Its like church

January 12, 2012

I was sitting in Starbucks. A group of women stepped in. There were 5 of them. In their late 40s and early 50s. I think. One was very attractive. The other women seemed pleasant. My hearing is not great. And they were on my deaf side. I was drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. They were congratulating one woman. Who was getting married. She was the oldest as far as I could discern. She didn’t seem happy. Particularly. I tried to get back to my newspaper. Listening in on other people’s conversations is such a temptation. Especially to writers. The woman who was getting married seemed to be talking about logistics. If it had been men they would have rapping the new groom in the shoulder and razzing him. Usually about sex. But not these women. And they were all contributing bits of information. Each was designated a certain portion of time. Like a debate. Women are too civilized.

This is a story about urinals. They are like subways. Everyone is using the facilities. But no one talks. Its a rule. And no one smiles. Its like church.




When Paul stepped into the washroom he saw the small man standing by one of the urinals. Standing there like a guard at Windsor Castle. Except that the man was too small to pass as a guard. And the urinal… it was a urinal. He smiled at Paul. Like Moses. Paul hesitated. He wanted to use the toilet but the little man had positioned himself in such a manner that this was impossible.

“I’d like to use the urinal,” Paul said.

The little man smiled, his eyes bulging behind the coke bottle glasses.

“My name is Ford Harvey,” he said reaching out with his hand. The one that was free. Or so Paul hoped. And Paul looked. At Ford’s hand. Hovering there in mid-air. It looked so helpless. Like a dishrag hanging over a leaky faucet. Paul remembered that he was an employee of the drug store and this washroom was in the drug store, next to the doctor’s office. Was it mandated that he shake Ford’s hand? He didn’t know. It was complicated. But guessed it was better to error on the side of compliance. He shook Ford’s a hand. Ford’s hands were sweating.

“I need a favor,” Ford said. His voice was low. Almost weepy. Like a mouse’s. And his tongue darted out of this mouth. Like a serpent’s. The relationship of the two metaphors was completely lost on Paul. But not to those old explorers. Whose vision of a new land. Was not lost in their eyes.

Paul stared at the little man. Like a woman. He might hand a rose. A transient joy. What kind of favor could this little man be expecting? And why would he ask a favor of a complete stranger. Not that Paul was a complete stranger. He was wearing his drug store uniform. Perhaps Ford felt that he was entitled to certain privileges with employees of the drug store. Fords were like this. Wasn’t it a Ford that shot Jesse James. In the back.

The little man reached into his pocket. Like the sun behind a cloud. Of his cashmere sweater. He produced a small plastic container. Paul recognized the container. It was one of those vessels that were handed to people. At airports. And  in doctor’s offices. For urine samples. Called European Passbooks.

The little man looked up at Paul, almost bashfully. Like a kid. Handing a dandelion. To his best girl. In grade four.

“I can’t pee,” he said.

Paul was having difficulty absorbing the weight of Ford’s request. He can’t pee. Am I supposed to offer him moral support? Perhaps he wants me to go and retrieve the doctor. Maybe he needs counselling.

“I need a urine sample,” Ford added. “It’s for my job. I’m in insurance.”

“Yes, I understand,” Paul responded though still perplexed.

“Would you fill my cup?” Ford asked.

Paul’s mouth dropped. For a moment he said nothing.

“I’m sorry,” Paul said as he recovered himself. “I thought for a moment you asked me to fill her up.”

Ford smiled politely.

“I did,” he said.

“That’s not possible,” Paul responded. “That would defeat the purpose of the whole thing, wouldn’t it? I mean, I might have some terrible disease that would show up on your chart. And they’d be dragging you to every specialist. Known to man. Trying to cure you. While there was nothing wrong. With you but me.  On the other hand, my sample might be clear of any contagions and the doctor might get the impression that you were as healthy as a horse. They shoot horses don’t they? When in reality you might have only months to live. And a miracle drug. Produced just weeks before. Might save your life if only you’d take it in the next 3 or 4 days.”

“That’s okay,” Ford said. “I’ll take my chances.”

Paul stared at the little man. He considered leaving, but he still had to go to the washroom.

“I hardly know you,” Paul said. “I mean, I don’t know you at all.”

The little man smiled and shook his head. “That’s okay.”

“No, sir.” Paul tried to laugh, to lighten the prickly situation. “You’ve got it all wrong, Mr…”


“Mr. Harvey. I don’t want to fill your vessel.”

“I have a family to feed,” the little man said.

“But, that’s not my responsibility. Maybe if you just wait.”

“I’ve been in here an hour,” the little man said. “I don’t know how long I can stay here without raising suspicions. And yours is just going down the drain. Its not like you’re going to use it.”

“Suspicions?” Paul asked.

“You know…” Ford responded then sighed. “Guys that hang around washrooms.”

“Oh,” Paul laughed and pointed at Ford. Briefly.

Ford held out the vial to Paul once more.

Exasperated Paul grabbed the plastic container and stepped toward the urinal. Nothing happened.

“You’re making me nervous,” Paul said from the urinal.

“Why?” the little man asked.

“I don’t know,” Paul responded. “But I can’t go as long as you’re standing there watching me. It’s creepy.”

“I’ll close my eyes,” Ford said.

“That’s not good enough,” Paul said. “You have to go somewhere.”

“Where?” Ford asked.

“Outside,” Paul said.

“How long?” Ford asked.

“I don’t know,” Paul responded. “When I’m finished I’ll let you know.”

The little man departed. Paul stared down at the vessel in his hands. His penis hung in his fingers. Dejected.

“Why can’t I go?” he cried.

The door of the washroom opened. A middle-aged man entered. Paul zipped up, turned and stopped him in his path.

“I have to use the urinal,” the man said.

“I wonder,” Paul began holding out the vessel, “if you could do me a favor.”

5 Responses to “Its like church”

  1. I definetely understand your comment about writers being tempted to listen in on the conversations of others:)

    Sometimes I tend to see more in situations than there really is in them. Check out my post

  2. First, let me say that I love, love, love the collage. LOOOVE. Want.

  3. Secondly, this is hysterical. I really shouldn’t be reading, I should be writing, but I just couldn’t stop. Well done.

  4. Like Girl in the Hat said. I love the collage as well. Surrealism at its best. The story takes you a twilight zone of cyclical repeat….brilliant.

  5. You both are very gracious. I feel like a night club singer. I once knew. She had a beautiful voice. But died of lung cancer.

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