2014-07-24 – About 40 years ago, I had 15 minutes of fame as a founding member of the Committee to End Pay Toilets In America, affectionately known as CEPTIA. I, along with buddies from my hometown of Dayton, Ohio—Ira and Michael Gessel and Natalie Windsor—were on TV and in the papers (no social media in those days) to promote a campaign to ban pay toilets.
We had a certain measure of legislative success. And we had a song.
We liked to tell people that our campaign was not a play for power. We wanted nothing more than to ban the coin locks that marred bathrooms across the country. We wanted to put ourselves out of business. Our end was our own elimination. (LOL, as they say now.)
And we made good on that promise. We went out of business in the mid-1970s. Our last official act (as far as I know) was to make the button you see above in honor of the 1976 bicentennial of our country: a celebration of freedom.
Because, by then, most if not all pay toilets were gone from the country.
Ira, Michael, Natalie, and I left Dayton after high school to four different parts of the country—first for college, then for jobs, then to raise our family. We don’t see each other often. When we do, we always reminisce about our campaign. Then forget about it for another span of years.
Early this week, an email circulated through our little group. A journalist named Aaron Gordon has been contacting us to write an article about . . . well, I’m not even sure what, at this point—just that it is something that involves CEPTIA.
CEPTIA was always a mixture of humor and a genuine impulse for justice. It always seemed unfair to charge someone a dime (the price in those days) to go to the bathroom. And, since urinals were always free, pay toilets affected women far more than men. Yet it was only a small thing. A small thing that people snicker about.
It was that way in the 1970s and it’s been that way through the years of reminiscence.
In recent years, I’ve wondered what CEPTIA would have been like if we would have had social media. In those days, we operated almost entirely word of mouth. We charged a 25 cent membership fee and gave the member a membership card and a lifetime subscription to the Free Toilet Paper. Today, we would be a Facebook page, and there would be thousands of members. At our peak, I think we had a thousand.
And yet we had an impact.
Friday I’ll be interviewed for Gordon’s article. Sometime after that, the article will be written and published. I’ll give you a link when that happens. In the meantime, here’s the Ballad of the Pay Toilet, the best I remember it:
I walked into the men’s room one day
And I went to the toilet but had to pay.
I reached in my pocket to search for a dime,
But nature was calling, I hadn’t much time.
I was standing there hoping somehow I’d get in
When along came a man with a big scary grin.
“What’s the matter?” he said, and I started to holler,
“I need a dime! All I have is a dollar!”
“I have a dime and I’m willing to trade.”
Did I have any choice? So the deal it was made.
I took the dime and I put it in the slit.
I sat down on the toilet and started to cry.