Already a singer-songwriter, author, musical theatre performer and politician, James Gordon can add one more item to his resume: Roots Music Canada columnist. He’s graciously offered to share some entertaining stories with us from his lengthy career in the arts. Get ready to laugh!
I’ve played in this unique northern Ontario railway town a number of times now. It’s always an adventure. (Just getting there is a real adventure in the winter, a season that tends to linger longer in those parts.)
Once we played a house concert there on a really snowy night. The hosts for the evening had a part-time business boarding, believe it or not, dog teams. There was a small encampment of hardy sled dogs surrounding the place when we arrived.
The concert was a real northern party. It wrapped up quite late and, since the roads were pretty slippery, we were given lodging at the house. I ended up with a cot in the basement, which is a common perk of the glamorous life I lead on the road.
Probably an hour after getting to sleep, I was awakened by a common side effect of the generous amount of party refreshments that had come my way: I had to pee.
A tip for people looking for reliable pee stops on the road
(Sidebar: Being a middle-aged wandering minstrel now, peeing is a big part of life on the road. The rule is, “Never pass up an opportunity to pee if you are going to be driving.” I know all the good peeing spots. The best place is McDonald’s. I haven’t actually purchased a McDonald’s quasi-food product in over ten years. However, their standard design offers an unobtrusive side entrance that puts you steps from the washrooms, without even coming into eye contact with any staff who might think you ought to purchase something if you are using their facilities. I consider my small contributions there a tiny statement about their piss-on-you attitude towards the environment and the health of their patrons.)
Anyway, back in Chapleau, I was climbing up the basement stairs, heading for the washroom. (The washroom,’ by the way, turns out to be a
distinctly Canadian expression. We are so modest that we don’t like to say what we MIGHT be doing in a ‘salle de bain.’ In England it’s just ‘the toilet,’ as it probably should be.)
Gee, it’s taking a long time to get up those stairs. At the top of the flight, in the kitchen, in the dark, I startled a sea of sharp bared fangs. It turns out that on that cold night, our host had let the dogs sleep on the kitchen floor. Surprised by my late-night visit, they all stood up, growled in harmony, and stood their ground in a stance that certainly suggested to me that they would not let me pass by.
A daring escape
I retreated quickly back down to my bed. A few of the dogs followed to the top of the landing, blocking my escape from the house, which would have been my next choice for seeking relief.
I got back into bed, but my bladder didn’t like this idea at all.
I began to plan a daring escape through the basement window, which involved scaling a wall and letting myself drop down the short drop to safety on the outside. It looked do-able. Dressed in a tee-shirt, genuine northern ‘long johns’ and “Nipigon nylons” (those ubiquitous Canadian wool work socks), I squeezed arse-first through the window. My first mistake was in gauging the height that I was going to drop. I had a good reason for incorrectly determining this. There was about three feet of snow on the ground. I landed in a very deep snowbank, and immediately heard a sound that I recognized right away. Only ONE of the dog teams was inside the house. The other was quite disturbed to find a snowy creature drop from the sky into their midst, and they gathered around me in an all-too-familiar stance.
I managed to leap up and grab the windowsill just in time to avoid teeth-marks in my Stanfield’s, and scrambled back to safety, unsatisfied in my ever-more urgent goal.
I recovered briefly from my trip, then considered other options.
There WAS a laundry sink in the basement, but this seemed a bit too crude even for a musician. What I did find, though, was a nice big plastic beer cup (at least a ten-ouncer). I calculated that this would contain the volume of fluid that I was anxious to be rid of, and after offering a silent apology to the household, filled it up.
More options to consider now. The contents of the cup closely resembled the Northern Ale that had caused this problem in the first place, but I didn’t think I could really leave it there til morning or pour it down the laundry sink. If I wasn’t the first one up in the morning, carrying my little prize through the kitchen would be a little awkward, and if I WAS the first one up, the dogs wouldn’t let me through anyway.
That dreaded window was my only recourse.
I climbed back up, which was harder now, since one hand was busy trying to maintain a level cup without spilling its contents. I got the window open again, but of course found the dogs standing below, waiting to see what that skinny snowman was going to try next. Pouring out the contents was going to hit at least one dog, and I was doubtful that I could hurl the cup far enough away to avoid any of them. Balancing my problem on the windowsill, I retreated once more in search of a decoy.
Two more plastic cups were located. Back in the window, I lined up the three little red darlings, and flung the empty two as far as I could out into the snow.
This caused all the dogs to turn around and search for what had landed behind them while I emptied the third cup outside, then quickly decided that I better throw that cup out, too, to hide the evidence.
Peace and sleep at last.
In the morning, I was delighted to discover that at least another foot of snow had fallen, hiding any trace of the night’s folly. I headed out after a nice breakfast and a very pleasant trip to an actual washroom, and didn’t mention my adventure to anyone.
I still wonder what our kind hosts thought when spring thaw (the middle of June up there) revealed three red beer cups in the snow – and I hope that they didn’t decide to re-use them!