Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

KAMLOOPS, Canada – I’ve spent very close to a year in Canada, when you add up the multi-month summer performing stints I’ve been doing there over the past few years. So I like to think that I know a little bit about our northern neighbors by now.

Here’s an interesting little example of how Canada works: Some Canadians will merely say “done,” where I (or “we,” if you’d like this example to be more universal) would say “done with.”

Me: I’m done with my exams.

Canadians: I’m done my exams.

Fascinating, right?

Anyway, I’m done the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival and am currently driving to Seattle. I’ll then fly home for a few days before returning to the Great White North for some more linguistic adventures.

I always create little projects for myself on road trips. Currently I’ve vowed that every time I get out of my van I have to take a picture of something. Anything. It just has to be done EVERY time. Even if I’m just stopping for gas … click.

I spent last night in a rest area, as I often do. I needed to get on the road early, so I set my alarm for the hideous hour of 6 a.m. I got up, put on my shoes, grabbed my toothbrush and camera and headed to the bathroom, still groggy. I noticed something I hadn’t seen during my previous night’s visit to the men’s room. There’s a painted sign above the sinks that reads, “WARNING – VERY COLD WATER.” Hard to imagine missing this sign, because it’s pretty big. Then again I was pretty tired when I pulled in last night.

I’ve never seen a cold water warning sign before. I never even imagined one could exist. Just how cold does water need to be to get its own warning sign? Is it like liquid nitrogen? Will my fingers freeze and snap off when I run my hands under the faucet? Because anything short of that doesn’t really seem worth a printed warning.

I brush my teeth, wash my face (careful not to get frostbite) then step back and take a few pictures of the water warning sign, as per my daily photo requirement.

As I leave the bathroom I look across the hallway and I see something that makes my blood run cold enough to warrant its own warning sign. It’s the word “Men’s.”

I look back at the sign above the door to the bathroom that I’d just exited, hoping that somehow, some way, it didn’t say “Women’s.”

But it did.

These were big, clearly displayed signs. Somebody would have to be sleepwalking to not see them. Which apparently I was. And it explains why I hadn’t noticed the cold water sign the night before – because there’s not one in the men’s bathroom.

But back to the pressing matter, which is that I’d just spent the last five minutes in the women’s bathroom. Thankfully there were no other early risers at this rest area, otherwise I’d have had to do some fast Canadian talking (“I’m almost done the bathroom. Be right out.”)

But then there’s the little detail of the camera.

I was taking pictures in a women’s public restroom! Mr. Pervy Shutterbug. So much potential ‘splainin’ to do …

“I swear, officer, it’s just this photo project that I’m doing. I have to take a picture ever time I get out of my van. Look, I’ll show you some. See, there’s my van. And there it is again. And there’s a picture of a gas station. And … oops, that one’s pretty embarrassing. And there’s my van AT a gas station, and there’s …”

Potential criminal record aside, this incident raises so many questions: Why is there only a cold water warning sign in the women’s bathroom? Isn’t it the exact same water that flows to the men’s room? What temperature-specific activity do women do with the water from the sink that men don’t? Is this just a Canadian thing? Specifically, a Canadian women thing?

Just when I think I have Canada all figured out. I’m obviously not done the learning.

Barry Smith’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times.