The Plumbing Incident – Part 1: I’ve Lost That Fresh Feeling

The Plumbing Incident


As the experts say, in order to fully emotionally heal from a trauma, you have to put some distance between yourself and the events of the offending ordeal. I assumed this to be sound advice. It seems logical that things always appear to be worse than they really are while you are in the midst of the trauma. The passing of time will eventually reveal and brighten the sunshine. Butterflies will fill the golden air. Someone will sing.

And now that a few days have gone by, I have decided to look back on my personal hell to see if the pain has eased. To determine if perhaps I just got a bit more emotional than the script really required. To reflect and ponder if I might even want to sing about it now, even if it’s just a trite rap song with only four words in the lyrics, featuring a guest vocalist that you’ve never heard of before, because that’s what passes for Top 40 these days. And I have discovered this:

The experts are liars. The pain is still excruciating. I have not moved on. I am not singing, and I will happily throttle anyone who dares to do so within a five-mile radius because it was not a happy time and I’m still bitter. I don’t think I will ever get over The Devastating Plumbing Incident of 2009. (Cue the violent string music from “Psycho”, zoom in on tight shot of Brian standing in an overflowing bathtub, head thrown back in a primal howl of fury and impending dementia…. fade to black…)

It all started rather innocently enough.

I was lying on the bed in the guest room, playing XBOX 360 with the curtains drawn. (Not out of shame, hiding my activities from the neighbors and such. I just like playing in total darkness, makes the imagery onscreen even more vivid and helps bolster the sensation that I am indeed somewhere else, anywhere, where you don’t have to pay taxes or look at ugly people.) I was just about to receive the Golden Rod of Power from one of the lesser overlords (THAT certainly looks interesting once you type it out) when I heard this strange gurgling in the wall.

Gurgling. In the wall.

With irritation, and only a minimal amount of concern at that point, I paused the XBOX and approached the wall. Granted, there is indeed a bathroom on the other side of this gurgling wall. But the sound wasn’t coming from down there, floor-level and such, where you might expect to hear this type of noise. Besides, no one was using the facilities. And the sound was coming from up there. High. Like where you would point when asking something like “Do you think this is where we should put the Malawi print we got off the Madonna website?”

I wasn’t sure what might be causing the noise, and this troubled me slightly. Not enough to make me actually do anything about it but, for the official record, I did stand there and contemplate how odd, elevated noises might impact my life. Then the noise stopped, abruptly, without any dramatic fanfare on the movie soundtrack. Like any of the idiot minor characters at the beginning of a trashy slasher flick, I assumed nothing more would come of it and went back to the XBOX to accept my rod.

A few days later, while Terry is in the shower and I’m in the office doing something meaningless like re-organizing my CD’s or pretending to think about paying my bills, I think that I might be hearing the gurgling again. I initially head toward the guest bedroom, the original scene of what I thought had been a one-night-only engagement, then I realize that not only is there gurgling, but this time we have the bonus feature of what sounds like a catfish flopping around in the guest toilet. An angry catfish.

I alter the flight plan slightly and head to the guest bathroom. Approaching, I can see one of our cats, Scotch, who has an odd, un-catlike obsession with water, sitting on the toilet seat in a near state of rapture. Even before I am physically in the bathroom, I can see little geysers of water spurting above the rim of the toilet bowl. Geysers. Shooting upwards and falling back. In Disney’s “Fantasia”, this scene would have been set to music. There is NO music here. There is no Disney. Only toilet water defying the laws of gravity, and a drooling cat about to hit the Big O.

Old Faithful finally gives it up, and the waters calm. It’s almost serene. Zen-like. Except this isn’t a pristine lake nestled in the mountains of Utah. Or a buddhist temple. This is a toilet in a ranch house in southern Dallas, in a part of town that used to be really swanky until someone invented suburbs and all the decent-income people decided to run off and try those things out for a while. Luckily, the gays have rediscovered the area and property values are now on the rise, which is just how it works, ask anybody in real estate.

I pry Scotch off the toilet, his claws frantically scrambling to retain any type of purchase on the porcelain pool of wonder. (I briefly ponder the realization that if they ever invent Viagra for cats, the world as we know it will end. But I let the thought go. Bigger catfish to fry, so to speak, must move on.) I close the toilet lid, fully aware that this is now a situation and not just a distraction, and I wait for Terry to finish his shower.

“What do you mean, with the gurgling. And the geysers,” asks Terry, poised in front of the steamed-up mirror in our own non-volcanic bathroom, doing something with his hair that actually looked rather painful but would eventually result in a stunning display of follicular architecture, like it always does. “Are you sure it wasn’t a weird fluke thing?”

Well, maybe. He could have a point, it might never happen again, even though it had already happened twice, which would give any could statistician pause. Still, I was the only non-feline witness to said events, and I do have a history of latching onto something insignificant and then worrying about it so much that I turn it into a psychological Tower of Doom. (This is probably the result of growing up as a little fledgling gay in Oklahoma, without the financial resources that would allow me to rediscover abandoned urban areas and turn them into trendy neighborhoods with clever names, and thusly I had a lot of time to practice worrying about stuff.) So I buy into the delusion, and choose to not think about it.

A few days later, and déja vu kicks in with reinforcements. We have Terry in the shower (Why does he need to clean himself so much? He’s not Catholic.), we have gurgling, we have geysers, and we have an incredibly aroused cat. For some inane reason, I completely lose my mind and approach the demon guest bathroom toilet and actually flush the damn thing, like a Republican trying to hide the INS papers for his nanny. And of course the toilet water spirals upwards, spilling over the rim. And does not go back down. Great.

Then I realize I can hear gurgling in stereo. Something else is whacked. I trace the noise to a hall closet, where the inside air-conditioning unit used to be before we paid people to move it to the attic. There’s a drain in the floor of this room. Apparently AC units back in the day would regularly gush out gallons of water that required a drain the size of a manhole cover. Don’t really know the story. Anyway, liquid of some kind is quickly rising out of this drain and flooding the floor, causing many of the random items we had tossed into this stepchild closet to begin floating about in a twisted regatta of old magazines and broken Christmas ornaments. Joy to the world.

I race to our bathroom and inform Terry that he must turn off the shower NOW, no matter how unclean he may feel about his un-Catholic-ness. I can tell that he’s not certain if this is some kind of intriguing sex game or if something more important is afoot. I do my best to remain calm and explain the situation, shouting over the noise of water gushing throughout the house and a certain aroused pet calling 900 numbers in search of sexual release.

Clearly, The Devil has entered our house.

There is no turning back.

I muster up all the courage I have and state what has been crystal clear to the viewing audience since Scene 2.

“We have to call a plumber.”

Cue the soundtrack of “The Exorcist”, zoom in on famous shot of Max von Sydow standing on a foggy corner in Georgetown. There is a feline screech-howl and a horny cat races across the screen and into the darkness.


To be continued…


(Originally posted in “The Sound and the Fury” on 05/04/09. Revised and edited with extra flair for this post.)

10 Surreal Conversations at a Typical Drive-Thru Restaurant



  Note: PTO = Person Taking Order, the idiotic twit that has somehow been granted communication permissions at this establishment. YOU = well, you. Here we go…



PTO: “Welcomecrackintheboxyourorder?”

YOU: “Okay, I believe you just attempted to greet me and ask for my order, although that might have been some type of seizure or a mating call. Can you hang on a minute?”

PTO: “….”

YOU: “Hello?”

PTO: “Are you ready?”

YOU: “No, I just wanted to make sure you heard me say just a minute.”

PTO: “…”

YOU: “Did you hear me?”

PTO: “Are you ready?”

YOU: “Do I just not exist to you until I answer ‘yes’ to that question?”



PTO: “Sir, please stop honking your horn.”

YOU: “I’m NOT honking my horn. It’s the people behind me.”

PTO: “Why are they honking?”

YOU: “I’m assuming they’re hungry. We’ve been in line for twenty minutes and we haven’t moved an inch.”

PTO: “Could you tell them to stop honking?”

YOU: “I don’t know them. I’m not telling them anything.”

PTO: “You’re closer than me.”

YOU: “Look, can I talk to your manager?”

PTO: “He’s not here, he had to run get some change from the bank and… Hey, is the honking coming from an ugly green Honda Prius and the driver is a butthead?”

YOU: “What? Um… well… yes, it appears to be a Prius… not sure about the ugly part… and the driver could be a butthead or it could be Mother Teresa, I have no idea…”

PTO: “That’s my manager. He’s trying to bring me change and you’re in the way. Could you go get the bag and bring it to me?”

YOU: “Why in the world is he using the drive-thru? That doesn’t make any sense.”

PTO: “That’s why he’s a butthead. Can you just go get the bag and stop talking? I’m out of ones.”

YOU: “No I cannot go get the bag. What is wrong with you?”

PTO: “Nothing’s wrong with me. You’re the one who’s anti-social and resistant to authority.”

YOU: “How do you even know those words? From your police reports?”

PTO: “Those documents are sealed until I’m 18 and that’s none of your business. Are you getting the change or not? I’ve got a lady here who ordered Captain Bucky’s Shrimp Bucket and I don’t have the right change. I already tried to give her a stapler and she didn’t go for that. She’s kinda mad.”

YOU: “I’m not getting your change! In fact, I’m not getting anything. I’m putting my car in reverse and I’m getting the hell out of here, and I don’t care if I hit Mother Teresa in the Prius!”

PTO: “So you won’t be using any coupons today?”



PTO: “Could you please repeat that?”

YOU: “I haven’t said anything yet. Do you understand that the people in front of me aren’t here anymore?”

PTO: “Oh. Well, do you know if they wanted the Diablo Sauce or the Chipotle Cream on their Flaming Flautas?

YOU: “Uh…no I don’t. They didn’t discuss it with me. Since I wasn’t in their car or anything.”

PTO: “You didn’t hear them when the ordered? What did they say?”

YOU: “I wasn’t recording it to share with my grandchildren when they visit me in the nursing home. It’s your job to listen, not mine.”

PTO: “That sounds racist. I’m calling my lawyer.”

YOU: “How is that racist? I don’t even know what race you might be, even if I wanted to have an issue with it, which I don’t.”

PTO: “So now you’re denying me my heritage?”

YOU: “I’m not… I just want to order a chicken sandwich. I am not burning a cross or wearing a hood. I’m just hungry.”

PTO: “Chicken sandwich, huh? So you want the white meat. Which means you have a problem with the dark meat. I knew it.” Sounds of SOM partially covering her microphone as she turns to holler into the kitchen. “Order up! KKK chicken sandwich with a side of fries. Don’t bother to cook the fries so they can stay white.” Sounds of SOM uncovering microphone. “There. I’ll go sit in the back of the bus until your order is done.”



PTO: “Please pull up to the second window.”

YOU: “Um, there’s only one window.”

PTO: “Oh. That was my last job. Can you just drive until I see you?”

YOU: “But I’m already at the window. I’m looking at you right now.”

PTO: “Oh.” Turns to look out window instead of gazing at the tile wall in front of her and practicing dance moves. “Is it you that I’ve been talking to? Then how are you talking at the menu board?”

YOU: “I’m not. There was a sign on the menu board saying it was broken and that I should just pull through.”

PTO: “Then how come I can hear you in my headset?”

YOU: “That’s between you and Jesus. I just want a Grapette and some tater tots.”



PTO: “You want any ketchup with that?”

YOU: “I ordered fries. Why would I not want ketchup?”

PTO: “Some people don’t.”

YOU: “Some people do. Like me.”

PTO: “Look, I’m supposed to ask instead of just give. I don’t make the rules. Ketchup costs money, you know.”

YOU: “Then add it to the cost of the fries and give everybody the damn ketchup.”

PTO: “Fine. Is one packet enough?”

YOU: “I’d like three. There’s only like two drops in one of those things.”

PTO: “That’s a lot of ketchup. Do you know how much sugar that is?”

YOU: “Are we really having this conversation?”

PTO: “I think we’re both talking, so, yes, we are.”

YOU: “Just give me the ketchup.”

PTO: “You seem to have a lot of anger in you. Violence is never the answer. Here, let me just tuck this brochure for the Buddhist Temple into your bag, so you can read it while you’re eating all that ketchup that you don’t really need.”



YOU: “I’d like the Atomic Burrito and a large order of Jalapeno Bang-Bangs.”

PTO: “We don’t have chicken.”

YOU: “Both of those things have ground beef. What’s with the chicken?”

PTO: “We don’t have it.”

YOU: “But I’m not ordering anything with chicken.”

PTO: “We don’t have chicken.”



PTO: “Would you like to super-size that?”

YOU: “No, thanks.”

PTO: “Would you like to super-size that?”

YOU: “NO! Regular size is fine.”

PTO: “Would you like to super-size that?”

YOU: “Are you some kind of upgrade terrorist? I don’t want the big one, I want the little one.”

PTO: “Bigger is better.”

YOU: “No, it’s not. Not if I don’t want it. God.”

PTO: “God wants you to have bigger things.”

YOU: “Just shoot me in the head.”

PTO: “Would you like the super bullet with that?”



PTO: “Can I take your order?”

YOU: “Uh, I was already ordering. Did you not hear me?”

PTO: “That was Yolanda. She’s on break now.”

YOU: “So Yolanda can leave in the middle of an order?”

PTO: “We have a union. There are rules. I don’t know why you’re here if you don’t support that.”

YOU: “Are you serious?”

PTO: “No, she works the midnight shift. I’m Melvin. Can I take your order?”



YOU: “Does the Hawaiian Chicken Surprise sandwich have tomatoes?”

PTO: “I don’t know.”

YOU: “Is there somebody you can check with? I don’t want tomatoes.”

PTO: “I don’t know people in Hawaii.”

YOU: “Okay, does the person who is making the sandwiches know?”

PTO: “I’m not allowed to go back there.”

YOU: “Is there a manager I can talk to?”

PTO: “He’s not Hawaiian.”

YOU: “Why are you making this so hard?”

PTO: “You’re the one asking all the questions.”



PTO: “Could you please pull through and park in front of the building?”

YOU: “Why? What’s taking so long?”

PTO: “Your order.”

YOU: “I get that. What, of the things I ordered, is causing the problem?”

PTO: “Everything.”

YOU: “Even the water?”

PTO: “Yes. Especially the water.”

YOU: “How can there be a problem with a cup of water?”

PTO: “Um, no one ever orders that, so we’re not sure what to do.”

YOU: “You don’t know how to put water in a cup? Are you serious?”

PTO: “I’m very serious about food. That’s why I work here. Why are you questioning my values?”

YOU: “I’m not questioning… Look, if we skip the water, can things happen faster?”

PTO: “You’ve already paid. I’m not authorized to do refunds.”

YOU: “The water didn’t cost anything.”

PTO: “But it’s on the receipt. See? Item 4. Water.”

YOU: “Let’s just pretend that you’ve already given me the water and I already drank it, okay? Now, can I just get the rest of the food?”

PTO: “Um, okay.”

YOU: “No more problems?”

PTO: “No. Wait. Yes. Hang on.”

YOU: “What now?”

PTO: “They’re calling me on my headset. One sec. Okay. Okay. Sir, your chicken sandwich?”

YOU: “Oh, God.”

PTO: “Tina’s calling from the kitchen. She says she’s holding the tomato right now like you ordered. But she doesn’t know what you want her to do with it after that.”



(Originally posted in “The Sound and the Fury” on 08/05/11. Revised and edited with extra flair for this post.)

10 Flashbacks to Childhood Candy in the 70s

10 Flashbacks to Childhood Candy


1. Lik-A-Stix

So you had this thing with three connected pouches, filled with what was essentially flavored sugar, and then this long, flat “stick” that looked like somebody had stepped on a piece of chalk. You took the stick, you picked a pouch, and you shoved said stick into the powdery goodness until it was nicely coated. Then you went after that stick with your mouth like you were trying out for the sequel of “Debbie Does Dallas”.

This was great fun until the powder levels got too low in the pouches, and then your stick would present you with increasingly-disappointing levels of pure energy. Which meant, of course, that you would then have to up-end the pouches into your desperate mouth, because we were not about to waste any of that mess. Trouble is, being children, we were relatively uncoordinated and the powder would get everywhere, all over our faces, making us look like clowns on crack.


2. Now and Laters

These were like little squares of especially resilient taffy that came individually-wrapped in a little row of packaging which advertised that the contents contained candy jewels that would last forever. This was a fascinating concept to the childhood mind. Something sweet that you could eat for the rest of your life? I must immediately snatch up one of these packages and pester Mommy about it until she gives in.

And, somewhat true to the promised duration of the sugary pleasure, it did indeed take some time to get these things down, unless you happened to have jaws of steel or simply didn’t bother to chew things before swallowing. You would chew for a bit, suck for a bit while your aching baby teeth rested, and then chew some more. Sometimes you would eventually succeed with consumption, other times you would get bored and just chunk the gooey wad under the couch.


3. Wax Lips

These little items were exactly that, hunks of “edible” wax manipulated to look like human lips. Well, lips that had taken a dip in the collagen pool a time or two. We would shove these things in our mouths and then run around pretending to be somebody else, like movie stars or cheerleaders. Trouble is, you couldn’t really talk when you had the wax in your mouth. Or breathe, actually. So the entertainment factor was somewhat limited after about three minutes.

Yes, you could theoretically eat them, but no one really enjoyed this angle very much, as the flavor was comparable to chewing on an unscented candle, and just as pointless. More castoffs for the candy graveyard under the couch.


4. Pop Rocks

Despite the enticing rumors, Mikey the Cereal Boy did not perish whilst consuming this treat, although it was great fun to contemplate candy that could kill. And while the candy, once placed in the mouth, did not quite reach the supposed explosive results that were hinted at in advertising, there was definitely something going on, creating a mildly-startling semblance of crackling and movement, thusly keeping children occupied for a good few minutes and leaving them satisfied.

Unless you were one of those little urchins who suddenly discovered that you did not care, at all, for the sensation of something unholy squirming about on your tongue. Who knows how often the insides of a wood-paneled station wagon were rudely coated with Pop Rocks residue when an unpleased child could not get the window rolled down fast enough.


5. Gold Nugget Bubble Gum

After forking over your coinage, you were presented with a little white fabric pouch, with its very own drawstring, containing bits of coated chewing gum that had been processed by some machine to look like something somebody found in one of those gold rushes back in the day. This was a win-win situation, as not only did you get something you could chew annoyingly for an extended amount of time (something children cherish), but you also had a clever tiny satchel wherein you could later stash small objects of great value to your young mind.

Downside? There was something wrong with the flavor of that gum. And some of the “nuggets” were tiny little bits of relative nothing, so you often had to use up half the bag to get a decent chew. And since now everybody had a treasure bag for holding miniscule cherished keepsakes, bags that looked exactly the same, mistakes would often be made about which bag belonged to whom, thusly resulting in intense, heated sibling altercations that would last for years to come.


6. Laffy Taffy

Yet another entry in the “how else can we make a buck off of essentially the same candy” line of product promotion. I was personally disappointed at this particular effort. Yes, it was candy, so of course I would eat it, because God wanted me to do so. But still, the advertising for this product, in the form of jovial cartoon fruits, gave the impression that I would laugh hysterically with each bite. This did not happen. Instead, I just chewed. A lot.


7. Candy Cigarettes

This one is kind of a shock, reflecting back. But these things were all the rage in the decade of plaid polyester. Hey kids, guess what? You can have your very own pack of cigarettes, just like Mom and Dad! Okay, yes, you can’t actually light these little tubes of compressed sugar, but we took the time to add a little bit of pink coloring to one end so you can pretend that they are burning. Now run out and buy a pack so you can psychologically train for a future addiction!


8. Chuckles

These were basically square gum drops, although they did have a more robust sugar coating and a somewhat stronger flavor. And they were certainly colorful. But again, I was disappointed at the advertising promise of instant jocularity, this time in the form of a manic clown. Sadly, I did not laugh whilst consuming, I only gained weight that forced Mom to shop in the “husky” section of Wal-Mart. And that clown ended up being something you yelled your order toward at the local franchise of a drive-thru restaurant.


9. Bazooka Gum

These little squares of long-term chewiness were accompanied by your very own tiny comic strip, a little thing you could fold out and peruse as the sugar hit your bloodstream and eventually convinced you to act inappropriately and get yelled at by adult people. Most of the jokes in the strips were amazingly lame, but as a budding scholar, I appreciated any gift of literature I might receive. But what the hell was up with that weird chalky coating on those little squares of gum? Something wasn’t right there.


10. Blow-Pops

This was a mind-blowing creation at the time. Listen up, you screaming and hyperventilating little urchins, we have a double candy for you. We start off with a lovely flavored sucker. Yes, it’s a little big for some of your mouths, and it has that odd, protruding band around the equator that feels a little strange on your tongue and can catch on your teeth. But that’s because we’ve hidden an extra special prize inside. Sugar-drenched, chemically-altered bubble gum!

So get to suckin’, tiny tater tots. And eventually you will reach the treasure within. Sure, we should have realized that some of you wouldn’t be able to wait, and would start chewing on the sucker before the proper time, making it feel like you’re trying to ingest broken glass in a tar ball, but hey, bad things can happen when you’re unsupervised because your parents are stoned and watching “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” in the other room. The room with the swag lamps, the shag carpet and a TV that only has three channels. And a crushed-velvet couch with an amazing amount of discarded candy globs underneath it.



(Originally posted in “The Sound and the Fury” on 03/02/12.)



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