Portland, Oregon is apparently having a difficult time protecting its water reservoirs. A few short weeks ago Portland Water Bureau personnel got their shorts in a wad (Should I say that? It’s not polite.) about the kid who purportedly peed in or near one of the reservoirs.
In May 2013, Portlanders rejected a plan to fluoridate city water for the fourth time since 1956. A scant year later, the city is divided over whether or not Portland teenager Dallas Swonger should be held accountable for the Water Bureau’s decision to divert 38 million gallons of water when the 18-year-old allegedly urinated into the reservoir. Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff called Swonger a “yahoo” to the Associated Press, and issued a challenge when he referenced the size of the youth’s genitals, stating, “He has to get his little wee wee right up to the iron bars…” (Teen Accused of Peeing in Reservoir ‘Didn’t Piss In The Fu—ing Water’ Huffington Post, April 18, 2014).
Maybe I’m missing something—I admit that I don’t have a penis—but it seems like this has turned into a classic pissing match. For all I know, peeing in public could be some kind of male developmental milestone. I’m reminded of a situation at Oregon City High School where a senior was written up for intentionally urinating on the bathroom wall. He was a student who couldn’t afford a suspension, so I asked the vice principal to let me talk to him and come up with a suitable alternative consequence. Turns out, there was no ill intent: the student had been dared by another to try to pee his name in cursive. He agreed to scrub the bathroom walls, and the situation was resolved.
A couple years before that, my son was attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He and his roommates—all students in the engineering and pilot degree programs—flew to Sedona, Arizona where they landed the aircraft and went for lunch. By the time they got back to the plane, the sun was beginning to set and there was frost on the wings. The students scraped the wings with their debit cards, a tedious task. One of them got the kind of bright idea that only third year engineering students who understand fluid mechanics would get: They unzipped their pants and peed on the wing thinking it would melt the frost. Instead they had to scrape off one another’s frozen urine.
Fifty years earlier, my not yet husband Dennis and his friend Don were driving back from the Oregon coast in a red 1950 Ford convertible. They were nearly out of gas, coasting down the hills hoping they would make it to the flatland where there would be a gas station. Suddenly, Dennis had to pee. “I was being efficient,” he says now of the situation that occurred when he was nineteen. “I didn’t want to waste the gas it would take to pull over and then start the car again.” He climbed over the back seat while Don coasted down the hill, unzipped his blue jeans, and peed out the back of the convertible. A Greyhound bus full of passengers pulled up behind the car. Shortly thereafter, a police car pulled them over. Dennis was arrested and hauled to jail. He paid a $55 fine.
I can’t be the only woman in the world that knows men who’ve engaged in such antics. Swonger has a point: with all the dead bugs, vermin, and bird waste that must fall into an open-air reservoir, a couple ounces of human urine can’t possibly be a significant health risk. Maybe we need to sit Swonger and Shaff at a table with somebody’s mother. Mom can remind Swonger it’s not nice to pee in public. Then, she can remind Shaff that commenting on the size of another person’s genitals is always in bad taste. And now that e-coli has been found in three separate tests, all of Portland is boiling its water. Nothing like that to make Swonger’s point hit home.