If you live in New Orleans, you’ve heard a lot of Jazz Fest stories. Most of them involve music.

This one don’t.
Here’s how it starts: Last year, me and my teenage kids, Gladiola and Gargoyle, got hired to sell T-shirts out of a tent at Jazz Fest. I worked the cash register, and Gladiola and Gargoyle worked behind a partition in the back of the tent, keeping track of the stock.

MODINE'S: WASTE MANAGEMENTIt’s very efficient. Say a customer asks for a particular shirt in a particular size, instead of me having to go in the back and rummage around for it I use a walkie-talkie. I have a headset on and a receiver clipped to my belt, and I say, for instance, “Ten-four, extra large, purple.” Gladiola and Gargoyle hear me through the receivers on their belts and one of them says, “Affirmative; ten-four; coming right up,” and I hear that from the receiver on my belt.

But sometimes my belt blurts out “Negative, all out; how fat we talking about or can they maybe fit into a regular?” That’s always Gargoyle, so I have a talk with him. He says from now on he will talk in code. By code he means “with a French accent” and I start getting answers like:

“Non extra largesse. Does zee costomer have too bodacious le bazoombas for ze regulare?”

Finally I adjust this walkie-talkie so I hear what they say in my headset only, and it don’t come out the belt receiver.

Then everything goes real good – until Gladiola feels the call of nature. So she ambles over to the Pot o’ Gold or the Doodie Calls or whatever this particular portable John is named.

Now you know how it is in a portable John – unless you’re the first customer of the day, which she ain’t.

She takes a deep breath, holds it, goes in, pulls off her headset and sticks it over the toilet paper dispenser so it don’t get in the way and drops her drawers. By now she’s probably already suffering from oxygen deprivation to the brain and she forgets about it. And she don’t even notice the part attached to her belt, which kerplunks right into the unmentionable.

Now, if this was a cell phone and it had landed in a toilet, that would be the end of it. Toilets are death to cell phones. I myself have dropped a cell phone into the toilet. Who hasn’t in this day and age? But I’ve never dropped a walkie-talkie into a portable John. You would think one was as bad as the other, but I’m here to tell you, it’s a whole lot worse to drop a walkie-talkie in a portable toilet.

Just like a Timex, it keeps on talking.
Gladiola’s already back at the tent before she inhales enough oxygen to realize what happened. And she also realizes that no way is she going after that thing, even though Gargoyle has already turned off his walkie-talkie to take a break and make friends with some girl at the snowball tent whose bazoombas he’s been leering at.
This leaves me talking to the toilet.

Next time I ask “Do you have a extra large tan back there?” I get nothing. So I ask again. And I get nothing. So I holler out “What are you doing back there? Answer me!”

Now, you can just imagine what must have been going on in this John. Nobody wants to go to them Johns unless they got to. This usually means they had a lot of beer and gotta unload it. So they ain’t feeling no pain – until they get in there and hear a voice from below.

And instead of hearing “Affirmative,” or “Sold out” or something in a French accent, I hear a screech, and then somebody asking who I am, and where I am and how I got in there. 

I see some kind of commotion going on way over at the line of portable toilets. But I don’t got time to worry ‘bout that.

I lock up my cash register and stomp to the back to see what’s going on. This is when Gladiola should admit what she done, but she just pulls a blank face. So I grab the T-shirt my customer asked for, race back to the register and sell it. When the next customer comes, I tighten up my headphone make sure everything is connected and I quietly ask “You got a small black back there?” and I get the screech all over again.

Now I’m thinking I’m hearing voices like St. Joan of Arc. Only my voices are saying very vulgar things.

Gargoyle gets back and turns on his walkie-talkie, and he starts hearing these things, too. He runs to the front to find out, and we stand and look at each other, and then we notice a couple policemen knocking on the door of a portable John.

Then we hear, in our ears, somebody saying “Police! Everything OK in there?” We see one of them stick his head in, and we hear “Uf-phew! Nobody here.” And we hear a door slam shut at the same time we see the cop shut the portable John door.
By process of elimination, we figure it out because only one of us don’t have no headphones on.

So we change our system. The customer orders something and I tell Gladiola, who is standing beside me, and she runs in the back, gets it from Gargoyle and runs back to me.

It ain’t high-tech, but it works. And there ain’t no toilets involved.
So the moral of this story is “If you go to the pot, leave your walkie-talkie out,” like I told Gladiola. Maybe the Nevilles could work that into a song.