There is something cleansing about getting organized.

I can go lengths of time where papers just accumulate. Many are unimportant, but others are things overlooked. Like tonight, I found a parking ticket from a recent visit to Trail.

Now I have all my important priorities stuffed into a very important looking beige leather folder; its fate is likely to be shoved in a shoulder bag and forgotten for another few weeks under the fog of work.

One step forward, two steps back, it seems we never get ahead in the onslaught of adulthood and responsibility.

Onward we go.

A man must face his shittiest fear.

By David Wylie

Joe hated public toilets. He hated them with as much passion as a man in his thirties could muster against a porcelain seat. But on a sunny Friday afternoon in August, as he drove back to Ottawa with his wife from a visit to Joe’s parents in Toronto, Joe knew he wasn’t going to make it.

The couple was driving east through Toronto when the contents of Joe’s stomach started to feel like laundry tumbling in a drier. When they past Oshawa he started to squirm. Thirty minutes later, Joe spotted a glorious green sign: “Next rest stop 33 kilometres.” Joe glanced away from the road and turned to his wife, Jane, in the passenger seat. Early in their marriage, Jane learned Joe could drive hundreds of kilometers, grumbling in discomfort, to avoid sitting on a gas station toilet. Jane had simply come to acknowledge it as one of her husband’s quirks.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” he said with an urgency that suggested something may have crawled into his stomach and died, then resurrected and was trying to scratch its way out.

Jane had also noticed the sign and suggested they pull in at the rest stop. “I’ll get a drink and feed the baby,” she said. “And you can go to the washroom.”

Joe nodded his head reluctantly and pressed a bit more firmly on the gas pedal. After 33 kilometres of sweating and clenching, Joe pulled into the rest stop like a race car driver. He quickly found a parking space as close to the Tim Horton’s sign as he could get, and swung the car 180 degrees into the spot, sending up a small cloud of dust and earning him a few glares from people in the parking lot. Jane was gripping the door and baby Maddy, awake from her nap, was giggling. Joe flung the sedan door open and shuffle-jogged to the door, disappearing under the black roof of the dome-shaped building. Jane relaxed her grip and said to Maddy, “Daddy really had to go.”

Joe made it to the toilets and read the sign on the door as he opened it: “Five-star cleanliness guarantee.” Well, he thought, sounds promising. But the bathroom did not earn its five stars in Joe’s opinion. Somebody had smeared pink soap all over the mirror, the floor had toilet paper strewn on it like giant bits of confetti, and each urinal had its own puddle underneath. The smell reminded him of the baby bottle he’d accidentally left in the car for two days. However, there was no turning back.

Of the three stalls, two were occupied. A dull plunk echoed from the stall on the right where a man with muddy brown boots grunted. In the stall on the left, he saw two white-socked feet stuffed inside leather sandals. Joe stood in front of the centre stall and hesitated. He held his breath – less because of anticipation and more because of the foul smell starting to drift from Muddy Boots’ stall. Then he opened the door. The scene in front of him was something out of a horror movie. It seemed that all the toilet’s previous users had conspired not to flush. Several giant brown logs were loosely piled together like a decrepit raft barely staying afloat on a yellow pond. The black toilet seat looked like it had been left outside in a torrential rain storm. Joe thought about the motto carved into decorative wood that Jane had hung on the wall behind their toilet: “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.” Joe sullenly decided the people who used the toilet before him were not sweeties.

He stepped into the stall and pulled the door closed. Joe flushed the toilet, twice. There was still a brown smear, but the little raft was swept away by a whirlpool of white rapids. The yellow water was now clear. Joe crouched down so he could reach the plastic toilet paper dispenser and grabbed handfuls of the one-ply paper. Joe was wiping off the seat when he got a text message on his cellphone. He used his left hand to pull the phone out of his pocket and read the message from Jane. “How goes it?” she wrote

Joe, who was crouched down cleaning an impossibly dirty bathroom stall, staring at a wad of toilet paper stained with another man’s absurdly yellow pee in his right hand, replied: “Just peachy.”

White Socks in the next stall farted loudly as Joe hit the send button.

Joe put his phone away as he tossed the toilet paper into the water and flushed again. Then he pulled more strips of toilet paper from the dispenser and built a fluffy toilet paper nest on the seat. Joe undid his belt, dropped his khakis and sat. He unclenched and felt immediate relief. A few previous tenants of the stall had left some bathroom reading on the walls. One caught his eye: “Roses are red, violets are blue, I took a poo and bet you did, too.” Joe couldn’t help but smile.

He grabbed a handful of toilet paper, but he felt one more intense grumble and gave a small push of encouragement. He farted so forcefully that the toilet water splashed up against his butt. The bathroom echoed, and fell silent again for a few seconds until White Socks applauded loudly and Muddy Boots hooted. Joe laughed.

When Joe pulled back out onto the highway, Jane asked how it went. Joe turned to her and smiled. “A gas.”

Ms. Fortune stood at the front of the classroom, back turned to her students, as she wrote some notes about their book assignment on the blackboard. The students were all in detention, and seeing opportunity, began to act out.

Jimmy reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of elastic bands and fired them at people who had been teasing him earlier in the week. Gertrude reached under her desk and peeled a piece of previously chewed gum off the bottom and popped it in her mouth, smacking loudly. Bobby, who had been hit in the eye by one of Jimmy’s elastics, screamed and started to cry.

Ms. Fortune sighed the sigh of someone who had grown weary of a particularly long spell of poor weather. She stopped mid-sentence, lifted her white chalk and turned. The class was immediately quiet, attentive — except for Bobby, who continued to scream and hold his eye. The teacher told Bobby firmly to be quiet. He obeyed, sniffling. She turned back to the chalkboard.

Rena put her headphones in her ears and hit play on her music player, bobbing her head up and down to the beat. Cassandra began to doodle little hearts in her textbook. Ralph, who could see Cassandra’s bra through her white shirt, reached forward, grabbed the strap, pulled it back and let it go with a snap. Cassandra screamed. The class laughed.

Ms. Fortune finished writing her last sentence and abruptly left the classroom without offering an explanation. With a click, the door locked behind the students.

On the blackboard was written a short summary of their book assignment. Below that in capital letters, Ms. Fortune had written:

“WHO IS PIGGY?”

The students all looked at each other.

storyboard
Storyboard sketch by Chris Hendricks

The kitchen clock tick-tocked as the seconds passed.
James, aged 7, thought that time went too fast.
As the clock came closer to chirping out eight,
the louder it seemed to resound the boy’s fate.

Eight o’clock sharp was James’ bed time.
The most awful time for the cuckoo to chime.

First he had a bath where he sank his red sub,
and he splashed in the tub,
and he made boats go “glug glug.”

Then he brushed his teeth until they all sparkled bright.
Smiled at the mirror admiring each pearly white.
Story time came, and it went much too fast.
And the cuckoo clock shouted from the shadows it cast.

cuckoo, cuckoo
cuckoo, cuckoo
cuckoo, cuckoo
cuckoo, cuckoo

But this stormy night, James would stay awake.
He would play his part well, the fear and heartache.
He would pretend to see a monster in his underwear drawer,
then mommy and daddy would run through the door.

They would turn on the light to clear darkness from room,
saving poor James from a frightful nighttime doom.
He would get hugs, and kisses, and songs.
His bedtime routine would be nightly prolonged.

So when the light was turned out and daddy said “good night,”
James waited a minute then shrieked out in fright.
Thunderous footsteps led to the door,
and his daddy burst in like Paternal Thor.