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  • Aaron Carruth

Beware of Public Urination

“Your mother’s pulled her rib… or something,” my father said, leaning his head out the window. “Do you wanna come with me again?”


I wasn't sure if I'd heard him correctly. The sun was still thinking about rising.


“Pulled her rib? What happened?”


“Oh you know,” my father said, waving his hands back and forth and shrugging. “She’s fine.”


So, my father ...

a) had forgotten what happened to her

b) had not fully listened to what happened to her

c) believed she was probably not really hurt

d) fell asleep listening to what happened her

e) didn’t want to worry me

f) didn’t want her to strain herself by yard-saling with me

g) knew what happened but the part of his brain that manufactured words was shorting out

h) all of the above


I thought about taking a second trip with my father. I love spending time with him and he’s an incredible quote. The problem is that he does everything. He is the expert. He understands what we should buy and how much we should pay for it. He understands people and what makes them tick. He knows what to say to make a deal. He’s a salesman that buys. I can learn a lot from him, but our styles will never be totally alike. I need practice picking things up and analyzing them in real-time. I need to talk to strangers. I need to make mistakes. I told my father as much and he agreed. I wished him luck and he fished out his grey rock and held it out so that I might pay my respects. I smiled and raised my hand, pointing at my gym bag which contained the key to everything; Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required. He laughed and blindly put the truck in reverse, running over a part of the lawn on his way out.


Both my parents do that.


A lot.


Worse still, they manage to desecrate the same patch of grass each time, almost like it was intentional. Double worse still, Bronwyn always suspects I'm the culprit. The lawn is her third child and she wonders how I could be so careless with it. I always insist it’s not me, but I’m never quite believed. It’s a legitimate problem.


I’m looking forward to each of them reading this and still finding a way to blame me.


I drove for three hours before I found a single yard sale. Three hours. Nothing. I listened to No Jacket Required - front to back - four straight times. Let me tell you, it is a BANGER. There isn’t a bad song on it. I used to be a passive fan. I'm all in now (although I made sure to keep my eyes open whilst singing, even during the emotional parts). I started noticing little things, like the fact Phil wasn’t the only person singing. I swore I could hear Sting, which I later confirmed, but I had no idea that Peter Gabriel also chipped in for “Take Me Home”. I also discovered that the record lost the Brit Award for “Best Album of the previous thirty years” [1] to Oasis for (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? I mean, I guess. If you want to reward the band that inspired thousands of drunken university students to pick up a guitar and sing half the words to “Wonderwall”, that’s on you. [2]


[1] Not exactly a stellar name. Do better, Brit Awards.

[2] I’m just bitter for Phil. “Cast No Shadow” and “She’s Electric” are great.


------------------------------


“Garbage, garbage everywhere,” said a man wearing a skin tight pair of neon green and white cycling shorts. He was grinning ear to ear and waving his hands back and forth behind a table of those overpriced ceramic teddy bears Hallmark used to sell.


Just then an elderly woman slowly raised one of the bears from the table and asked for a price.


“How about fifty cents?” he said.


The woman grimaced and lowered the bear back to her eye for a second inspection. She turned it over, studying it. The host, once a beacon of joy, seemed slightly perturbed. Fifty cents for a statue of a bear hugging a heart - something that likely cost at least forty dollars - was an absurdly fair price. It begs the question, which price was she hoping for?


Free?


Perhaps he could pay her to take it?


I smiled and instinctively turned to hide my transgression before remembering my mouth was covered. One of the unconventional benefits to our new (mostly) masked society is that facial expression (and judgment) is now greatly obscured.


Smirks. Lip purses. Lip bites. Teeth grits. They’re all in play, with almost no social consequences. Those who live to self-entertain should be delighted.


“How about fifteen?”


“Fifteen? ... Cents?” he paused here, uncertain whether to take the bear and punt him across the street or flip the entire table and call it a day. “Sure,” he said, “I’ll take fifteen.”


------------------------------


Beware of Dog signs are strange. They’re an admission of failure. A public declaration that you’ve been unsuccessful in socializing your canine. Unless, of course, you have intentionally trained your dog to be dangerous, in which case the sign seems to have strong legal implications.


An imaginary trial


“Mr. Jones, did you know your dog had a violent disposition?”


“No.”


“Is that your house, sir?”


“Yes.”


“And, what does this sign mean?”


-- End scene.


What Does Your Beware of Dog Sign Say About You?


Your sign is affixed to a high-fenced backyard: You’re growing weed.


You have signs posted everywhere: You probably have multiple dogs that have bitten kids in the neighbourhood without repercussion. You write angry posts about these events on Facebook, arguing the kids were to blame. You also might be growing weed.


Your sign has a picture of an angry dog on it: You bought a dog to scare people. You get into fist fights with your family during major holidays.


Your sign specifically states: “NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURY OR DEATH”: You aren’t particularly well-versed in the Criminal Code of Canada.


------------------------------


The sale I was at had at least four BOD signs. One was homemade; a sign post hammered into the front yard. The second and third signs were nailed to either side of the front door. The final sign sat inside a large front window, right next to a faded Block Parent sticker.


Oh boy.


According to blockparent.ca, families with these signs are police-screened and safe for community members in distress - particularly children.


Right. The house with the killer dog is a safe haven for neighbourhood kids. Got it.


Blockparent might want to do a second pass here. [1]


[1] Bad, Blockparent!


I nodded at the host, who was juggling a cell phone, cigarette, lighter, and a bagel. She looked at me with something that felt like scorn. A small dog lay nearby, unchained. He seemed calm. Harmless even.


Is this the dog I’m supposed to beware of? I thought. Through canine telepathy, the runt heard me, raising his head at attention. His eyes bulged in different directions. I nodded at him apologetically and broke eye contact, lest he interpret my inner monologue as a challenge.


“Do you wear a mask all the time?” she asked, in a strange pseudo twang. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but some of the folks in small-town Central Ontario have developed a certain hillbilly affectation. Developed is the wrong word. This wasn’t Darwinian. Its origin was intentional.


This was a decision.


With enough exposure to what has been carefully constructed as mainstream "country" culture, some people thought “I could talk like that, too, ya know?” and just said, screw it. I’m gonna pretend that this here drawl is real. I’m country. Through and through.


It’s strange stuff.


I grew up with these guys. Played hockey with 'em. Went to school with 'em. On the whole, fantastic people. Can’t figure out where the accent came from, though.


“Just when I’m in public,” I said.


“You don’t need a mask if you’re outside,” she continued “that’s not how it [COVID-19] spreads.”


She rubbed the bottom of her chin with her knuckle and lightly scratched her nose. Ten seconds later she adjusted a box of Hallowe’en decorations and rearranged some dishes.


That’s actually exactly how it spreads, I thought. Though one can be forgiven for thinking otherwise. I’m sure her Aunt Tiffany had shared some very convincing evidence on her Facebook page. That honourary degree in epidemiology should be coming in the mail any time now.


She lost interest in me when she noticed her dog was nosing a potted flower.


“HEY! Get outta there.”


The dog startled, then growled.


“QUIT IT, YOU.”


The dog continued growling. My first pet versus owner fight. Lord, deliver me. I picked up a small bag of jewelry. It was fifty cents. It looked like it might be gold, but I couldn’t see any markings.


“YOU WANNA GO INSIDE?”


The threat no dog wants to hear. I risked my life, interjecting with an outstretched loonie. The woman smiled and thanked me. I didn’t ask for my change. Sparky was about to justify all four signs and I didn't want to get caught in the crossfire.


------------------------------


The next few sales were blissfully dull. I bought two watercolour paintings, neither of which I’m sure are worth very much. I won’t pretend I’ve perfected the ability to assess the actual quality of the artwork, but I think they’re both pretty. I'd argue they're better than my sled dogs.

The backs of each painting have stories that add context to each subject matter. I’ve never seen that before.

Earlier this summer I learned that gallery stickers are bad, while gallery labels are good. What about gallery stories? The frame for the one painting seemed quite new, but that doesn't always mean the painting itself is.


I found an especially cute little bear. I’ve included the playing card for scale.

You turn the brass knob to reveal a second, silly face. Both my children love it. I’m not sure if there’s a market for him. I know my son, Bobby, hopes there isn’t. He would love to keep him. Bears have always been his favourite.

I'm pretty sure this dessert rack is on the newer side. The handle seems like something that can't be very old. Still, for three bucks, it's hard not to like it.

It was nice to get a handful of pieces near the end of the day, though I doubt it will be enough to earn Phil a second Saturday. It's too bad, really. I was hoping that I'd get a chance to convert my mother. Maybe Face Value tripped her up, too.


------------------------------


I was thirty minutes from home when I first felt like I needed to pee. Finding a washroom during a pandemic is a tricky business. Many restaurants and gas stations have decided to close their restrooms. You never know which are closed until you've gone to the trouble to leave your vehicle. And, I’m picky when it comes to washrooms. A disgusting washroom is one of my top three worst nightmares (guinea pigs is one of the others). I decided I could wait until I got home. This was the beginning of my undoing.


There is an inverse relationship between having to pee and intelligent decision making. The closer your bladder gets to bursting, the less your brain cells are willing to cooperate with one another. In just ten minutes, things had grown quite bleak. I started eye-balling coffee cups, estimating their capacity. I was between towns now. My options had thinned. There were no shops - only farmland, houses, and county roads. Pulling over for some roadside relief would seem like the obvious choice, but I live (and teach) here - a community with, like, forty(ish) last names. I don’t need a local family or student regailing their friends with tales of Mr. Carruth peeing on their Uncle’s fenceline.


That’s when I noticed a small sign.


Someone was having a yard sale down some old dirt road.


I could make some money AND find a quiet place to relieve myself.


Wrong and double wrong.


At precisely 10:30 am, I needed to go.


At 10:31, I was threat level midnight [see figure 1]. The red telephone was ringing. The nuclear codes had been entered and confirmed. The keys had turned. My brain shut off. I was driving on a stretch of road that was barely wide enough for two cars. There was no shoulder to pull onto. It didn’t matter. I slammed the breaks and threw the mulch-mobile into park. I was jutting halfway into the lane and it didn’t matter. I clawed my seatbelt off and scampered around back, half-bent in a fixed clench, certain that the only thing keeping me from peeing my pants was the tension of my body. I flung the passenger door open for some coverage and commenced the evacuation process.


figure 1

Chief among my true talents is my ability to catch things that are falling [1] and the fact that I can pee for a comical length of time. This was going to take a while. More’s the pity.


[1] Unless it’s a measured expectation, like in baseball. Then I’m in trouble.


I scanned back in forth in panicked guilt. That’s when I saw her. Them. A woman dressed in a purple tank top and white ball cap was pushing a running stroller. And, she was serious about her business. She was closing the distance at an alarming rate. It was at this point that I noticed just how narrow the section of road I was on was AND, a massive black pick-up truck was speeding towards us, determined for a collision. Further still, a red van lagged behind, tooting along.


What might promote an increase in traffic on an otherwise sleepy country road? Perhaps, and I’m only spitballing here: A BLOODY YARD SALE. A quiet place to pee? I'm such a muppet.


The woman and truck were hurtling toward me with equal speed and precision. I was pincered. The woman saw me (I can’t be certain if our eyes met. I’d like to pretend they didn’t), then saw the truck. She had a decision to make. Stop and wait safely in front of the van and spend a shared moment with a roadside urinater or play chicken with the pick-up. She struggled with her choice, then sputtered to a stop. She was close. Way too close. The truck driver, being the concerned, conscientious citizen that he was, slowed to ensure everyone’s safety. By then, the van had caught up. The universe was not satisfied with general humiliation. It wanted an extinction event. I refused to look anywhere but straight into the swaying green fields. It was like that scene in the Thin Red Line. I was Jim Caviezel (visions included). I had accepted my fate. The van took it’s time inching past me. It's pace suggested the driver was relishing in my shame.


And so, I stood, peeing, on a (once) quiet, narrow bit of country road, while a black pick-up and a red van held a mother and her toddler as a captive audience.


Once I finished, I pretended (quite hopelessly) to fiddle with a button on the door. The false furrowing of my brow failed to convince even the toddler that I was up to anything but breaking a provincial by-law. I waited for the mother to jog by before gathering what was left of my dignity and returning to the driver’s seat.


Where would a black pick-up and a red van be headed to on such a fine Saturday as this? Yep. The same place I was. I thought about driving by, but the notion that I could lose money AND my self-worth because of the same yard sale was too much to take. Because I exist in a terrible movie, you’ll forgive me for believing that everyone at that yard sale knew what I had done. I bet one of them even joked about it before I showed up. Yeah. That was why everyone was so quiet. Each of them was judging me in silence. Who could blame them? A friendly man in a Harley Davidson t-shirt welcomed me with a smile, asking if I wanted some hand sanitizer.


Well, are you going to take some? I know where those dirty hands have been, thought Red Van.


There isn’t enough sanitizer in this world to cleanse his soul after that little public pee party, added Black Truck.


I’m sorry, everyone. I was in crisis. Pure, unadulterated crisis.


I took a squirt of hand sanitizer and avoided eye contact with everyone. I surveyed the sale. The most valuable table featured fifteen sealed copies of a Joan Osborne Christmas Carol Compilation. The same Joan Osborne who wondered if God was one of us.


That’s it.


It was time to go home.


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