the light fixture in the hall below.
  • The water heater breaks and sends its contents in search of the basement’s low point, which, thanks to Polowski & Sons (who designed your “home”), is on the far side of the carpeted and finished section of the basement.
  • The neighbor turns out to be the original Psycho Bitch from Hell.
  • Suddenly a bat flutters o’er the Bed of Amorous Intent.

The anecdotes could mount and mount and mount—and let them, says the Barn Jester. What better pastime, what better Tischsprache, than horror stories inching their way right up to the very harrowing of hell (e.g., the sick child who falls asleep on the brand new cream-colored couch and, not waking from his hot fever, produces an Olympian quantity of diarrhea)?

But suppose you find on a newly purchased bit of land an outhouse—solitary, forsaken, and fragrant.

Such did the Barn Jester find behind his new-old barn. Of design passing good (back access to a five gallon bucket hanging from below the Oval Throne) and of placement not altogether ill-conceived (downwind of all else, given normal weather patterns), this privy nevertheless had its faults, chief among them neglect: its cup ranneth over, nor surely did goodness (or mercy) follow it half the days of its life.

Moreover, it was not made to keep 1 and 2 separate, which sound privy design is most solicitous of, nor could sprinkling lime nor ash be found anywhere nearby.

And the gorge—the gorge arose at the sight of its interior.

In consequence of which the Barn Jester purposed in his heart, like Claudius of Hamlet, the present death of Outhouse.

(Unlike Martin Luther, who is said to have arrived at salvation by grace in cloaca, the Barn Jester receives all inspiration on, not above, a stool.)

To the corner of the property, in the bed of a 1983 Dodge Ram pick-up truck (a.k.a. The Babe Magnet), went two wooden pallets and a whole lot of scrap lumber for kindling.

Onto its side went Chloë (for all privies need a nickname).

Threaded into Chloe’s frame went two large eye-hooks made for heavy and unpleasant labor. Twine found on the property—twine doubled and redoubled—went through the hooks and then to the draw bar on a Satoh tractor.

And slowly, to the funereal dirge of the combustion engine, was Chloë drawn across a pasture until at last she lay at rest on her side atop the pallets, base of her future pyre.

In her cavity, on a wall whereon some wag, thinking her a pay toilet, might have written, “Here I sit, broken hearted, / Paid my dime and only farted,” the Barn Jester built a teepee of small dry twigs and then touched it with a match.

The west wind, to which the incomparable Shelley once wrote a great ode, marked the occasion with an accommodating exhalation, and soon, after the addition of the prepared kindling, the immolation was irreversible. Like a living monk of some strange creed, and mayhap to Luther’s dismay, the privy went up in smoke, inspirational toilet seat and all.

Of course no burn permit had been sought. The Barn Jester would not encourage intrusion even by the most localist of governments. In the land of debris and the home of the grave a man ought to be able to send heavenward an outhouse he purchased but did not seek. If he knows how and when to burn earth’s own timber, he needn’t solicit the blessing of a desk jockey who has never wrung the neck of a chicken or shat in the woods under the open eye of heaven.

(And when he gets caught aiming his .22 at the groundhog eating his tomatoes, he will have no need of township legal-counsel-in-pumps (whose writ will cite “ground hog” instead of “groundhog”) to tell him of the “acceptable” way to “dispose of rodents,” which will undoubtedly involve a “live trap” and a short drive to some other farm or a long one to some other county, where the problem will continue, and then increase, in accordance with bureaucratic wishes everywhere.)

Ah, life’s mysteries. Are our crescences meant only for excrescence? If what is inscrutable isn’t susceptible of being scruted, is not scat unscatable? Must we fecate only to defecate? Are our charges given only for discharge?

O Chloë, well-made, ill-cared-for, how the Barn Jester mourns thee! For noble purposes were’t thou made, and yet nobility never visited nor sat upon thee. And when at last thou cam’st into loving care, when at last he who did note thy worth came also to be thy possessor, how fallen in nature and in stature did he find thee, O receiver of spent nutrition!

So didst thou give thy form, nature, and substance to the flames, thou bearer of decarotened carrots, thou depository of unapplied apples, of deleted lettuces, of unbeaten beets, of unencumbered cucumbers, of beef deboefed, of deduced diced dewberries.

But yet what noble Porcher principles, O Cloaca, be thy stem and true descent, thou local home-spun innovative seat and source of decentralist fertilizer! Here in thy ashes, amid the screws and hinges that be thy less true than palpable remains, do I see the mark, indeed the emblem, of thy true being.

Here lies a privy, an outhouse, a Chloë of the first order, a shit house nonpareil (save for its gross neglect).

The Barn Jester’s gloves, be it noted, were added to the pyre, and to a single brow of woe did the whole world’s grief contract.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar David Naas April 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm

My children, alas, grew up with indoor plumbing, and hence suffered a deficiency of character not pertinent to those of us who recall rural Illinois winters and the hard decision as to whether attempt the trip out in the dark, or pray to make it through to daylight.
(Nor, were they ever aware of the purely Satanic joy of sneaking up to Old Mr. XX’s privy and tipping it over, preferably with him in contemplation of nature inside.) The statute of limitations has run out on that sort of thing. I hope.

avatar James Matthew Wilson April 25, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her crap and mine . . .
I have been faithful to thee, Chloe! in my fashion.

avatar robert m. peters April 28, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Outhouses and Such

My great and and uncle were among many of my relatives who maintained an outhouse into the late 1950′s with no indoor facilities. My great uncle raised his own corn which he fed to his cattle. He retained the cobs and soaked them in salt water. They were the country antecedent to “toilet paper” and remained so by him. The cobs were neatly stacked in the outhouse. The cobs of yellow corn were reserved for the ladies since men did not need cobs for “doing number one.” The cobs of Indian corn, colored as the kernels which they had hosted, were reserved for “number two.” This same great uncle and aunt washed with a wash pot, heated by an open fire, until my great uncle died in 1958. Three days after he died, my great aunt got a new automatic washer. Some months latter, she had a toilet placed into the house with the requisite water.

My grandmother who lived in a small town, Pollock, had an outdoor toilet until the mid fifties. Therein as a child in the dead of night die I experience the excruciating sting of a scorpion on my most extreme nether parts. A couple of years later, she got “indoor plumbing.”

Mother, who is now ninety-six often speaks in the contemplation of her memories of waking to the soft lantern light of a old colored man whose job it was to clean from under each privy in the darkness of the very early morning. It seems that these particular privies simple sat a few feet off the ground with no ground hole; hence, the need to be cleaned out daily. One of my other great uncles had such a privy. He had no “sanitation worker” to do the nightly cleaning. That good and necessary work was done by day by his yard chickens. Those chickens tasted good fried; and to my knowledge, none of us died from having eaten them.

The pre-indoor toilet could be quite simple. My paternal grandfather used a large sirup bucket which he emptied of a morning after its nightly use and hung on a nail to sun. My father told the story of that bucket going missing one day, highly irritating my grandfather. Later that day, fishing in Sandy Creek down under the trestle, my father and his adolescent buddies discovered an old hobo making coffee in my grandfathers sirup bucket. Many have been the family jokes about the “strength” of that coffee.

Finally, the most primitive of “outhouses” comes to light in the dying words of a man with whom my father was on the death watch. The man, not at himself, was dying. He told the young nurse that he “needed to go to the woods.” She was at a loss as to what he meant. My father had to translate. She had, of course, herself “needed to go to the woods” but had never had to go to the woods to meet that need since the need of the woods had been replaced by the commode with its “gender” problems of “lid up” or “lid down.”

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