We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns

We talked to a guy who, every day, is elbow-deep -- sometimes quite literally -- in all your dirty little secrets, and he had amazing things to say.
We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns

If you were an alien sent to Earth to study humans, what one profession would give you the best insight into how people work? Beat cop? Trash collector? Phone sex operator? Well, we've got a candidate here you would have never picked: The guy who cleans your port-a-potties.

We talked to a guy who, every day, is elbow-deep -- sometimes quite literally -- in all your dirty little secrets, and he had amazing things to say:

You Find Drugs, Firearms, And The Occasional Corpse

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
Torey Innes / EyeEm/EyeEm / Getty Images

There are exactly two things you're supposed to leave in a portable toilet, but we're apparently running the cheapest, most disgusting storage service in town. I've personally found dozens of expensive cell phones, wallets full of money, jewelry, eyeglasses -- pretty much anything you can drop, I have found lying in a steaming pile of fecal matter.

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
Pixel-Productions/iStock/Getty Images

Yet another marriage gone down the shitter.

Maybe less surprising, it's not unusual to find crack pipes, syringes, actual drugs -- every once in a while, you'll find the occasional pistol. I've even had a coworker find a body (in the stall, not crammed down into the bowl). The co-worker had arrived just as the police were arriving, and they told him to step back because there was a dead body in there. Sure enough, there was.

When it comes to finding dead things and drug things, the procedure is to report it to your immediate supervisor and contact the authorities. The only thing I've ever contacted the police about is the handgun, though, because with all the drugs we find, I would be spending all my time on the phone. So, we just throw away the undesirables and accept the rest as gifts. I've shamelessly washed shit-covered cash in a sink and set it out on my truck dashboard to dry. I don't think I bought a lighter all last year because all of my lighters come from toilets. I am not above taking an offering from the ass gods.

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
Eldad Carin/iStock/Getty Images

Inside lies the priceless treasure of Brown-Eyed Willie.

It's pretty easy to tell how most of these items have come to be discarded, given that there's also no shortage of liquor bottles and beer cans alongside them -- drunk people tend to drop shit in shit. But, sometimes, you find items that aren't so easily dropped, like entire sweaters, socks, and -- waaaay too often -- panties. Because we're also running the cheapest no-tell motel.

You should see the literal bucketloads of condoms that come out of those things (actually, no, you absolutely shouldn't). The company I work for has a system at our shop where we drop the waste straight onto this grate, and it sorts out the larger chunks of whatever we have collected throughout the day. I've seen enough used condoms surface on that grate to supply your local sperm bank until a very disappointed Jesus returns.

Different Cultures Have Different Ways Of Shitting

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns

One of the most, let's say, interesting facts I've come across in my tour of duty is that there is more than one way to use a toilet. Sometimes, I'll enter a toilet and see boot prints on either side of the tank. As my own stomach starts to turn, I realize what I'm in for: a shitstravanganza that would make the Marquis de Sade proud. Shit down the side of the tank, shit on the seat, shit on the cover of the toilet, shit all the way into the hinges to the point that you have to take it apart and clean it. Shit on the walls, sometimes.

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These exist and are basically my Valhalla.

I have two theories on this: The first is that people just don't want their butts touching the seats, so they hover from on top of the tanks. Given the areas where I usually encounter these situations, though, another explanation seems equally plausible. I traveled a lot when I was young, and, in much of the world, they have squat toilets instead of western-style toilets. It's literally just a porcelain or tile hole in the floor. All you do is put one foot on each side of the hole, squat over that hole, and go. Sitting comfortably while we shit is a pretty underrated privilege (although the squat-over-a-hole method is really much more comfortable, from your colon's perspective.)

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images

Your thighs burning with pain and screaming for mercy is how science says, "Thank you."

So, these poor immigrants -- and I mean that in an "oh God, I'm so sorry" sense as much as an economic one -- come over to America, but they're used to shitting over a hole. Put yourself in that position, and imagine encountering a western-style toilet for the first time. It looks like basically the same setup, just 3 feet higher, so they just do what comes naturally. Sucks for me, but I can totally see the logic there.

I can't explain the shit on the walls, though. I try to picture how they're doing it, and I just ... can't. But, that's just one example that proves ...

People Have Lots Of Ways Of Making This Job Harder Than It Should Be

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
Matt Cardy/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

I don't wanna get too personal here, but I have some serious concerns about the ways you people clean yourselves. I know, it's my bad for not keeping you stocked up on toilet paper, and the choice between walking around with poop crack all day or swallowing your dignity and losing a sock seems like a pretty easy one. If you have gotta do what you gotta do, though, please don't toss your makeshift buttwipe into the toilet. See, that creates a big problem for me because when I use the vacuum hose to suck out the muck, I can't see the foreign object under the blue water. When my hose hits a corner of a rag, it sprays everywhere, and I end up with shit all over me.

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
allinvisuality/iStock/Getty Images

Who knows what evil lurks in the sharts of men?

Do I have a better idea? No, not really. I just want you to stop indirectly pooping on me. I don't feel I'm out of line here.

And some of the ways you think you're being clean are seriously misguided. Ladies, I don't mean to pick on you here, but you do have the biggest problem with this. Women will put a layer of toilet paper down on the seat, and that will get used a few times. Then, it will get soaked with piss, so they'll put another layer down. You eventually end up with a 20-layer ring of toilet paper soaked with piss. I don't mean to judge, but this does seem counterproductive. I think I would rather sit on the toilet in Trainspotting at that point.

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
Miramax Films

At least it looks dried.

Still, I'll clean that up no problem -- you get desensitized real quick in this job -- but, sometimes, people physically will not let me. Remember, we're having to clean these throughout the day (otherwise, they'll start overflowing fast), and that means interrupting someone who may have urgent business. That's even harder than it sounds.

The traditional single stalls aren't that bad because we just cut in line, but, if we're doing a big event, we sometimes use these 12-stall trailers (that's how you know it's a class affair, when you get to hear other people pissing next to you). But, unless we're lucky enough to have a woman on staff that day (it's a bit of a sausage fest in the shit-mopping industry, for some reason), we'll have to close down the entire women's trailer to clean it because women tend to freak out about a man in their pants-less area.

Dennis Macdonald/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

I've seen the aftermath. How about less worrying about me and more worrying about your fiber intake?

Which is fine, except I have nearly had full-blown riots of angry women telling me their 4 year olds can't wait any longer or they "literally" are going to piss themselves if I don't let them go "real quick." They will scream words that are quite frankly inappropriate to use in front of children before forming a Mighty Ducks flying "V" and barging past you. Sometimes, you just have to walk away, and then those toilets may not get cleaned for hours. The shit piles up inside of the tanks to the point where people are practically sitting on it. All I'm saying is that if you would rather sit in shit than wait the 15 minutes it takes for me to clean, your bladder may not be your biggest problem.

And believe it or not, rioting moms are not the only danger your friendly neighborhood port-a-potty poses ...

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns

Using A Port-A-Potty Is Dangerous

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
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Barring an attack from the Algonquin shit demon, toilets seem like reasonably safe places, but there are definitely times you don't want to get caught in a port-a-potty. See, we put our toilets where our customers need them -- that can be anywhere. If you're working in a giant pit in the ground, I have to put a toilet down there. If you're working on a six-story building, I call the crane operator, and he brings the toilet down for me to clean. If you're doing shoulder work on a 10-lane interstate ... you see where this is going.

If you absolutely have to use one of those toilets on the highway -- and you don't want to, if at all possible -- take my word for it that you want to get in and out as fast as possible. Why? About once a year, I have to come pick one up that a car crashed into.

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It's like if they replaced Paul Walker with Johnny Knoxville for Fast And Furious 8.

There was one last year that I had to call in because it was so utterly destroyed that I couldn't strap it to the back of my truck. Another thing you want to watch out for is toilets placed along the side of a hill. We've had them fall down hills into bodies of water -- one time, after a windstorm, we had a row of some 20 toilets, and probably 18 had flipped over. As far as I know, nobody's ever been in the toilets when they were smashed into or fell, but I would imagine that after drowning in a shit-filled box, the actual trip to hell would seem almost redundant.

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
Ryerson Clark/E+/Getty Images

"Your lake of fire shall simply purify me!"

And winter is as terrible for us as it is for you. When those high winds come through, our toilets can end up anywhere. This means horrible, nasty clean-up. We do have power washers on the trucks, but have you ever used a power washer in closed quarters? Not only do you get soaked, you get soaked with butt mud flying all over you. It's the absolute worst. Except maybe when all that happens, and it's below freezing. That's when the real fun begins.

Imagine everything that goes into a toilet -- now, imagine it all frozen together. Sometimes you have to chop up big blocks of shit. Tampons are the worst because once they've gone into the toilet, they've expanded. Then, they freeze, so they're too big to suck up with the hose, so you have to chop them up or just go in with a pair of pliers and pull them out. When a urinal gets plugged, people keep pissing in it, and when that happens in the winter time, you end up with a giant block of piss. What makes those such a pain in the ass is that you have to take a blowtorch and go under the urinal just to get it thawed enough to loosen it and then you put on gloves and just grab the big block of piss.

Chris Boswell/iStock/Getty Images

Maybe if Luke and Han had thought of that, Tauntauns wouldn't have made them gag so much.

You Can Assess The Area's Political Tensions By Its Port-A-Potty Graffiti

Andrei Romanenko

For some reason, as soon as bathroom walls became a thing, people started writing on them. Apparently, they just sat down and thought, "While I'm here, I should record my opinions for the edification of others," and we've been doing it ever since. But, these rabid, mindless scrawlings aren't entirely without value -- you can actually gain a lot of insight into a culture by looking at what they write on bathroom walls. I had no idea how adamant people were about expressing their political opinions while shitting.

We Find Corpses: 5 Weird Truths Of Cleaning Porta Johns
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"One-ply!?! THANKS, OBAMA!"

For example, a lot of the construction sites are primarily Hispanic, and I couldn't even tell you how many anti-Hispanic slurs that I have removed. There's a lot of anti-immigration, anti-Obama type of stuff. I'm not talking "Obama sucks" -- I'm talking about calling for the beheading of Obama and the raping of his children. Just think of the worst idea of a conservative, feed him a couple of Sharpies, and have him blow ink everywhere. That's what I'm removing, on a daily basis.

Really, bathroom walls were the original Internet: a faceless, anonymous way for terrible people to spread their shit, even while shitting. You find out what people are really like when they can speak their minds without consequences. It's almost a shame to clean it off because archaeologists could dig these things up centuries from now and get an utterly fascinating picture of our society. Oh, wait, that's already happened.


"Apollinaris, the doctor of the emperor Titus, defecated well here."

On this one toilet, someone had taken a pen and actually etched a racial slur into the side of the toilet. I couldn't get it off, so I had to take a knife and cut it out. The next week, somebody had taken a Sharpie and written, "You can't erase hate." Those four simple words explain so much about so many things, and you're not going to get them from anyone with a microphone in their face. If you want honesty from people, you have to catch them with their pants down.

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For more insider perspectives, check out We Hoard Your Stuff: 5 Truths Of Professional Recycling and 5 Insane Realities Of Captioning Deaf People's Conversations.

Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.

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