Eaton’s, Urinals, and Kitsch

How does one spend their first 24 hours back on solid ground?  Well, while regaining my ‘land legs’ (read: opposite of sea legs – the feeling like you’re constantly moving even though you’re on solid ground.  It sucks), I decided to visit the greater Vancouver regional district’s ode to over-consumption: Metrotown! Hurrah for Yogun-fruz and Orange Julius and Mrs. Field’s cookies and all the pocky you could ever eat at the TnT!

Or so I thought.

A few surprising things happened yesterday. First, I saw an elderly gentleman walking around the food court carrying a plastic Eaton’s carrying bag. Now, if you’re Canadian and you’re at least 22 or 23 years old, you’re chest just clenched tightly because Eaton’s was Canada’s largest department store – i.e. the worst way to spend an entire Saturday as an early teenster with your mother or grandmother as they drag you around the unmentionables section.

However, Eaton’s went bankrupt in 1999 as the popularity of department stores waned (wiki). Now, this particular bag wasn’t a new Eaton’s bag either – it was an one of the older ones with two brown strips near the bottom third of the bag, one was thick with “Eaton’s” and the other a thin accent above the first. Now, I get it – plastic carrying bags are often reused (unless you’ve already switched over to cloth, according to the Canadian Plastics Industry Association – i.e. plastic bag lip service – 40 to 50% of Canadians reuse their plastic bags), but for 10+ years? This old, white bearded man could be the poster boy for the plastic industry and reusers everywhere!

After shaking off my disbelief, I headed to the bathroom only to find row of waterfree urinals:

I’ve always wondered how these worked. According to Falcon Waterfree Technologies, the same company Metrotown’s urinals were designed by, the patented Sealant Liquid is less dense than urine. Although the company claims urine passes right through the Sealant and is effectively sequestered from releasing urine-y smells into the restroom, let’s call a spade a spade – men’s bathrooms stink like piss no matter how you attempt to cover it up. No matter your opinion of urine, or asparagus for that matter, you have to be impressed to see that water conservation efforts have moved beyond government and university spheres and into public discourse.

The topic of water conservation reminded me of something I saw the afternoon before while waiting for the ferry (and my return to civilization) in Schwartz Bay. Amongst the kitschy artisans mongering their wares to tourists thirsty for local Canadiana was a T-shirt shop selling this beaut:

Polar bears and penguins – how better to sell a t-shirt! If benefiting from environmental catastrophes isn’t considered profiteering, then it must be the lowest form of greenwashing imaginable; this note accompanied the shirt:

Now, when I read Harlequin, I immediately thought of Harlequin enterprises – a leading purveyor of trashy romance novels.  When I was somewhere between 7 and 10 years old, my mother had a Harlequin subscription.  She would receive four or so novels a month, all of which had a scratch and win contest typically located on a pull out in the middle of the book.  Usually you were guaranteed a trip to Hawaii, Costa Rica, or some other hot and exotic location the book’s characters no doubt lived out their dramatic ends.  So, there I was, sifting through bulging members, supple skin, and rolls-in-the-hay to win my coveted prize.  Sadly, the North Pacific is the most exotic place I’ve been…so far.

Of course, this (supposedly) environmentally conscience Harlequin is not the same hot-and-bothered Harlequin of my childhood.  However, it is the same Harlequin responsible for what may be one of Christmas’ worst atrocities: animal T-shirts.

Think back to Christmas season for a moment.  If you’re like me, you’re unhealthily attracted to all of the solo stands littered throughout the mall.  You know the ones – cheap sunglasses, flavored popcorn, gaudy jewelry, and, you guessed it, animal T-shirts.  These aren’t your typical animal T-shirts, but rather highly stylized illustrations accented with glowing silvers, blues, and golds (for example).  Save the whales, save the wolves, and then save humanity, right?

I tracked down the global warming line of t-shirts on Harlequin Nature Design’s website.  According to Kevin Clancy, HND’s owner, “We chose the WWF because of the work they do to save wildlife all over the world and in so doing help save humanity.”  I’m sorry, this seems to have very little to do with climate change and, in the end, only amounts to ether placating HND’s clientèle or worse yet, is just profiteering.

Related Topics


Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: