The look on Frank’s face told a rather complete and tragic tale. Up until that point I had never known a feline to have the capacity to emote more than three expressions: “I like this.” “I dislike this or am otherwise not interested.” And lastly “I WILL REMOVE YOUR EYES IF MY PRESENT SITUATION IS NOT RESOLVED TO MY SATISFACTION.” But as I looked through the bars of his crate, Frank surprised me with a face of remorse, self-loathing and defeat. I suppose I would feel the same If I was entirely drenched in my own piss.
I know what you’re thinking. Poor Frank. But let me offer another perspective. Poor Nick and Nicole. There we were, standing outside of the car at 1 am in the middle of a poorly lit gas station in Godknowswhere, Mississippi. Population 347. A cat swimming in its own urine and meowing with increasing urgency at us from within the confines a carrier. At the time, I felt like we were a couple of bomb disposal techs working out how to approach the defusal of a 20-kiloton warhead. Each meow felt like a tick of the clock. Steady hands and cool heads were needed. Unfortunately we had neither, and at that hour, grace and propriety were in short supply.
That’s how I found myself holding on to a thrashing, piss soaked cat while a few slack-jawed local onlookers guffawed and snorted to each other with glee. Apparently in Mississippi a gas station also serves as a community gathering place and social nexus for the surrounding area. I quietly scorned their levity while considering the tactical applications of a piss-soaked cat as a disruptive projectile. Imagine a SWAT team just tossing a couple of piss-soaked cats into a room they were attempting to breach. The cats would do half the work, assaulting the senses in a fashion several orders of magnitude greater than a conventional flash-bang.
While doing my best to mentally check-out of the situation, Nicole cleaned out Frank’s carrier as best as she could until finally we were able to in turn get Frank calmed down and at least a bit drier. Frank had at that point dropped all of the sophisticated expressions of a cat navigating a complex emotional mire and instead reverted in full to feline emote #3. Mind you, we were doing this all without gloves. After realizing the scent of cat urine had permeated not only my skin but the fabric of my soul and essence, I excused myself to the station washroom to clean up and get some relief.
As I approached the doors of the food mart, I took some comfort in what appeared to be readily accessible public restrooms offered just beyond the racks of slimjims and adjacent to the coolers full of Bud Light (aka America’s Beer). Before I even touched the handles of the door I made eye contact with two underage males just inside, standing near what I’m assuming was the adult magazine section, given that their eye contact was a mere flash of embarrassment. They scuttled out of the section and out the door past me as I walked in.
To my right was the meth-iest meth-head that ever meth-ed, moonlighting as a cashier. Or at least the person he killed for meth-money and then later assumed the identity of was at one point a cashier. His name badge read Jarret, but I was never introduced, in fact he only spoke once the entire time I was within earshot. But I’ll get to that later.
After scaring away the pre-pubescents and taking in some sidelong glances of the outcome of America’s War on Drugs, the sting of urine filled my nostrils once again. I realized I was still walking around with urine on my hands. Funny how no one in the food mart seemed to notice. I brushed past a rack of pork rinds on my way towards the fading, hand written sign for RESTROOMS.
As I closed the distance, I saw what looked like a janitor, possibly Jarret’s only co-worker, leaving the men’s room. He looked up at me for what I assumed would be the man-nod. You know. The sacred man-nod of unspoken fraternity and universal understanding that beer is refreshing, Bill Clinton has reached the summit of manhood (Nick Offerman is on the ascent) and fashioning a gun out of legos is a rite of passage.
But alas no man-nod would be offered to me. Instead I was met with the look of a surgeon exiting a tense operating room, his eyes pregnant with the delivery of bad news. In his hands he was pushing along the handle of a mop and bucket, filled to the brim with some kind of dense, vile bog-water. He was straining to push the bucket along, and quickly broke eye contact with me, re-affixing his mournful gaze to the ground as I passed him. To this day I can’t say if I imagined it or not, but I thought heard an “I’m sorry.” I turned to ask “Sorry?” To my surprise he just kept pushing the bucket in a straight line out the door, never lifting his head as he struggled past a vacant Jarrett. I don’t think Jarrett even acknowledged his co-workers presence with a blink. They were both fluorescent apparitions operating independently and only half-present in the waking world. I pressed on to the men’s room.
My memory of the first few moments inside that dark place have only recently begun to crystallize, as I was almost immediately overcome with a primal surge of adrenaline and fight or flight signals from my brain. One pale bluish light flickered in the corner, revealing the visceral visual detritus in rave-like pulses of horror. I stood very still for about 10 seconds just inside the room, unsure whether or not to take another step. I then noticed for the first time I did not smell the cat urine. That aroma had been replaced by something much, much more disturbing. I would call it death, but that wouldn’t do it justice. It was a cocktail of mildew, fecal material, tobacco and the broken dreams of flowering youth. On the hastily “mopped” floor, years of stains had created a sort of Jackson Pollock floor mural made from dribs and drabs of bodily fluids. It also appeared as though the floor had been covered over and over again with succeeding tile and linoleum treatments, several layers thick now and only visible in a few spots where the strata had been torn asunder, presumably by some primeval wolverine-shitdemon hybrid creature who had set up court here.
I took a quick survey of the rest of the facility without moving and then settled on the fact that I would not be touching any surface. I was even nervous about touching the air. On the plus side, I felt very comfortable relieving my bladder pretty much anywhere, as others before me had already apparently blazed that trail. But before going too far down that road I needed to take care of my hands. Luckily one faucet was permanently running. I ran my hands underneath and dried them on the back of my jeans – the only swath of fabric I was willing to trust within a 50ft radius. I then turned and moved slowly towards the urinals.
It was a bit of guesswork walking in between light strobes – but I felt comfortable about 3 feet from the urinal, unzipped and let
her him rip. It was one of the few times I felt like maybe I should wash off the soles of my shoes. A feeling I usually reserve for walks through dog-friendly public parks. Upon answering the urgent call of inner pressure on the wall of my bladder, I rinsed again and headed for the door. I then noticed the words scrawled in what looked like a dark finger-paint right above the door. “GOD LEFT THIS PLACE A LONG TIME AGO.” I took that as a cue for me to follow god’s example and get the hell out of there.
As I exited, I passed Jarret one last time, during which to my surprise I heard him expel a tired “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life,” under his breath. I don’t know whether it was directed at me to respond, but I looked in his direction anyways. He continued staring straight ahead out beyond the wall of the food-mart and into the abyss of profound questions only the super-high dare to venture. I issued a single man-nod and returned to the car, tearing off my shirt on the way back and leaving the remaining smell of urine in Mississippi. As I drove away I saw a couple of the slack-jawed yokels salvaging the shirt out of the garbage.