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Just when you thought you’d heard your last outhouse joke, the good folks at the National Park Service come up with a real knee-slapper.
Going through my newspaper clip file I came across an Associated Press article from Delaware Water Gap PA – unknown in outhouse circles as a source of humor until recently – hikers now have the use of a two-hole outhouse that cost the federal government (meaning us taxpayers) almost $335,000. Kinda gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “government waste.”
These lavish trailside bathrooms feature gabled slate roofs, cedar clapboard siding, cottage-style porches and a cobblestone foundation that can withstand an earthquake – which is the first thing I want to know before using an outhouse beside a trail.
Apparently, included in the cost of this fancy federal outhouse was about $102,000 for “planning and design” and $81,000 for an on-site engineer.
Can’t you just see the entry in this engineer fellas updated resume?
“2007-08 – Onsite engineer for a deluxe two hole, earthquake resistant federal outhouse in Pennsylvania.”
Now, remember this is an outhouse we’re talking about. Maine used to be thick with all kinds of houses, humble structures that stood down wind of most every house in rural Maine. Now, sure this federal outhouse is a two-holer, and granted, your two-holers are going to be a bit more fancy and uptown and more costly than your lowly one-holer, especially one that isn’t a federal facility – but I think most of us would agree that $335,000 is a tad more than the average outhouse ought to cost. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if you added up the cost of every outhouse built in Maine over the last 100 years you wouldn’t come anywhere near this $335,000 federal outhouse figure.
Back home, when I was a kid, many wobbly outhouses on stilts lined our riverbank. Every year around Halloween some kids would get into mischief and go around tipping over outhouses. Among my friends, Clayton Beal was probably the best outhouse tipper around. He could go up one side of the river over the bridge and down the other side, tipping outhouses as he went. Clayton Beal could tip over a dozen outhouses before the average kid could get one to go over.
As I heard it, after one busy night of outhouse tipping, Clayton’s father called him downstairs for questioning. His father wanted to know if Clayton knew anything about who tipped over the family’s outhouse the previous night. Remembering a lesson from history that he had just learned in school, Clayton bravely answered his father by saying:
“Father, I cannot tell a lie. I tipped over the family outhouse last night.”
With that, his father took Clayton to the woodshed for some old-fashioned discipline. When his father had finished, Clayton said: “What did you do that for Dad? When the Father of our Country, and our nation’s first president - George Washington - was a young boy, he chopped down one of his father’s prized cherry trees and when George told his father the truth about the tree he was praised for his honesty not punished. How come you punished me for telling you the truth about the family outhouse?”
“Well, son,” the father answered, “I’m no history scholar and I don’t know the whole story but I’d be willing to bet that George Washington’s father wasn’t sitting in that cherry tree reading a Sears catalog when George chopped it down.”
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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