Privy preservation a priority for posterity’s posteriors

My column from the Mille Lacs Messenger, Feb. 13, 2013.

My fondest memory of hitting the head occurred at the James J. Hill library in St. Paul. I was an 18-year-old senior in high school, and I wrote myself a note to get out of school.
Most kids skip school to drink beer, smoke weed, or roll in the hay with their sweetheart. I went to the library to work on a research paper.
The library itself was beautiful — shelves, chairs and tables of dark wood, with brass lamps shaded by green glass, and ladders rolling silently along a metal track among the musty tomes.
The day’s most enduring revelation, however, came on a break from my studies, when I beheld a work of art that was off limits to half the population. In the men’s room stood a marble sculpture fit for a king, or a king of industry like James J. Hill.
I was unworthy to undo my trousers in its presence, much less to soil its face with such an abominable stream, but the weakness of the flesh overwhelmed my aesthetic hesitation — and my shoes paid the price for my nervous obeisance to this awesome porcelain god.
Over the years, when I’ve had business to do in the neighborhood, I’ve made several pilgrimages to leave another offering at the mecca of micturition.
In the meantime, at a restroom closer to home, I discovered a slightly-less-holy grail to fill when my cup runneth over, but which brings a similar sense of accomplishment in lieu of the loo in the library.
In the basement of the Mille Lacs County Courthouse was a men’s room with a floor and stall doors of magnificent marble and a urinal that may not be worthy of a monarch, but that any prince would be proud to bless with his wee sword or any priest honored to baptize with his holy water.
Many a county commissioner has considered a vote in that makeshift office. Many a treasurer has left a deposit. Many a sheriff has unshackled a prisoner. Many an attorney has argued a case before a ghostly jury of pee-ers, who rendered their verdicts in tinkling voices and responded to closing arguments with a thunderous flush of applause.
I rarely descend the stairs anymore, since the county board meets on the second floor, but a few weeks ago I thought I’d freshen up in the bowels of the basement, which I assumed had been preserved in the recent remodeling project, according to the exacting standards of the National Register of Historic Places.
Imagine my disappointment to find the door locked and this county treasure trove off limits to its citizen owners. I assumed that my trough was intact behind the locked door as some sort of lavatory experiment, and that the throne would be protected for posterity’s posteriors. With all the Johnsons in this county, I figured a John would be treated with the utmost respect.
Alas, a few weeks later I was checking out a new office in the courthouse basement when I discovered to my shock — nay, horror — that behind the locked door was not my beloved biffy, but a carpeted hallway and new sheetrocked walls.
The powder room took a powder! My can had been canned! Vanished was the vessel that had lifted my spirits as I lowered my zipper!
Fellow citizens of Mille Lacs, future generations will judge us harshly for pissing away our history and flushing our county’s artifacts down the toilet.
If an historic privy is not worthy of preservation, then our beheaded courthouse may as well be the county outhouse, and the National Register is worth no more than last year’s Sears catalog.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger. Follow him at


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