I was relieving the Three Card Poker dealer a few nights ago. The table was filled with locals. The players at first and third base had grown up together many years ago; everyone else was younger. The talk was rambling, about nothing, really, until someone mentioned the old question, "Who was buried in Grant's Tomb?"
First base had been unusually quiet up to now, just drinking his beer. "Joe Miller!" he blurted out.
The young people were startled. "Joe Miller was buried in Grant's Tomb?"
But third base was started up. "Joe Miller? I thought you said Hugh Miller. Joe Miller was mean."
"Yeah, he was mean." The younger people can't figure out how this conversation started, let alone where it might be going.
"Mean Joe Miller used to poison all the dogs. I'll tell you how mean he was. He used to live across the street from OJ's family. He poisoned their dog, and then he hung a big sign on his front fence, right where they could see it from their front window:
The reason I lie,
beneath this pillar,
Is I was poisoned
By Old Man Miller"
"I remember that. Boy, he was mean"
"Well, he might have had reason to be mean. The neighborhood kids did tease him without end. Every Halloween they would go out and knock over his outhouse."
"Hell, we all did that"
"One Halloween at dusk, OJ's boys saw him sneaking into his outhouse with a shotgun. Well, that was pretty serious, compared to tipping over an outhouse. He could have killed somebody. One of them quietly snuck up, tripped the latch from the outside, and locked him in there. Then they all got together and ever-so-gently lifted that outhouse and moved it four feet back. What used to be under the outhouse was now just in front of the door, and Miller was hollering and pounding for someone to let him out."
"One of the boys ran up, tripped the latch, and then ran like hell. Mean Joe Miller came running out, then down, shotgun and all.
A relief dealers stays at a table for 15 or 20 minutes, then moves on. I would have liked to have listened to their stories all night. When I left, they were discussing outhouse construction, the nicest outhouses they had owned, and even how they had sold disused outhouses to antique hunters.
The image at the top is from a resume posted online. It is, of course a modern outhouse, and the guys in the picture are just moving it to a new location. There are many images online of old, leaning outhouses, but not many that illustrate the workmanship and care that typically went into this important household feature.
When you tip over a modern port-a-john, it makes a real mess. A well-built outhouse could just be set up again, as they were built to be relocated frequently. I suspect the humor came from seeing your neighbor running out in the early morning to relieve himself, and finding the facilities unavailable.