“Stop, I’ve gotta go,” Sammy directed, and I pulled off the dirt track next to a deep arroyo. My Navajo assistant liked to pee off of high places, and I joined him at the edge. Off in the distance, across the sage-covered desert, a pair of small mesas shimmered in the summer heat. It wasn’t quite a religious moment — but it was pretty fine.
Some years ago, a friend’s Corgi dog visited our house frequently and was very insistent that he be allowed onto our back porch, where he gleefully stood on the edge to pee down the three feet onto the patio. We realized that it was an enjoyable event for this dog with five-inch legs to hear himself pee.
Growing up in a family that hunted and fished frequently, I spent a lot of time outdoors, and peeing in nature was just what you did. Peeing outdoors creates opportunities, at least for men, that peeing indoors does not offer. There’s distance, accuracy and destructive properties (“Oh woops, I inadvertently peed on that ant bed!”), and just the simple joy of unfettered-ness. Being outdoors offers challenges as well, including wind, splatter and insects, such as the aforementioned ants. (Being terrified of snakes adds another dimension of challenge for me.) Obviously, finding the right place is also important — along with the need to observe the appropriate niceties, given your companions or casual intruders.
But urine is high in nitrogen content and unlike feces, normally devoid of bacteria. I think of it as liquid fertilizer, and imagine some desert plant being blessed with a ‘golden rain’ of much-needed nutrients — kind of like manna from heaven for the plant. (I will avoid any discussion of whether ‘golden rain’ provides any benefit to humans or presidents.)
When I visited France, “pissoirs” were a common sight on public streets. They were like a small stand-alone closet, often on the sidewalk next to the river, where men could pee. Being semi-private, the feet of passing pedestrians could be seen from inside and users are not completely shielded from passers-by. However, they do provide a necessary outlet for men’s needs. I never saw a woman using one, but, hey, it’s France.
There is some interest in adding more public sanitary facilities in public spaces in the U.S., particularly as part of the homelessness debate. Many cities are grappling with the needs of homeless people for showers, toilets, drinking water and laundry facilities. In most places, shelters cannot keep up with the demand for beds, let alone these attendant services.
But other public spaces have similar needs. Tourist areas and business districts have a large influx of people that require access to toilets and water, and commercial entities are usually accessible only to customers. (Of course, with a Starbucks on every corner, there is some relief. However, the Starbuck facilities are often in use and not always available on short notice.)
But there’s another side to the story. According to reporter Lloyd Alter, demographics are working against us as the boomers age. “As many as 50 percent of men over the age of 50 develop ‘benign’ prostatic enlargement, or BPH, that makes them need to pee at least every two hours, often much more often. It can make them need to pee suddenly with little notice, sometimes creating a bit of panic.” He adds that there is a social aspect to the issue, “Some men stop going out to public places; others plan their trips like Amundsen or Scott planned their food cairns in Antarctica, checking out where every public washroom is on their route.”
Adding pissoirs in public spaces might offer a solution. Coping with only liquid waste is far less troublesome than for combined human waste, and costs for installation and maintenance should be minimal. Certainly, like any real estate issue, “location, location, location,” is paramount, and working with the local community is critical.
However, this only addresses the issue for half the human population. We know, for example, that in bars, stadiums and other public venues, women require more time per event than men, and consequently lines for the women’s restroom are usually much longer. In response, newer designs for women’s restrooms have included more facilities than for the men’s.
There are still problems with public spaces not providing adequate sanitary facilities for all the public. Our local governments make provisions for access, parking and set-backs as part of the planning process in approving uses and location of different businesses and land uses. Maybe they should also include a consideration for public facilities that go beyond dragging in a few port-a-potties. Public sanitary facilities seem to be an obvious component of public management, just like provisions for adequate utilities, sidewalks, lighting, streets and drainage.
Maybe it’s time for us old guys to stand up for our right to pee. As a friend of mine would say, “No shit, Sherlock.”
Lloyd Alter, Here’s a Great Public Infrastructure Investment: Public Toilets, July 31, 2017, Mother Nature Network, August 4, 2017 in Tree Hugger Daily News
Elyse Wanshel, Sacramento Opens Public Bathrooms For Homeless People, HuffPost, 6/30/16