>Our village, as you know, is mired in budget problems. Things are so tight that our Renaissance-type mayor, Lionel "Love Train" Rivera, has been forced to buy cheap, foreign-made pins to plunge into his gay and lesbian voodoo dolls, a ceremony that kicks off each City Council meeting.
Anyway, there's a budget crisis. And I hope it doesn't force the halt of road repairs. I hope it doesn't hamper crime-fighting efforts by our police department. I hope it doesn't delay the response time by our fire department.
But mostly, I hope the next time I go to a city park nobody tips over the porta-potty while I'm sitting in it.
In January, faced with cutting $2.2 million from its budget, our city parks department began looking for ways to save money. One place they looked was the restrooms in the city parks. In those restrooms they found:
Rising utility costs for heating, electricity and water.
Maintenance costs to keep the restrooms clean.
"For A Good Time Call Jim Bensberg" written on 147 women's room stalls in what Boulder police believe is the county commissioner's handwriting.
I'm just kidding about that last one, of course. The city only has 50 restrooms in its public parks.
The parks department made a priority list. The restrooms were not high on the list, falling somewhere between mowing the grass and answering complaints from Broadmoor-area parents about stepping in Canada goose poop with their $1,600 shoes.
It decided to shut down 19 of its 50 restrooms. Beside them are portable toilets called Porta-Johns. These plastic latrines smell funny and make you want to get out as quickly as possible. Which makes them not entirely unlike Greeley.
Closed for budget cuts
"The restrooms need to be cleaned daily, and sometimes twice daily," said Parks Director Paul Butcher. "That work was done by our summer hires, and we lost most of those due to the budget cuts. And some of the restrooms have extremely high utility costs. Some of them cost as much as $3,000 a year to operate, including maintenance costs. For a lot less money we got the Porta-Johns, and they're still somewhat convenient for the public."
Especially if you're a Japanese pearl diver and can hold your breath for five minutes.
"Our priorities were to keep up on the mowing and, with the drought, try to provide turf fields in our parks for the kids to play on," said Kurt Schroeder, park maintenance manager. "I've heard people express extreme disappointment that the restrooms are closed and they sure don't prefer the Porta-Johns, but it's cost effective. Waste Management puts them in and services them twice a week for $90 a month."
Each of the 19 locked restrooms has a sign: Restrooms closed due to budget reductions. The signs are small solace to a 12-year-old in a baseball uniform with a bladder that's about to burst as he yanks madly on the restroom door handle. My son plays summer baseball, and in the past few weeks I've observed kids at Ford Frick Park and Village Green Park forced to go hopping off toward a Porta-John, clutching an aluminum bat in one hand and their crotch in the other. Sometimes, boys reject the Porta-Johns and just pee behind a tree.
"The signs," said Schroeder, "are just to make people understand why the doors are locked. If they're locked and there's no explanation, people get frustrated. They may not like the reason, but at least it lets them know why."
So if you visit the budget-cut parks -- the list of 19 includes Memorial, Rampart, Palmer Park, the now aptly named Golden Hills Park, Pion Valley and even Broadmoor Valley (where the local residents believe their Porta-Johns smell like roses) -- and you have to go, you probably want a little information on these portable toilets.
'Doubles as a hunting blind'
Fortunately, I've done some research on the toilets and about how to calculate the number of units needed based on crowd predictions.
In the course of this research I also -- and believe me, I'm not proud of this -- found actual information involving a pharmaceutical company that "mines" drug-laden human waste from hospitals and "reclaims the product for remarketing."
(And you thought your HMO drug plan couldn't possibly get any worse.)
Anyway, Porta-Johns come in many sizes and styles. Our parks have mostly the Sani-Jon model, billed by the company as "roomy and pleasing to the eye." (Maybe now they can work on one that's "pleasing to the nose.") Another selling point of the Sani-Jon is that the "four sides can be folded in on top of each other" -- hopefully not before you can "get your pants up."
Another model -- and again, I'm not kidding about this -- is called the "Hunter's Special." This model is painted in a lovely camouflage pattern and according to the brochure, "doubles as a hunting blind." (Which I hope explains the loud elk-like bugling noises I heard coming from one of these portable toilets in Dublin Park two weeks ago.)
So there you have it. Our city is hurting for money. And we're going to have to get used to the portable toilets. Frankly, I don't mind them. Last weekend, for example, between innings of my son's baseball game, I went inside one of them, did my business, zipped up my fly and threw the door open.
And shot a duck.