Janis Wagner cradles her head in her hands. She says she probably shouldn't admit this because, well, it might be a misdemeanor. But she has to confess—she's a public urinator. And it's fun! She giggles wildly.
We're sitting in her apartment talking about Whizzy, the product she invented so that women can "stand and urinate with ease." She unzips a plastic bag and pulls out a specially cut and folded piece of manila paper. It's a simple device, she explains; you just hold it between your legs and unfold it so that it forms a trough. It adjusts to the user's "contours and stance," says the pink instructional pamphlet, and then you just "relax, aim, and go."
"I love it, I love it," exults Wagner, a 50-year-old former dancer, choreographer, and social worker with a law degree.
With Whizzy, women finally can write their names in the snow or spray off the side of a sailboat—something Wagner has longed to do since childhood, when her younger brother got to have all the fun. Wagner insists that she isn't alone in this desire, that every woman has had the stand-up-and-pee fantasy.
But it wasn't penis envy that inspired her. When Wagner developed muscular rheumatism, simple tasks became punishing chores. Sitting was excruciating unless she limbered up for at least an hour beforehand—not possible with a bursting bladder. A "midair squat" didn't make using the toilet easier. Neither did a raised seat. Wagner—what could she do?—began urinating upright into paper cups and paper-plate gutters that she pointed wishfully in the direction of the toilet. But the cups tended to run over, and the plates leaked or missed the target. So she took scissors to paper and toyed with her own designs.
Wagner experimented with different papers and shapes, taking notes on effectiveness, ease, and comfort. The optimal design, she says, has trajectory: "You will not go on your feet. You will not go on your clothes."
Between fits of sidesplitting laughter, Wagner and a friend tried many names—Urine Luck, Piss With This, Stand & Deliver, E-Z-P—before they decided on Whizzy. When a patent search revealed competition, Wagner tried out the handful of existing models and found that they disintegrated or required intricate unfolding or straddling a toilet. One came with an unwieldy hose. "You can tell a man invented that one," she scoffs.
Satisfied that Whizzy was the best, she forged ahead. She now makes two models under the company name New Angle Products. The travel model, which fits into most purses, has cutout handles for women with arthritis who can't grip the sides. The standard one, Wagner says, allows a longer trajectory. "In Sears one day, it was a mess around the toilet. I stood back a good eight inches."
Initially Wagner planned to market Whizzys through occupational therapists and arthritis foundations. Then able-bodied friends and relatives started raving about them. Her sister-in-law likes to say it's "a new way to stand by your man." Wagner's brother handed them out as party favors. One partygoer, much to her husband's chagrin, said, "I've always wanted to do that. And I even shook it when I was done."
Suddenly Wagner began to notice women everywhere carping about the pitfalls of peeing, and the list of potential customers grew: airline passengers who squat unsteadily during turbulence, partyers who can't quite make it to the nearest rest room while stumbling home, overweight women who "crash" to the toilet, dominatrices who supply golden showers.
Wagner has used Whizzys to relieve herself in alleys with her back to windows and near trees in parks, although she wants to be clear that she does this only when it's absolutely necessary. Whizzy is quick and discreet, she says, and you don't need toilet paper because you can wipe forward. Afterward she folds up the Whizzy, sticks it back in its plastic bag, and tucks it into her shirt pocket. "It air-dries quickly" and can be reused, though "I wouldn't recommend it more than once."
When the task is complete, the thrill of public urination sinks in: She has triumphed over her disability, defied nature, and flouted convention.
From Chicago Reader (May 14, 1999). Subscriptions: $95/yr. (51 issues) from 11 E. Illinois St., Chicago, IL 60611. ( Whizzy is available from New Angle Products, Box 25641, Chicago, IL 60625.)