Small Talk: When you gotta go, you gotta go

Statistically, here in Southern California, we don’t have hurricanes or sudden snowstorms. Tidal waves are possible but not probable. But we do live in dangerous times, and in undeniable earthquake and fire territory, so our schools are busy preparing for everything.

While there is scarce humor in all that, it was an amusing week in my school library, as a very patient staff member upgraded emergency equipment for all classrooms. First came enormous boxes of curious-looking stuff. They included radios, hand sanitizer, dust masks, a 3-in- 1 tool, gloves, blankets, first-aid kits and more. And then — oh, my stars — she started assembling the emergency toilets.

The what, you say?

The hilarity began as she unboxed about 30 5-gallon buckets. That right there got everyone curious. Into each one, she then put toilet paper, large plastic trash bags and what they are calling a “privacy curtain.” She then snapped on a lidded toilet seat and it was ready for action. As these completed creatures began to stack up, the poor woman was absolutely peppered with the same questions from every passer-by.

The one or two more squeamish teachers were the funniest. I chuckled, watching their faces, as they learned what these were and how they needed to be handled.

“Yes, you may have to close up a full bag and put in a new one,” they were gently told. I could see one silently gagging. Another wore a look of absolute horror.

A more cavalier mom took one look and stated simply, “My backside will never fit on that.”

Another teacher asked, with panic in her voice, “Who holds up the privacy curtain?” Now I’m picturing a gaggle of 5-year- olds trying to keep the curtain up while teacher visits the potty. Dicey business.

Another summed it up with, “The kids are going to flip.” Perhaps, but I suspect when the situation demands it, we will all become surprisingly resourceful.

The minute the students spotted the tiny toilets, they promptly began making up names for them, most not suitable for print. I spent all week laughing on the inside, but telling one or another that was not really acceptable conversation for the media center, thank you very much.

I will admit, this was an aspect of shelter-in- place that never crossed my mind. An earthquake would certainly compromise our water and sewer pipes.

Any sort of “stay in the room” situation means children, and even we grown-ups, would soon be hopping around doing the potty dance.

I truly hope we will never need our clever, new porta-potties. But, for all the grimacing they bring out in us, you know we will be jubilant they are there, should we have to stay put for a few hours.

C’mon. Think about it. If you consider the alternatives, none are pretty.

Tying up a plastic bag begins to look fairly reasonable. Perspective is everything.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer hiding a stash of her own toilet paper. Contact her at


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