Illustration by Ryan Miller.

During the Winter Olympics in Russia a story floated around the web detailing with some mirth a double-stall toilet at the Olympic site. Including the comment that the off-hand user had to reach across the neighboring toilet to access the paper spool. Photos of this two-holer gained worldwide glee and ridicule. Obviously the Russians aren’t very cool when it comes to the Kohler.

Having been raised at what now seems the dawn of time, to recall it was 1939 before our farm got Rural Electrification Administration (REA), and with that an electric water pump. The story is the electric vacuum milker pump arrived before the electric water pump, which demonstrates the critical nature of hierarchy involved. The problem for the household was finding a space inside a house that had made no provision for a toilet and bathtub-equipped room. Some simply resorted to adding a room to the house, you can see evidence of this jury-rig in many farmhouses.

Some houses were internally redesigned to set aside the bathroom space, as was the case of our house. The east end of the house was the kitchen and pantry, part of which was walled off to create that now-essential cubical sized for a tub, stool and sink. The downside was the bathroom intervened at the side door of the house, the very door the family and neighborhood used to enter the house. Only total strangers used the front door, their strangeness identified by the fact they used the front door, not the familiar door as now coursed through the bathroom. If I have good reflexes it is because of that door.

Indoor created a new and unfamiliar element to bathroom manners, for want of a better word, privatization. Seeing what bounded about the internet as the “Russian double trouble toilet,” I thought of the two-holer as was the nature of most privies. Two holes, not one. Two-holers included the privy at the church, the school and community hall. Included was the expectation that “the business” wasn’t private. The outhouse on our farm was a two-seater, despite the routine use of the outhouse was solo, the expectation was the appliance could be shared if push came to shove, as describes the situation adequately.

This memory of the outhouse is somewhat conflicted because most outhouses were a twin-holer, to include the chance of company, the confinement of this function was in the dark. Many outhouses had no windows at all, and the only light was that as leaked through the gaps in the foundation. Often as not the foundation was “put stone,” meaning not mortared in place, on the expectation the building would be moved to a new site in the future, for obvious reasons. A mortar foundation while nice enough didn’t allow for that nice romantic glow to seep into an outhouse, the one without windows. This quaint subtlety of bath lighting never caught on to the porcelain Kohler.

Outhouses creeped out most kids not because of their direct and organic approach to biology, but because they were so eerily dark. The intensity of this darkness didn’t compute, since the function had addressed the social fit with the two-hole approach, what was so wrong with a window, a nice barn size window? Besides, dark attracts frogs, toads, snakes, as can in turn attract constipation.

What I liked about the outhouse was its accoutrements, it came with a library. Slick-coated magazines weren’t welcome. If only Saturday Evening Post had been published on two-holer-quality newsprint it might have endured. The newspaper wasn’t any good, if catalog paper was about right. At 1,200 pages the standard Sears and Sawbuck mill thickness was about right. Research has not delved into the supremacy of the Sears and Wards merchandizing schemes during this period, the result of customer saturation at the most basic level, the use of those catalogues in the outhouse. Probably the best advertising gimmick the world has ever known. The early Farmer’s Almanac came complete with a hole in the cover to hang from a nail for alternate service. Maybe there is a lesson for improving national literacy here.

Perhaps some part of our modern human psyche, our paranoia, our tendency to road rage, is related to the abandonment of the two-holer concept of privacy. Few things endorse your common humanity more succinctly than a two-holer. Perhaps that two-holer at the Winter Olympics was sending the West a message. You can fill in that blank at your own leisure.