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  • Aaron Carruth

Antlers Out

I’m partial to movies that begin with some variation of the phrase “Based on a true story.” I think it’s because I’m generally optimistic. Technically, I’m what's known as a false cynic, which is essentially the same thing only less likable (and, more “edgy” for, like, ten years when that sort of thing seemed to matter).


I don’t know what “Based on a true story” actually means, though. It’s a very unscientific description. I’ve always just assumed it meant that the main idea or event was real, but the conversations in between weren’t necessarily word-for-word transcripts. I understand that some details might’ve been tweaked or embellished for entertainment purposes, but I trust that the heart of the story is non-fiction. This is all just in my brain, though. A conclusion I’ve fabricated. I’ve never checked. Can writers change core concepts, meaning, context, themes, or outcomes? I don’t know how much you can dilute the truth before you are no longer legally able to claim it was based on real events.


Instead of using the net to find the answer, I’ll just leave things be. I’ll stay in my bubble, thanks. I’m generally optimistic that I’m not being lied to (which, depending on the phrase's legal definition, I could be… but, not?)

The following account is based on a true story


I’m on a firm three shirt rotation.


Three.


Three, down from maybe… forty? My friends and family might think it’s because of COVID. [1] One of the few perks of a global pandemic is the bar for fashion (and personal presentation in general) has dropped.


That’s not it. I mean, it’s probably part of it. But only a small part.


The real reason is that I’ve eaten too much and exercised too little for about six months now. So, three shirts fit me in a way that I feel comfortable. I always thought that I would grow out of caring what I looked like, but at nearly thirty-seven, I’m still wondering when (if?) that age might arrive.


[1] Psych! No one noticed. No one cared.



Today I’m wearing my Wu-Tang Clan t-shirt. It’s a plain black tee with the group’s large yellow “W” across it. It’s faded, hangs just right, and is super soft and comfy.


The only potential downside is that it’s not exactly the perfect garment for engaging with elderly citizens in Central Ontario.


I convinced myself it wasn’t a big deal. The "W" could stand for anything. No one needed to know who Ghostface Killah was.


-----------


The air was clammy. The sky, splotched gray. It rained, then stopped, then rained some more. Again and again and again. I noticed that, despite the intermittent pouring, the windshield could never get itself clean. I think it's because the wipers are misaligned. Even if they weren’t, they’d have to be pretty magical to clean the inside of the window – what with the generous smattering of grub left by my two lovely children. One of the duo’s favourite games is to bend their noodle bodies in such a fashion that they turn themselves into a sort of dashboard burrito. Once they’ve squished themselves in, they streak the windows with glittered prints, saliva, and jam. Prior to their descent, they remember to turn on all the interior lights before swinging from the rear-view mirror, dropping between the seats and knocking a stale cup of coffee over; the curdled cream merging with the carpet like the Symbiote and Peter Parker.


That was a long way of saying it was wet. The van was dirty. And, of course, there were no yard sales.


Not one.


Not even the kind that are open weekly as brick-less (and tax-less) drive-way shops. Even they had the good sense to stay closed on a morning such as this.


I pulled in for gas. The truck beside me had one of those back-window decals with Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) peeing in a mathematically perfect arc on the word DODGE.


What kind of adult goes to the store and purchases a sticker of a cartoon character urinating on the name of a rival truck manufacturer? The worst kind. The kind of person who picks dynamite when playing rock-paper-scissors. The kind of person who puts ketchup on their assorted subs. The next thing Elon Musk needs to invent is a button that, when pressed, vaporizes everyone with a Calvin decal. I’d be the first in line to press it. Repeatedly. No questions asked.


Distracted with visions of a mass sticker-buyer-extinction-level-event, I forgot to insert my debit card to pay at the pump. This particular gas station shared its retail space with a McDonalds. Eager to ensure that none of my shirts would one day fit, I grabbed two sausage and egg mcmuffins and a cup of coffee. The gas clerk eyed me for a moment, before glugging half a can of Monster Energy. Delivered by way of time machine (circa 2001), he had gelled, spiky hair and bold side-burns that narrowed to a stenciled chin strap.


“I like your shirt,” he said, nodding at me.


“Thanks!”


“Wu-Tang!”


“Yeah, man.”


“Pump five?”


“Yep.”


How do they always know?


-----------


I drove for a few more hours and found nothing. It must be the rain, I thought, and... Phil.


I couldn’t find my good luck charm, Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required anywhere.


The following is my statistical breakdown of the many fates the album might’ve met:


10% - my mother threw it out in act of treasonous sabotage

27% - my mother stole it for private dance-alongs in the RAV

50% - I’ve lost it because I have the executive functioning of a lemur

4% - my dad stole it (without his monocle, he mistook it for a Tom Petty album)

9% - the kids stole it as a part of their dashboard burrito game


I made up my mind to head for home when I noticed an older gentleman carrying a pair of snowshoes towards his garage.


I slowed the Caravan and watched as he packed them into a large cardboard box on top of his work bench. This was telling. If the snowshoes were sacred, they’d be up on his wall. Instead, they were being relegated to garage box status. Maybe he didn’t care about them. Maybe… he’d sell them to me? I pulled tight to the curb and paused to gather my courage. This was something my father had done a thousand times. He saw an opening and he pounced. No courage required, only opportunity.


I had missed a second, critical piece of information. A sign on the lawn: SOLD.


The boxed snowshoes took on a different meaning now. Maybe they were being packed for the move. Maybe they were special.


Still, a new opportunity had availed itself. When older people move, it’s almost always to a smaller place. Something more manageable. This meant downsizing. Antique dealers can help with that.


Even pretend ones.


I took a deep breath and opened the door. My knees wobbled, only for a second, before a surge of adrenaline took hold of my chest, propping me up – shoulders back – eyes clear and warm – ready for my sales-pitch.


“Hullo, sir.”


That’s not a typo. I’m unintentionally aping my father’s opening. He never says “Hello.” He says “Hullo”. He says it like you’ve always been friends. And, like he wouldn’t harm a flea. It’s strategic, but not disingenuous.


“You’ve just sold your house?”


“Yep.”


“I buy all kinds of old things and was wondering if you had anything kicking around. Maybe something that you weren’t thinking of taking with you?”


The man paused to think with a brief hmmm. He looked curious, but I worried he was dangerously close to dismissing me.


“I like your snowshoes,” I said, pointing towards the box.


“Oh yeah? And what would you say they were worth?”


This was the part I had momentarily forgot to dread. I dislike evaluating people’s property (especially when they are staring at me). I don’t have any clue what the objects might mean to them. As a false cynic, turned general optimist, I’m also a card-carrying sentimentalist. Every bauble must have a story – a connection – residual memories. How do you quantify that?


I studied the man for a moment. He had to have been seventy, perhaps eighty years old, but behind his glasses were eyes bright and filled with purpose. He wore a blue buttoned flannel shirt neatly tucked into a pair of navy blue trousers.


Just say something, I thought, and if he doesn’t like the price, he’s not gonna melt. He’ll just ask you to leave.


I walked towards the box and peeked inside. There was a second set of snowshoes, only these were tiny. I wasn’t sure if they were for kids or maybe they were a sample for a tradeshow. I hadn’t seen a pair like it.


“I’d give you thirty bucks for the pair,” I said.


“Pair?”


“Yes, the big ones and the little ones.”


I held my breath.


“Alright,” he said.


-----------


The man led me into the kitchen where his wife was eating a grapefruit and sipping some black coffee. She wore a white crewneck sweatshirt and pants that looked like denim but were really those sneaky comfortable imitation jeans. She had the look of someone who was kind, but always seemed concerned.


He introduced me as “a man who wants to buy your old crap,” and laughed.


“I don’t have any of that,” she said, feigning a bit of arrogance, her nose turned up with a little smile.


“Oh you do, you do,” he said, smiling, grabbing her shoulder and pretending to squeeze and shake her before waving me towards the living room. "Come on."


“It was nice meeting you,” I said, nodding gently.


The living room was decorated exactly how I pictured a hunting camp might look. Above a large fireplace were three proud bucks. Heads and antlers included. My Disney brain couldn’t help but chuckle and think of the consumate skeez, Gaston, whom, lest we forget, used antlers in all of his decorating.


There was a beaver perched on the mantle. A fox was standing on a table near the couch. A raccoon was lounging near a stack of books.


This guy killed the whole forest.


“Are you a hunter?” he asked.


“Not really,” I said.


Not really? HA! Not even close. The first time I held a gun, it was filled with paint balls. I shot myself in the foot before our referee could even begin to explain the rules. The notion that I would hold an actual gun - around breathing people - was the stuff of nightmares.


“So,” he said, trailing off towards a cupboard, “you wouldn’t be interested in these?”

He bent his back, slowly, and unlatched the door. It swung open, to reveal two long guns. Rifles. I think.


I stood still, unsure of what to do.


“You aren't going to make me bend all the way down there to grab them, are ya?”


Sir, I wanted to say, the last time I held a gun, I shot myself, but instead I carefully reached in and picked one up.


“My son isn’t a hunter, either,” he said, sounding a bit sad. “These were my uncle’s.”


I studied each gun carefully. The quality was undeniable and I wanted to be respectful of items that were clearly important to my host. In truth, though, I had no idea how much they were worth.


“These are great, but I’m not sure what the law says about me buying guns from you,” I said, dodging an appraisal.


“Oh they don’t care about this sort of thing,” he said, stretching his hand out for me to pass him one of the guns.


Yeah.


I’m not sure about that.


I don’t know if the guy in the Wu-Tang shirt hiding two unregistered weapons in the back of his soccer-mom van falls under the understanding umbrella of "don't care about this sort of thing."


The last time I was pulled over in a van, I was eighteen.


Reader’s note: this blog post has been based on a true story, but this particular account is one hundred percent, syllable for syllable, truth.


A flashlight sears through my retina.


Him: “Where you headed tonight?”


Me, super nervous: “Home.”


Him: “Where are you coming from?”


Me, more nervous: “A friend’s house… we were doing calculus.”


Him: “Have anything to drink?”


You know, because whiskey and derivatives are natural bedmates.


Me, inexplicably filled with temporary courage/cheek: “Just the juiceboxes,” I said, pointing to the lone survivor of a tetra-pack of grape juice.


Him: Silently shines the light on my passenger seat to reveal the juice box and a calculus textbook. He walks two steps, slides open van door, and shines the light back there. He throws a blanket and some extra clothes off one of the bucket seats (I suppose I’ve always been messy), and SLAMS my door shut. “Alright," he says, tapping on my door and motioning ahead. "On your way.”

Suppose I meet the same officer (something tells me he might not have made rank). He’s gonna find the weapons. I’m not a poker player and I couldn’t talk to the police when I had been sipping on Minute Maid and studying trigonometry. Illegal gun-running? Forget it.


“I’ll put you in touch with my father,” I said, “he has more experience with this.” [1]


[1] By this, I mean evaluating guns and (potentially) breaking the law.


He refused to sell any of his animals, save for two massive sets of antlers (this time without the heads).


“You watch yourself with those,” he cautioned, “they’ll cut ya through.”


I eased my way through the kitchen, careful not to stab anyone eating grapefruit.


Then, the totally thinkable happened. I missed a step from the kitchen to the garage, and stumbled forward. This was it. My destiny. Death by impalement from the grave of Bambi’s father. I wrenched the rack to the side, content to slam my sternum on the concrete, sans antler puncture. Scrambling, I managed to Flinstone my feet under me, and avoid a full collapse (and/or impalement). I spun around to see if anyone had noticed my near-death experience.


Alone, I shook my head at my stupidity.


Antlers out, Aaron.


I entered the living room to retrieve the second set.


“My dear!” said the woman “what have you done to your shirt?”


I tilted my chin to my chest, confused.


“You’ve ripped your W.”


Ah yes. My "W".


I sighed.


Two shirts.


I’m on a firm two-shirt rotation.



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