The Port-a-Potty

Ron Karpinski  1996


In the fall of 1982, the army exiled me to Fort Irwin, California.  Fort Irwin is a small outpost in the Mojave Desert halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.  There, I became officer-in-charge of a small section of twenty people.

The new office occupied a slate-gray prefab hut, sixty feet in length by twenty feet wide, perched on a slab of concrete.  A long row of such buildings formed a line at the edge of the main garrison.  From the back doorstep, you could see Nevada.

The modest structure withstood a steady wrath of sand, tumbleweeds, and other debris flung in from the wilds by a fickle wind that seemed to want us out of there.  From outside, the little building looked only slightly stronger than a tent.

Inside, the walls had no paneling.  Electric outlets hung exposed on two-by-four studs.  An old fashioned bottled water dispenser stood in one corner.  With no running water, the rest rooms were outside.  Two portable chemical toilets, like those used at construction sites, stood between our building and the next one.

Master Sergeant Bruce Leake served as the top enlisted man in the section.  As such, he ran the routine day-to-day business.  He had a very dry sense of humor.

My first day on the job, at exactly three in the afternoon, a loud noise shook the building.  It felt like a sonic boom.  "Sergeant Leake," I asked, "what was that?"

"Sir," he said, "that was the port-a-potty.  Every day, at three o'clock, the wind picks up and blows it over onto its side.  There is nothing we can do about it."

"Sergeant Leake," I replied, "here is a new policy for this office: if any of our soldiers are ever in the port-a-potty when it tips over, they have automatic approval to go home and change clothes.  They must not come in here and ask permission."

Sergeant Leake nodded. "Got it, sir," he said.

*          *          *          *          *

For several years, that anecdote brought polite laughter at parties; but my roommate, Major Bill Adams, didn't believe it.  Bill and I shared an apartment in Atlanta, where he served as officer-in-charge of a small traveling inspection team.

One evening in late 1986, the phone rang at our apartment.  "Ron, this is Bill.  I'm out at Fort Irwin.  Guess where I was at three o'clock this afternoon?"

"Don't tell me," I said.  "You must have been in the port-a-potty."

"That's right," he laughed, "sitting on the john, doing some serious thinking, when the wind whipped up out of nowhere, and the whole outhouse began to tip over.  I barely jumped out in time.  Hey, Buddy, I believe your story now!"


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