Sep. 10, 2007
FEAR AND LOAFING: Potty Training
Waste is a terrible thing to mind
Mafoa Sapini deserves a raise.
I don't care how much he gets paid to empty portable toilets across Las Vegas every morning, he deserves a raise.
"Go past the solid part and get to the liquid," Sapini instructs as I sink the head of a vacuum hose into the squishy, blue-brown abyss at the bottom of a Hampel Global Portable Restroom.
"There," the 32-year-old says when I hit bottom as literally as I have figuratively. "Now open up the lever."
If you think cleaning a toilet qualifies you to know what this is like, imagine that toilet used 20 times without a single flush. Then imagine its contents fermenting outdoors in 110-degree heat. For four to seven days.
I only wish I had the luxury of imagination about this experience. A fresh deposit on top of what I'm staring at right now might actually serve as air-freshener.
"The next (toilet's) gonna be worse," Sapini promises. "You'll see."
Sapini, a 300-pound Samoan with a laugh bigger than his body, has spent two years working for Jackpot Sanitation as what he jokingly calls a "(expletive)-sucker technician."
"I love my job!" he exclaimed earlier. "If my boss is gonna read this, then I love my job!"
"VWRRSH!!" screams more than -20 psi of air pressure (nearly as much sucking power as a Paris Hilton album). All toilet matter is immediately slurped into 25 feet of hose, but not before a small splash lands on my bare right forearm, causing me to hunt for clean surfaces to wipe it against. (On this job, only my bare left forearm qualifies.)
Sapini's truck will eventually transfer the liquid to Clark County's wastewater treatment plant on Flamingo Road
"Ah, smell that," Sapini says, filling his lungs. "That's like Folger's in the morning!"
Two years ago, Sapini worked at a warehouse in Lamar, Mo., that he discovered was closing. His uncle, who lives in Las Vegas, convinced him to try his luck here.
"But I had trouble finding a job because I wasn't a resident and nobody knew me," Sapini said.
Then he saw the "drivers wanted" sign on Nevada State Route 160. Conveniently, it omitted exactly what he'd be driving (the same omission Sapini makes when introducing himself to the ladies).
"You missed some," Sapini says, pointing down into the tank.
Sapini cleans 80 to 100 portable toilets a day, most in about 3 minutes. I asked what there possibly is to like about this job.
"The hours," he replied. Jackpot's technicians can start any time they like. (Sapini usually works from 2 a.m.-noon, because of the lower temperature and emptier roads.)
I asked what he likes least.
"The crap," he replied.
Even on a good day, it's onerous. But on a bad day, it violates Amnesty International's basic human-rights protocol.
"I just think paycheck," Sapini explained.
Portable-toilet servicemen earn about $12 an hour to start, topping out at $20. An average year will gross them about $35,000 (emphasis on "gross").
After all evacuations are evacuated, I scrub the toilet clean with a brush. Then I pour in 5 gallons of a blue deodorant called Redi-Chem, which Sapini dribbled into a bucket via a spigot on the side of the truck.
Finally, I place the toilet seat back down and replace the paper. (Note to my fiancee, Jo Ann: I am capable of these actions.) Two rolls go on the locking spindle, one on the side of the seat.
When Sapini was a kid in Orange County, Calif., "(expletive)-sucking technician" did not appear on any of his "what I want to be when I grow up" essays.
"I wanted to be a fireman like my dad used to be," he said. "But that dream went out the door. I was one of those kids that didn't listen to the teacher.
"That's my message to the kids out there," he continued. "Listen to the teacher or you'll end up sucking (expletive)."
"Lunch truck!" jokes a construction worker as Sapini drives his vehicle -- casually referred to by some in the industry as a "dump" truck -- into the unfinished Phillips Homes development at Cascade at Mountain's Edge.
"They don't even smell you," Sapini says, "but they see you two streets down, and they're already holding their nose."
Speaking of lunch, today it's fruit for Sapini. Sometimes it's a sandwich -- but never peanut butter.
"Anything that looks like crap, I don't eat," he says.
Sapini gets 30 minutes to dine, which he usually does in the truck. (Thank goodness for Wetnaps.)
"When I first started, I didn't want to touch food until I got off work and took a shower," Sapini says. "But after a while, you start to get used to it."
The echo of his last statement refuses to sit well with him.
"Actually, you never get used it," he says. "You just deal with it."
The worst day possible for Sapini (believe it or not, there is one) usually begins with the wind's howl against his windows. That means one or more of the toilets on his route may have toppled.
"Blow-overs are the worst," Sapini says, his head shaking to emphasize the last word. "It all spills onto the side of the walls, and you have to jump in there because there are some places the hose can't get."
Difficult as it is to believe, Sapini was right -- the next toilet is worse than the last. I complain loudly. Who would leave this here? How would they?
"So, light a match!" yells a nearby construction worker (one who obviously wants to see me die in an explosion).
At the bottom of the tank, I spy what appears to be a chicken beak. I cut off all signals from the portion of my brain trying to picture how it got there.
"You'll find anything down there," Sapini says, "rocks, sticks, phones, magazines."
Once, Sapini says, he found a personal pleasure device.
"Somebody must have crapped it out," he reports, laughing.
Sapini prefers cleaning toilets that are rented for special events.
"Those tend to be a little cleaner," he says. "I don't know what construction workers eat, but ..."
Out of all the toilets in Las Vegas, there is only one Sapini refuses to clean -- his own.
"My uncle cleans it," Sapini says.
"At home, that's the last thing I want to do."
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.