Recently, I caught a whiff of a pungent odor emanating from a local construction site and noticed a thick green, anaconda-sized hose running from a tank on a truck emblazoned with the words “Call-A-Head” in bold gothic letters on the side. I was immediately reminded how indispensable portable toilets are to many walks of life, and how verbal and visual puns are copious throughout this indispensable industry. Manufacturers and suppliers go to great lengths to make the portable toilet experience clean and sanitary, as well as warm and cute. Portable toiletry is only second after hair salons (i.e. Mane Street, Clip Joint, Hair Today, etc.) for warm and cute, albeit excruciating, pun names. And yet this is a dirty job, so why shouldn’t those who attend to our bodily hygiene have the opportunity to practice a little wit and double entendre?
With this in mind, I set out to determine how widespread this branding phenomenon really is. Is it localized in comedy-centric locales, like New York, Chicago, Waco, or Walla Walla? Or is it a trend that knows no regional borders or boundaries? For the better part of a day I visited New York City’s numerous construction sites, a veritable forest of portable out-houses, copying down names and numbers. Not surprisingly I learned that Porta-Potty was the most common brand, with Call-A-Head a close second. Scattered throughout the city were the variants on John, including Sani-Jon, Porta-John (note the former spelling may be a homage to Jon Stewart), Johnny on the Spot, Johnny on the Potty, Mr. John, Gotta-Go-Johns, and Little John. There was also Port-o-Let, and, the regal A Royal Flush. My favorite, however, was Zack’s Shacks (which could also be misidentified as a chain of roadside eateries).
I wondered who came up with these puns – was it people who lacked internal monologues (terets sufferers, perhaps) or professional copywriters? After an unsuccessful attempt was made to contact an official at the Porta-Potty company, I admit I did not pursue the quest. I did, however, find that there were other people (an online user-group, of sorts) who had been collecting novel names unique to other regions, which are listed below for your edification in no particular order:
Happy Can Portable Toilets, Atlanta, Ga.
Drop Zone Portable Service Inc.,
Frankfort, Ill. Best Seat In The House Inc.,
Bradley, Ill. Plop Jon Inc.,
Port Saint Lucie, Fla.
Port-A-Pots Inc., Hampstead, Md.
Ameri-Can Engineering, Argos, Ind.
Bobby's Pottys, Joppa, Md.
LepreCAN Portable Restrooms, Chicago, Ill.
Loader-Up, Inc., Sarasota, Fla.
Royal Throne, Washington, D.C.
Tanks Alot, Tomball, Tex.
Tee Pee Inc, Roseville, Mich.
Wizards of Ooze Ltd., Anacortes, Wash.
Oui Oui Enterprises Ltd., Chicago
Gotta Go Potties, Tobyhanna, Pa.
Willy Make It?, Oregon City, Oreg.
Doodie Calls, New Orleans
With the exception of the last (and most juvenile), they are not all that cringe-inducing. But what does this branding technique say about American popular culture? Perhaps all it needs to say is that a little levity can go a long way in making such a essential product, and therefore everyday life, more pleasant. I agree that two thirds of a pun is PU, but since these toilet names do, in fact, trigger chuckles, they do, in fact, serve a purpose. So I don’t see any need to can the laughter, do you?