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I came riding down a path behind Charlie’s elementary school last week, approaching the school. Standing on the edge of the soccer field, adjacent to the playground, is a porta-potty. I know this because after riding my bike around my town for more than two months without missing a day, I’ve identified all of the porta-pottys in down in the event that nature calls:

Both Charlie and Clara’s schools. The baseball field behind the professional building on Cedar Street. The construction site adjacent to town hall. Mill Pond Park. The soccer field on Willard Avenue. Churchill Park.

There are quite a few, and unable to step inside a coffee shop or burger joint to use the facilities thanks to the pandemic, they have come in handy.

As I approached this particular porta-potty, I noticed something strange. Stacked up on the path adjacent to the porta-potty were two cases of Coors Light. They looked brand new but they had to be empties.

Who leaves two cases of beer on the grounds of an elementary school?

The path ends at the porta-potty, branching left to the playground and right onto a street, so I came to a stop to get a closer look at the cases of beer. Before I had a chance, the door to the porta-potty swung open and a man stepped out, nearly startling me off my bike. He smiled at me, nodded, lifted both cases of beer, and began walking up the path in the direction from which I had just come.

I decided three things in that moment:

  • I’ll be peeing in the woods from now on.
  • It’s important to get outside and see the world, even if that world is only a mile from your home. You just never know what you will see.
  • This man will appear in a book someday. I couldn’t help but wonder about him. What possesses a person to walk to a liquor store on a Tuesday afternoon, purchase two cases of Coors Light, and then walk home? Maybe he needed beer and was just looking to get a little exercise in the process? Or maybe something much funnier, bizarre, or tragic was unfolding. It’s these moments of wonder that often launch novels, short stories, or minor characters in novels and short stories.

This was certainly one of them.