By Joe Anuta
Flushing activist John Byas spent more than a third of his 79-year-old life hounding elected officials to build a toilet in Kissena Corridor Park — and Friday he stood in front of the newly opened commode to announce his quest had finally come to an end.
“This is a place to go to the bathroom, then get the hell out,” a fiery Byas said at the ceremony, warning any potential vandals or unsavory characters that the community wants to keep the gleaming, slate green comfort station in pristine condition. “We’ll be watching.”
The Community Board 7 member, president of the University Park Terrace Council and a civic activist, was last in a line of speakers who lauded the new lavatory in a ceremonious and innuendo-laden news conference.
“Who knew so many people would come out to celebrate the opening of a bathroom?” Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski asked after a choir from IS 237 had just performed, accompanied by live piano. “What a day.”
The jokes wrote themselves for city Comptroller John Liu (pronounced “loo”), the former Flushing city councilman who allocated the money for the $1 million facility and who, at one point in his speech, recalled childhood tormentors who seized on the homophonous nature of his first and last names.
“I feel relieved,” he said to guffaws from the 50 or so people gathered at the ceremony. “I could go on all day with these bathroom jokes.”
He didn’t need to. Lawmakers took up the torch and ran with it along a fine line between allusion and revulsion.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) hinted that the group should snip a strip of toilet paper instead of a ribbon — an idea others repeated with genuine disappointment when Parks brought out an actual ribbon.
Others may have crossed that line.
“Maybe I went a little too far with that story,” state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) said after recounting a two-wheeled excursion that turned into an urgent quest for the W.C.
But the restroom was no laughing manner for Byas, who first came to Flushing in 1974 and noticed that children and adults were dropping trou in broad daylight to relieve themselves.
“This is America in the 21st century!” he told TimesLedger Newspapers in November 2011, when it was announced that his pet project would actually be built.
Byas joined the community board in 1992 and eventually worked his way onto the budget and parks committees. On the board’s annual capital expenditure list — which amounts to a wish list for the district — Byas’ bathroom was No. 47, the same slot it had occupied since the 1980s, he said.
By 2009, after nearly 100 speeches and constant prodding by the father of three, it was No. 4.
Around that time Liu, then a councilman, funded the project through his office’s capital allocations.
Byas said he was nearly moved to tears after hearing his comfort station would become a reality. And if the sight of the handsome structure Friday wasn’t enough, Parks presented Byas with a gleaming award.
It was a golden roll of toilet paper.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.