Calvin and Hobbes

by M.S. Blessing

   I walk into a restroom. The walls are covered in a rancid milk-yellow hue or something you'd see on the corner of sidewalks spilling forth out of the gutters. The smell is horrible; a nefarious mix of disinfectants, with that pungent, sour air that burns the hairs in my nose, and human feces, an equally bitter but mild smell that clings mostly to the walls and floor, like warm air in a valley. There's no-one inside as far as I can tell; I make sure to check the small gap from the stall doors to the floor. So I languidly gravitate to a center urinal. I notice the urinal is stained; I make sure to step back a few paces, so as to touch anything.

As I am about to go, a man walks in. He's old and gaunt, I can almost see his ribs through his thin cotton shirt, and he carries himself with a slow and deliberate swagger, as if he doesn't want put too much weight on one side or another. He gives me a quick smile; I dart my head in front of me, embarrassed that I was caught looking. Then he climbs towards a urinal that sits right beside me. I glance at him accusingly, as if to say, "Seriously?" but he doesn't notice. He simply unbuttons his pants and places his shoulders squarely in front of his feet, like a football player does a three-point stance, and goes. I can tell he's smiling, even though I'm leering at him from the corner of my eyes, for his cheeks rise slightly and then become flush.

I try and coax my body out of its riggamortis and plead with it to let go. But I can't. I can't go with this old man right beside me. It's too awkward. And then, unfortunately, I notice the sounds. One coming from the bottom of the urinal, the sound of rising water, and one from the old man himself: a straight and sustained roll of his lungs, like a gasp and a grunt and a moan all rolled into one. I look down at my side, at my feet, and then my front. Nothing's coming out-I'm paralyzed.

The old man leans against the repugnant walls (I silently cringe as he does so) and he places both hands flat against the wall, making it look as if he were trying to balance his body along the urinal. He then closes his eyes, smacks his lips wet, and re-shifts his weight from his right foot to his left leg, I guess trying to get more comfortable. I now don't' care, by then, that I'm staring or not, for I'm looking at this old man like he's Martian who's never known proper bathroom etiquette.

I wonder how he can do that, as if he just doesn't care. Doesn't he know the "one urinal space" rule? I knew it since I was just a boy, no higher than the kneecaps of my father. Is it because he's so old, it doesn't apply any longer; is there even a timeline on this sort of thing? Look at him, I think: He's hugging the wall like it's his child! Like he's right at home! Meanwhile, I'm sweating bullets in trepidation and fear, almost as if I'm being judged on my performance, like if I don't do well, I'll be penalized for something. And then he finishes, zips his pants up and turns to me, all the while I'm still facing the wall in front of me as if I'm trying to appreciate its architecture, and simply smiles. (Old men are so weird, I think). He walks out, after washing his hands, but forgets to flush. I lean over and peer inside the urinal cautiously, like I don't want to disturb it, in fear of it lashing out at me. It was like a puddle in there; I threw my head back and closed my eyes and shook my head.

I stared in front of me for a few minutes until I realized, I didn't even have to go anymore! I walked out asking myself why I even came into the bathroom in the first place. All I can remember is that old man and his complete lack of shame, of care. I laughed as I thought if him, though, and wondered if I could ever be so carefree.

Old men are weird, I think. They're so true with their actions and emotions, it's like their really just a child in an old bag of wet skin and dry bones. I guess they've lived so long, there's no reason to really hide anything anymore.

Old men are so weird, I think.

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