I stood among mini hygiene products meant for traveling at the drugstore as sweat crept out of my hairline and slid past my ear. I wasn’t sure if I was a genius schemer or if had frustrated myself to madness, but my thought as I held a tiny bottle of Head and Shoulders shampoo suggested the latter: Perfect -- this is way smaller than a penis!
I don't handle stress well. I sweat a lot, painful acne breaks out on my back, and I become prone to random bouts of crying. Borrowing money makes me anxious. For this reason upon graduating high school, I decided that getting a student loan for university wasn’t a good choice for me. I saw a better option in the opportunities Alberta was offering unskilled high school graduates like me in the oil sands.
Fort McMurray Alberta is known as an environmentally negligent wasteland saturated in money and men with unnecessarily large trucks. Virtually no one you meet there is actually from there and even fewer live there full time. The workers drilling for the -- um, whatever is down there, I’m iffy on the details -- stay at work camps and then fly home in increments of two to three weeks or so. The company who did the cooking and cleaning at these camps was hiring so I sent them my resume.
What I knew about the job I applied for was that the company was going to house me, feed me, and pay me an outlandish wage. What I found out when they contacted me to tell me I was conditionally hired was that I would have to pee in a cup first. This I was made aware of three days before my drug test was to take place.
During high school I was what you might have called a “chronic” -- I smoked pot more than once a day, every day. For the casual pothead it takes a good 30 days for marijuana to entirely leave a person’s system. For someone like me it would take somewhere in the neighbourhood of 90 days.
Cue angry back zits.
I stocked up on home urine tests and bought every product I could afford that promised to cleanse my insides. I drank liters upon liters of cranberry juice and green tea which did nothing except give me a belly ache and the toots. I force-fed myself a chalky mixture of Aspirin and creatine powder which gave me an even worse belly ache but didn’t work either. I resorted to trying to sweat the dope out of my pores by doing jumping jacks in the sauna as strangers at the YMCA watched in confusion. When that humiliating attempt failed I tried running around my block wearing numerous, fleecy articles of clothing and a garbage bag, but all the tests still came out positive.
Sitting dejected in my bathroom, sick and tired of handling tiny cups of my own urine, I decided if I was going to put some clean piss in a cup, it wasn’t going to be my own. I took to Facebook and scanned my friends list for someone who might be able to help.
Annie DeVine taught me a song to remember all the books of the New Testament at church camp seven years before and I hadn't seen her since. After wilting beneath the condescending look the cashier gave me when I bought a pile of home urine tests and several liters of cranberry juice, then leaping about in the sauna for the amusement of the elderly regulars, and finally jogging around my neighbourhood sweating and panting in a garbage bag, I had simply reached my maximum capacity for feeling embarrassed. I sent my old pal a shameless, blunt message:
Annie, I need some clean urine to pass a drug test to get a job. Do you still live in town? I can pay you. Kate
She agreed to meet me at a bar downtown and gave me a Mason jar filled with clean pee for the cost of $20 and a beer. That girl is a saint.
Now that I was in possession of some passable piss, I started devising the specific execution of my plan. That is how I found myself at the drugstore trying to visualize a dick next to various containers.
The urine must be body temperature. It has to be hidden on your person in case they pat you down.
Thank you, parolees on the Internet. I never would have thought of that.
I bought a one-way plane ticket to Fort McMurray which maxed out my credit card. I stowed Annie’s Mason jar in my luggage and considered what would happen if this didn’t work. If I failed the drug test, I didn’t have any money to buy another ticket home. I’d have to call my mom. That conversation would go very poorly. This had to work.
If you thought my comparison of a shampoo bottle to the male sex organ was the low point of this story, you were wrong. And when I thought I could cram said bottle into my lady bits easy-peasy, so was I. The fact is there’s nothing less sexy than stress-weeping in the Fort McMurray Airport bathroom because you can’t fit a travel shampoo into your cooter. And so, for the crowning humiliation of my life to date, I rummaged through my purse and made good use of a tube of peppermint chapstick by smearing it onto a three ounce bottle of pee.
Once the deed was done I waddled out of my bathroom stall and washed my greasy hands. I spent a minute in the mirror convincing myself that my eyes were red but not crying red. Eventually some other women entered the bathroom and regarded me with pity. Nail salons and the bathroom -- the only two places where women are comfortable asking and telling total stranger about their problems. I waddled in a race against the inevitable what’s wrong, sweetie?
I got a cab to take me to the clinic where I’d be taking the test. Thus far I had kept my lower body movements to a careful shuffle but in a thoughtless effort to bolster my own confidence, my first move toward the entrance was a stride. Suppressing a strange sound of pain as the shampoo bottle shifted, I hunched over for a split second and then popped backup, keenly aware of the large windows fronting the clinic. The bottle was slipping… upward.
I entered the clinic and was greeted by a man wearing Toronto Maple Leafs pajama bottoms eating chips and watching "The Price is Right."
"You Spence?" said the man placing a pen on top of a clipboard of forms.
"Can I do the test right away? I really have to go."
"Well are you?"
"Am I what?"
"Forms first. Are you nervous, or something?"
I lied and said that the cabby got lost and I had been holding it for a while but I don’t think he believed me because sweat gleamed around the edges of my hairline and my hands shook as I filled out the forms.
When I entered the bathroom I ripped off my pants and to my relief the feeling of the bottle slipping upward had been an invention of my anxiety. My old friend left me with gratitude and I dumped it into the cup. I didn’t want to risk it being found in the trash so I kept it the front of my jeans and pulled my sweater down over it.
I watched the man dip the same strips I had been using into the pee. As we waited the allotted three minutes for the strip to change color I eyed the man and his pajamas. I thought to myself, This guy’s got it figured out. Lounge wear at work, Is that not the dream? I bet he doesn’t have stressed induced bacne. I bet he hasn’t cried today.
"Negative," said the man.
"Oh, okay," I replied amid an intensely pubescent voice crack.
I walked across the street, ditched my nasty bottle in trash bin of a Mucho Burrito, and ordered myself some victory tacos. Some people would call me gross but I prefer the term resourceful. I got the job, I saved the cash, I’ve never borrowed a dime to pay for school, and I’ve never been that cruel to my poor vagina again.