Today’s Adventure in Absurdity: The Startling Squirt

Startling Squirt


It all started rather innocently enough, as most things do.

I was in the kitchen, feeling a slight twinge of domesticity struggling to get my attention. The actual mechanics of being domestic, particularly the bit about keeping the house nice and tidy, are things for which I have never had that much of a fondness, a distaste that I find has grown with age. It’s not that I don’t perform acts of cleanliness on a regular basis, as I also have an aversion to my house looking like it is under the care and maintenance of a vengeful three-year-old, but generally speaking there are thousands of things I would rather do than run about with a feather duster or scrub the toilets.

Still, the twinge was beckoning, and I decided to give in to its demands. Of course, I did not acquiesce to this calling without first establishing a personal reward for doing so. (I often use questionable psychology with myself. It’s a bit immature, but it gets things done, and we really shouldn’t quibble with that.) For today’s performance, I selected a glowing potential prize in the form of a Pop-Tart. This may have the appearance of setting a rather low bar for self-worth, but really, I quite worship these factory-produced things with a zeal that probably should be carefully analyzed once this country starts funding scientific research again.

And this was not just any run-of-the-mill Pop-Tart, mind you, nothing mundane like a strawberry or blueberry flavor that the non-adventurous would relish.  This was a very special version that combined the chemically-created but enticing flavors of peanut butter and chocolate. The box proclaimed that this heady mix of yum was only available for a Limited Time, an inducement at the time of purchase that had me hurling the box into my shopping cart with a rapidity that startled most of the current occupants of the grocery-store aisle. (One small child, wearing trendy designer clothes that only his parents cared about, immediately requested extensive therapy at the sight of my uncontrolled lust.)

Of course, as most of us who read fine print are aware, this Limited Edition angle is nothing but a marketing ploy to trigger the consumer’s inherent need to be special. If products tagged with this siren call result in acceptable sales figures and there are no unanticipated lawsuits by disgruntled patent holders, the product then becomes part of the standard line, thus losing its star wattage, with its premium product placing in store displays usurped by newer, more exotic flavors. If sales hit the floor with a thud, the employee who came up with the flavor gets a title change and a new office located in a less-desirable area of the building, where he can think about his sins and quietly plot revenge.

I took a double-packet of treats out of the alluring box and placed it on the kitchen table. If I did a mediocre job with the cleaning task at hand, I was allowed one of the delicacies. If I did a spectacular job (meaning a bystander could actually notice that something had taken place), then I got to eat both of them, followed by my thoughtful placing of the foil wrapping in the recycling bin, a selfless act that could possibly lead to the awarding of a third Pop-Tart, should my gluttony trump all reason. I was giddy with anticipation.

I then began scurrying about the kitchen, or at least my form of scurrying, which meant that I exhibited at least one sign of life. The actual basis of cleaning any room in the house is not so much about scrubbing with cleansers or mopping up questionable stains that might interest local police officials, but rather the putting away of scattered items that should have been put away in the first place. (90% of housework is the byproduct of laziness.) Once I had stored away all the various detritus strewn from hither to yon, the delicious Pop-Tarts were mere inches away from my greedy little fingers.

Only two items remained on the agenda. The first involved the laborious task of taking soiled dishes out of the sink and shoving them into the dishwasher. (This is really more of that “if people would just put things where they belong” business, but the offenses are softened by the somewhat valid disclaimer from the transgressors that the items in question needed to soak a bit in some hot water to loosen the concrete-like residue resulting from eating processed foods that we really shouldn’t be eating.) I used an industrial-strength scrub brush to whisk away most of the resistant buildup, and then I crammed the items into the dishwasher where, once the machine’s cycle was complete, the dishes would sit for days until someone realized that we didn’t have enough clean plates in the cabinet, and an investigation would ensue.

This left one roadblock between me and the glorious Pop-Tarts: The Fiesta silverware.

We love our Fiesta dining implements, we really do. They are sturdily made, with a nice heft to them that is pleasing to those who appreciate a quality arsenal whilst attacking mounds of sustenance placed before them. Sadly, the silverware comes with a Trojan-horse aspect that is not immediately evident at the time of purchase. Each piece has a very lovely series of colored squares on the base, a lineup of boxes representing some of the more popular colors in the product line, hues that are instantly recognizable to the thousands of acolytes in the Cult of Fiesta Ware Collection. This design aspect was initially quite pleasing. We snatched up two complete sets without a second thought.

In a nice instance of happenstance, the choice and arrangement of the colors is noticeably similar to that of the Rainbow Flag symbol utilized by the gay community. This aspect brought high-fives from many of our friends and certain family members, who were responding to the assumption that we were making a political statement with our culinary tools. We actually weren’t, that just happened to be a circumstantial byproduct. It’s fair to say that sets of this same silverware are nestled in the drawers of rabid right-wingers across the country, close-minded people who would hurl said silverware into the nearest pit of hell if they were aware of the suspected connection to progressive thinking.

In a sad instance of happenstance, these nifty little squares have the propensity of detaching themselves from their home bases whilst in the heat and cacophony of the dishwasher. It took us a while to get from the observation of “hey, this spoon is missing a square” to the realization that  “hey, we have some confetti in the bottom of the dishwasher”, but get there we did. End result, a new decree was issued in our house, wherein we must henceforth cleanse the renegade utensils by hand. There was considerable bitterness at first, with this menial development, but the wounds eventually healed and the individual washing of the implements became commonplace.

And now it was time for me to perform the cleansing ritual. This is where my day quickly jumped the rails.

In preparation for the next round of utensil sanitation, we place used but at least rinsed items into a large glass which resides in one of the two sinks until said glass is bulging with contents and can no longer be ignored.  The bulging had reached that point. I ran water into the right-hand sink until it became germ-killingly scalding, stoppered the sink, and chunked the contents of the glass into the rising steamy water. I then opened the cabinet under the sink, retrieved a bottle of dish soap (Meyer’s “Cranberry” scent, for those who require such detail for a narrative to be satisfying), yanked on the nozzle of the bottle to activate the pathway, squirted a healthy dollop into the swirling water, and then bent down to replace the bottle in its home berth whilst simultaneously clicking the nozzle closed.

At which point a surprisingly copious amount of liquid soap shot out of said nozzle and slammed into my left eye. Dead-on center.

I knew right away that I was in trouble. After all, any thinking person knows that one should not willingly do something this foolish, dousing an eyeball with a chemical detergent. Interestingly enough, the impact of this development was not immediate, much akin to what happens when a male is forcefully struck in the genital region, whether intentionally or the result of a lark gone terribly wrong. There was no immediate sensation, other than the contemplation that perhaps this situation is not going to end well. And then the pain hit.

I thought my eyeball was going to melt out of my head. I now knew what a scallop felt like when some backyard chef threw one on a sizzling grill.

Random thoughts raced through my panic-stricken mind. Firstly, I knew that I had to get this mess out of my eye pronto, or there might be lingering damage which would inhibit my enjoyment of “Golden Girls” reruns, forcing me to visualize the onscreen antics based on previous viewings. Secondly, it really wasn’t fair that this should be happening, as I was just trying to be clean. Thirdly, and most embarrassingly, I was concerned that my impaired vision would prevent me from finding the Pop-Tart on the kitchen table and I might have to forego my reward.

Instinctively, I wanted to rub at my violated eye, because it was itching as much as it was burning. Intellectually, I knew that it was not in my best interest to be pawing at the site of the crash-landing, as the soap was concentrated, and stirring it about would only generate even more of the lethal lather.  The mere act of trying to open my eye was upping the suds factor, as well as creating the sensation that sandpaper was being vigorously scraped across my cornea. I leant over the sink and blindly slapped at the one knob that would terminate the hot water contribution, changing the faucet stream to one of very-appealing coolness. I then began cupping the adjusted water with one hand, splashing the contents into the maw of my eye, hoping for an abatement from the soul-killing pain.

This did not immediately happen. The introduction of more water simply accomplished what I had tried to avoid by the not-rubbing, inducing the concentrated soap to expand its dominance. The increased pain nearly took my breath away, but not enough that I wasn’t able to let out a scream of measurable significance. (One of our cats, Scotch, wisely interpreted my howling as a sign that he should flee the immediate vicinity, and thusly he did. I was only minimally aware of his departure, as he stopped trying to entwine himself around my legs, overtly begging for a treat, and proceeded to Plan B, running for his life and the presumed safety of diving under the guest bed until better times arrived.)

I knew I needed to get the heinous soap out of my eye in a more expedient manner than the “Helen Keller at the water pump” method.  I dispensed with the modest cupping and splashing, and I shoved my head under the faucet, directing the stream right on my eye. This initially led to another scream, with Scotch texting his lawyer from under the bed, demanding a cease and desist order and a possible extraction by the military. Then, very slowly but minutely measurable, the stabbing ache began to subside. I had to take regular breaks, pulling my head out from under Niagara Falls so I could reassess the slow progress and curse the day I was born, but eventually, after nearly thirty minutes of the radiation rinse, I could actually keep that eye open for longer than a millisecond.

Once I knew that I wasn’t going to perish courtesy of Meyer’s Cranberry Liquid Soap, I willfully (perhaps stupidly) returned to the task at hand, that of washing the Fiesta silverware that had triggered my descent into madness. It’s reasonable to assume that perhaps I did not sanitize the flatware in a manner that would pass a health inspector’s approval, but I did my impaired best, and really, if someone managed to contract botulism from my lack of finesse, it would be nothing compared to my eye-closing journey.

Task completed, with the scrubbed silverware laid to rest on the coordinating Fiesta drying mat, I wiped my hands on a Fiesta dishtowel and then approached a mirror that we have installed on one wall of the kitchen. (Contrary to popular belief, said mirror was not hung for vanity purposes, but rather for the aesthetically-pleasing aspect that the intricate border of the mirror matched certain design elements in the room. These things happen when gay people have lots of time on their hands and credit cards that are happily accepted at home-improvement boutiques.) I gazed into the glass and, as expected, realized that my left eye looked like something that would be the result of a cattle-branding incident.

Still, I had to admit that the alarming redness of my orb somehow changed the iris from its normal and somewhat-boring hazel to a rather enviable shade of vibrant green. I had noted this transitional peculiarity before, usually whilst gazing into the bathroom mirror of a disreputable pub after several rounds of tequila had been enthusiastically consumed. No one believed my reports of this ability, because you really shouldn’t trust drunkards who babble about their shifting eye color, nothing good can possibly come of that.

I turned away from the non-vanity mirror and approached the kitchen table, on which lay the Pop-Tart packet which had inspired my urge to clean. The prize now seemed a bit lackluster, considering that the sugary goal had been devalued a smidge by the wayward course of events. But I couldn’t control my yearnings, such as they were for empty-calorie, high-carb products that provided no nutritional value whatsoever. I was a true modern consumer, following the carrot of degradation and shame. I ripped open the packet, broke off a corner of the first tart, and shoved it in my desperate mouth.

It tasted like soap.



The Plumbing Incident – Part 3: Things Get Shoved in Odd Places

The Plumbing Incident


So Terry is back on the horn with the Mob Boss contractor guy. Mob Man is amazed that the singing plumbers would leave without fixing the problem. (Why would we make this up? Did he think we found this amusing?) He promises to have someone out in the morning, and he will come by himself to make sure the job gets done. We accept his words with total faith, just as if some bearded guy walked off a mountain and handed us a stone tablet. Because we’re stupid and we don’t have much of a choice

Morning brings a casting change. The singing duo apparently got a record deal. Now we have a big bald guy, covered with tattoos, stomping around the drive-way in oversized boots, and exuding an attitude that would make a gang of crazed crack-heads drop their weapons and scamper away. I make Terry deal with Mr. Happy (“It’s YOUR turn! I’ve been trapped in this giant outhouse all week. Go!”) whilst I race around the house, hiding valuables in case Baldy decides to kill us for our DVD collection.

As I’m shoving Season 6 of “Angel” under the couch, I hear Papi Muerto ask for a ladder. A ladder? What the hell? How does a ladder figure into this equation at all? But I’m busy, I still have several seasons of “Wings” to lock up, so I race off, throwing an old towel over the XBOX 360.

I am interrupted by the sound of what appears to be a giant metal spear slamming through the roof and into the attic. Did we just time warp to Sparta? The noise continues, with whatever it is working i’s way toward, I’m only speculating at this point, the guest bathroom. My senses are a little off, mainly because I don’t have any mental reference points to apply to the sound and activity I am currently hearing.

I crack open the patio door and motion Terry over. “What the hell is he doing?”

“He’s snaking the toilet through the ventilation pipes. You know, those pipe things sticking out of the roof.”

The concept boggles me. I mean, at random moments over the years, I did sort of wonder about those little pipe things on the roof. What were those for? Where did they come from? Were we supposed to check and make sure things hadn’t gotten stuck in them that shouldn’t? But it was a brief curiosity, I didn’t really care. And now I learn that they are basically transmission points to send our personal aromas out into the universe.

Good gawd. No wonder dead squirrels would occasionally slide off the roof onto the patio during family barbecues. I just took it as a warning sign that maybe the potato salad had been sitting out too long. I hadn’t realized that we were dousing the furry little critters with radioactivity. Very sad.

Still, I had things to do. I slammed the door and wandered away, intent on securing the rest of my dwelling because I have a tendency to not trust strangers on my property, especially when they have just proven that they know about entrances into my house that I don’t. I had roughly fifteen minutes of relative calm, minutes during which I would have made arrangements to leave the country had I known what was about to happen, and then the Apocalypse began.

It seems that, up to this point, Papi had only been positioning his devil equipment, prepping the beast for the upcoming onslaught. I had naively assumed that he was in the midst of doing the deed, as he had already punctured the roof with his Sparta spear, and that action had been violent enough that one would think our pipes were now clear all the way to the Earth’s core. But that had just been foreplay, and now we were ready to get down to business.

Papi hollered something from the roof to a newly-arrived plumber person who had just wandered on to the patio. The newbie, standing next to Terry as Terry stared at him with a “who the hell are you” expression, hollered something back at Papi. This brought another vocal something from Papi, and another response from Newbie. The exact nature of the discussion was unclear, as they were speaking in Spanish, a language I had not bothered to learn, an unfortunate oversight, considering I live in Texas. But based on what happened next, and the way Newbie fled around the corner of the house with amazing speed, I’m guessing that Papi was telling Newbie to evacuate the entire neighborhood.

During this whole bit of no hablo espanol, it did occur to me that we couldn’t actually see Papi, tromping around on the roof as he was and jacking with whatever. We could very well be talking to one of the squirrels, a special bi-lingual one that had somehow managed to survive our toxic butt gases and was taking revenge by messing with our heads. For all we knew, Papi might be tied to the chimney with duct tape across his mouth, holding today’s edition of the newspaper while another squirrel snapped a picture on his cellphone and composed a ransom letter. Probably not, but my mind does wander.

Then Papi, or one of the squirrels, kicked the hell-beast snaking-machine up to full throttle.

The entire house began to shake in a vindictive manner. The walls were vibrating, the wood floors were popping and groaning, and there were agonizing metallic screams coming from the 50-year-old pipes. In desperate terror, convinced that This was It, my life was over and there were so many things I hadn’t accomplished, I began to race through the house in search of anywhere that wasn’t shifting and buckling. (As I thundered through the kitchen, an image of Linda Blair burned into a tortilla I had left on the counter after breakfast.) I made it all the way to the master bedroom before I completely shut down, unable to function.

As I stood there, frozen in an admirable interpretation of those fools in horror movies who don’t understand they should get out of the creepy house before they are eviscerated by the maniacal killer, I was joined by an equally-traumatized companion. Scotch, our cat who was already simple before this mess started, came thundering around the corner, mad foam flying from his snarling lips. He slammed full force into my legs, and then started ripping said legs to shreds because I was in his way. I limped to the side, and he dove toward a two-inch opening under the entertainment center. And he got under there. All the way.

This insanity continued for several hours. After about thirty minutes of bleeding from the shins and weeping openly, it dawned on me that I wasn’t dead and the house hadn’t collapsed. Still, the ungodly noises and vibrations kept me firmly on the edge of insanity. The only thing that got me through it was a vague idea that Dr. Kevorkian had been paroled, and I might be able to find his number if I just googled hard enough.

Days later, possibly weeks, I awoke from my self-absorbed cocoon and stretched out of the fetal position. I couldn’t hear or feel anything that was mind-numbingly annoying. Was it over? I hopped out of bed (not sure how I got there), checked on Scotch who was still under the entertainment center based on the smidge of tail that I could see poking out (he hissed and threw a cat toy at me), and I raced back through the house. I threw open the patio door in a nice melodramatic moment, and I stepped out on to the patio to learn what our fate might be.

I was presented with the tableau of Terry conversing with the three plumbers. (How did we get to three plumbers? Did the noise attract the third one, some type of homing beacon for bored plumbers driving around with nothing else to do?) But at least Papi was one of the three, so he hadn’t been kidnapped after all despite the squirrel-based rumors. And Papi broke the news to me. The assault from above hadn’t worked, despite the Lucifer-inspired attributes of the military-grade snaking machine. We had to go to Plan B, which shifted the possible source of the devil’s lair from the house itself to the discharge line that ran from the house to the alley.

This new crap-fest plan involved digging down to the main exit pipe on the side of the house, busting that puppy open, and then performing a number of exploratory actions. For some reason, my went to that “Operation” game from way back in the day where, if you didn’t use your little tweezers correctly, the patient’s nose would light up and you were banished from the game forever. The potential shame of childhood entertainment probably had nothing to do with the current situation, but I really didn’t have anything else to reference because I’m not a plumber.

Regardless of my general tendency to flash back to personal failures of little relevance, the plumbing team really needed to move forward with this procedure as they didn’t have anything else in their playbook at the moment and the day was waning. So proceed they did, a rather dramatic course of events that involved the enthusiastic violation of my landscaping, and then some strenuous banging away at a critical cast-iron pipe that had been nobly serving sewage needs in our country longer than I had been alive.

Once the pipe had been rudely breached, the cast members then resorted to a sort of tag-team formation. We had one plumber doing the snaking at the invasion point, one plumber standing out in the alley at the manhole opening to the city lines, and one plumber running between them, spewing cryptic code and secret passwords. From all appearances, the three of them were really enjoying this bit of slap and tickle with a relish that I did not understand, further confirming that their profession was one that I wisely had not pursued in my formative years.

For my part, I simply sat on the patio and watched the trio run amuck, regularly reaching down to mop up the blood that was gushing from my legs, a spillage that was courtesy of Scotch the Cat who still did not understand the correlation between “behaving in a decent manner” and “the presentation of delicious treats”. Terry, for his part, stood stoically beside me, since he was not hemorrhaging from the knees and was therefore the most-qualified candidate to race out onto the field of battle should one of the plumbers be felled in action.

Hours later, the plumbing trio suddenly ceased with their revelry and two of them approached the patio with an unsatisfying report. The waterway seems to be flowing in a more acceptable manner, but there’s still a vague obstruction of some kind. They’re gonna have to go find one of them fancy water-proof cameras and shove it down the damn pipe to see what’s what. They won’t be able to locate on until the morning, but hey, in the interim, they can install a trap on the side of the house to help with the situation.

This intrigued me. They are going to install one of these thingies that we should have had in the first place. I hobbled closer to them so I could catch every detail, making sure that I did so in a manner that bespoke of my physical and emotional pain, a manner that everyone promptly ignored. “So, how does this work?” I asked, looking all tragic and pale.

Papi launched. “Well, we’re gonna cut out a chunk of this here pipe, and insert this little piece of PVC that’s gotta screw-top lid. That way, when people need to snake this thing, they already got access, don’t have to go through the toilets or the roof or go out to city entrance.” He turned and waved at the alley, where the startled third plumber, who clearly thought he was on a break and lamely tried to hide the cigarette he was sneaking, waved weakly back. Papi turned back around. “That’s all there is to it.” He was obviously trying to minimize the situation for me, probably because I was clutching my medic-alert bracelet and I had a twitch in my left eye.

“But, how does that help us NOW? We’re still draining slow.”

He smiled, an annoying decision on his part, considering. “Well, until we can get this all worked out, if you start backin up again, you can just run out here and pop the top and let everything gush out. We can throw some lime on it, you won’t smell a thing.”

So I looked at where he was standing, next to the driveway. And I looked at the driveway, which slopes down to the street. A street along which lived hordes of retired people who have nothing better to do than stand at their bay windows and record every detail of every single thing that ever happens. The same people who might see poop floating down our driveway and into a public thoroughfare, find such a vision to be rude and distasteful, and then proceed to call the City Council, because they’ve already got them on speed dial, right under the number for the local pharmacy.

The twitching in my left eye increased to the point that my head was vibrating.

Papi the Plumber took note of my growing dismay and tried to slap a positive spin on the pathetic non-success of the day’s events. “But at least you can still have your party tonight. Just use this trap if you need to. Of course, you might wanna tell them folks to hold off on the toilet paper.”

Aw, hell. The party. I had somehow completely forgotten about that during all the lovely shenanigans, what with the howling pussy and the slashed legs and the neutron bomb through the roof and the odd fact that Papi had changed his dialogue from rapid Spanish to West Texas drawl at some point in the story. We had people coming over. In just a few hours. Not only did we have to race around and tidy things up, now we’ve got to call all the party guests and say “Hey, if you envision a bowel movement in your near future, could you maybe take care of that before you head over? Oh, and you probably shouldn’t walk up the driveway, because you might see something you really don’t want to see.”

I went back into the house to google Dr. Kevorkian again.


To be continued…


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


The Plumbing Incident – Part 2: Singing Plumbers and Obnoxious Grinding

The Plumbing Incident


Once we sedated the cat, Terry got on the horn with this plumber guy that we have worked with in the past. It had only been small jobs, like replacing the washers in the shower head or fixing a leak with the kitchen sink, but his rates were reasonable and no one got hurt, so we might as well invite him back. Of course, this was a much more intense situation, what with nothing in the house draining except for my sinuses, so the plumber and his southern drawl had a few questions for Terry. “You guys shove anything in there you shouldn’t?”

Why, yes, we crammed a Buick in the toilet just the other day. Do you think that might be an issue? “No, nothing has gone in there that shouldn’t go in the toilet.”

Plumber Man was not convinced. “You sure your kids didn’t try to flush somethin’ just for fun? Mine used to do that all the time till I got ‘em on the medication. Squirrel came at me one night, sure did.”

Sounds like those kids need more than just some pills. “No, we don’t have any kids, so we can’t blame it on them. We just have cats.”

This got Plumber Man’s attention. “One of them missing lately?”

Why was this man obsessed with the concept that someone in this house had purposely destroyed the sanitation infrastructure? What kind of clientele is he used to dealing with? “Uh, no, all the cats are accounted for. They’re looking at me right now and wondering why I’m not giving them any treats.”

“Hmmm,” pondered Plumber Man. “You got any trees?”

What the hell? “Why, yes we do. Lots of them. Big ones.”

“Could be tree roots in the lines.”

Ohhh. “Can you fix that?”

“Probly oughta snake your pipes.”

My mind went a place it probably shouldn’t have when I heard that suggestion. Luckily, Terry was doing the talking and remained chaste. “Whatever we need to do. Can you take care of it for us?”

It turns out that Plumber Man did not have the requisite snaking skills, but he knew a couple of guys that did, and he would send somebody out in the next day or so. We just had to make sure one of us was here to give the Snake People access so that the exorcism could be performed properly. “We’ll be here,” said Terry. “Please hurry.” Then they did that Texas thing where both men grunt instead of saying goodbye, because a cordial departure is too girly, and they slammed the phones down.

Of course, the “we” in being here meant “me”. I’m the one that can work from home, if needed. Terry cannot do this. In fact, Terry is a little suspect about this whole “work from home” concept. He pretends to be supportive and all that, but I know in his heart he considers “working from home” to be the same as “not working”. I have tried to convince him otherwise, but it’s clear from our conversations that I have not succeeded.

Exhibit A:

Home phone rings at 5 pm. It’s Terry. I’m on our secondary line, participating in a conference call with 7 directors at my “anonymous for fear of losing my job” un-named company. I am not a director, I’m in mid-level management (you know, the level where people actually do things that make a profit for the company), and these directors could easily end my career with one email. Still, I blatantly lie to these directors, explaining that I have a critical call coming in that I must take. Hold, please.

I switch phones. “Hello?”

Terry: “I’m on my way home. Are you at the house or in the office?” An innocuous-seeming question, but I’m already clenched. The subtle hint is coming, wherein I’ve had a play-day while he’s actually furthered mankind in some way.

Brian: “I’m at the house. Got paged before I could even get out of the house and I’ve been on conference calls ever since.”

T: “Oh. Okay. Did you call your mother about that surgery thing?”

B: “Um, no. I’ve been on conference calls, all day.”

T: “Okay. What’s for dinner?”

B: “Haven’t really thought about it. Conference calls. All day.”

T: “Okay. Did you find the gas bill so I can call about the discrepancy?”

B: “Been a little busy. Calls.”

T: “Okay. Hey, this is Big Trash week, did you move the-“


And then we don’t speak to each other for two days.

Despite these misconceptions about what I do for a living, or where I do it, the bottom line is that I am now the designated committee chairman for the Snake People Welcome Wagon in our house. This means that I must do a balancing act of pretending to pay attention on conference calls while waiting for the doorbell to ring so I can then hurriedly lock the cats in the guest bedroom, scuttling their plans to make a break for freedom as strangers traipse in and out the front door.

Trouble is, the critical doorbell did not ring as expeditiously as hoped. Perhaps the Plumber Man (who apparently was not an actual plumber, at least not the kind who could officially snake things) confused the phrase “sometime in the next day or so” with “sometime before the next Winter Solstice”. Three days go by before there’s a knock on the door. I open said door to find two overly-exuberant people who are either plumbers or Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are really excited to be here. I think they might even break into song. This is almost fun! Until they ask a question which completely mystifies me:

“Where is your trap?”

My trap? I have no idea what that is, let alone where it might be. When I don’t immediately respond to this query and just stand there, my eyes and mind a blank, their faces light up even further. It’s obvious that I don’t know much about the intestines of my house, and this will make their lives much easier, especially the part where they add obscure additional charges to my bill.

So the lead singing plumber says, “Well, we’ll just go have a look around.” And off they go, to look for this trap thing, which, apparently, is somewhere outside, since they didn’t come inside. I closed the door, convinced that my manliness had been compromised in some way, I’m just not sure how or why.

Two hours later, long enough for me to have actually forgotten they were even on the premises as I struggled to work with a co-worker who has apparently never used a dictionary in his life, the plumbers are at the front door again. They can’t find the trap. Maybe there isn’t one. Did I know if a trap was installed when the house was built?

How the hell would I know that, especially since I don’t know what it is? Was there something really important that wasn’t shared with me when I bought this house? I can still recall in excruciating detail what happened at the life-depleting house-closing ceremony, with all the loan officials and the witnesses and the endless signing of thousands of documents. At no point did anyone ever discuss the existence or the status of this trap thing, nor did anyone ever advise me that I should push for the discussing of such. “Um, no… I don’t know… anything, really.” (There, I’ve now fessed up that my ignorant ass is in the wind.)

No worries, the duo informed me, their grins widening as they mentally calculated additional fees for that now-daunting invoice they would hand me later. We’ll just have to go through the toilets to accomplish this mystical snaking procedure. That was fine by me. I just want to flush without fear of drowning in my own home, I don’t care what you have to do. Fix it.

The duo turned to go get whatever they needed from their vehicle, and I turned to go back to the office and deal with the co-worker who clearly never won a spelling bee. It took them two hours to figure out that I didn’t have something they expected me to have if I was any type of responsible home owner. I assumed it would take them just as long to figure out where they parked their vehicle. Not that I judge people or anything like that.

Eventually, the duo returned, lugging an ominous device that looked like it could be used as a torture implement in a movie where the good guys really, really needed to get some information out of a captured bad guy. They lugged this thing to the guest bathroom, the original nexus of all the hell that soon followed, and they got to work doing whatever. As expected, based on the timeliness of their performance so far, they were in there for a very long time before they discovered that we had yet another unexpected hiccup.

The lead singer wandered into the office, where I was in the midst of advising a work associate that what he wanted me to do with the customer data that I was providing would not happen in my lifetime. “Um, sir, there’s not enough room in that bathroom. Do you have another one?”

“Well, there’s the master bath.”

Two minutes later I have strange men waving their equipment around in my bedroom. Given different circumstances, this might have been an intriguing development, but this was not the right time or the right place, and I hadn’t been drinking. I left the duo to do their thing and I went back to the office for another conference call, a pointless session during which I ignored the discussion and instead searched the company jobs board for a new position that did not require me to talk to idiots. I didn’t find one.

But the lead singer plumber found me, after an interminable period during which it sounded like they were grinding up human bones and then banging on the wall just for the hell of it. “Um, sir, could you come here for a second?”

Oh God. I marched into the master bathroom, where I was presented with the alarming site of the toilet shoved into a corner and a gaping hole in the floor. (And do I need to mention that the stench coming from said hole would stunt your growth? Probably not, I’m sure you get the picture.) The Lead Singer explained to me that something down in those murky depths was not cooperating, and they would have to try again with the guest bathroom. You mean the one that was not satisfactory in the beginning? Yeah, that one.

So the torture device is relocated once more, and they reboot on their apparent mission to drive me insane with the sound of something being chopped to hell under my house. (The people at work eventually stop asking me to join calls because the background noise is causing children to cry and women to become barren.) It’s unreal, that noise. But not as unreal as the thoughts going through my head when the Lead Plumber (I’ve taken away his singer name, there will be no singing in my house for a very long time) moseys into the office and asks me to join him in the guest bathroom, where the fun never ends.

I reluctantly do so, sighing with despair when I see that the toilet has been chunked into the bathtub, an alarming vision that haunted my dreams as I cried myself to sleep later that night. Apparently, either through their own incompetence or a decree from the Karma Gods that I am not allowed to have happiness during my current incarnation, the equipment that they are using is not sufficient to conquer the beast dwelling below. Obviously, Satan has claimed our plumbing as his current lair. And the bitch ain’t gonna move anytime soon.

Since it was getting late, and I really needed some down time where my house was not occupied by people I had just met and didn’t necessarily trust, I agreed that we could continue with the festivities in the morning. The now-no-longer-singing plumbing duo temporarily re-installed the master bath toilet, so that we could have at least one place to conduct private functions, cautioning that we can’t get too carried away cause “it’s loose”. Okay, shouldn’t be a problem. I’m not sure what you do in your own bathroom, but I can’t think of anything I might do that would cause a 50-pound toilet to fall over, unless alcohol was involved. Then the plumbers drove off into the night, promising to return in the morning…

I immediately marched into the office, turned off the light, and sat in total darkness for an hour. It seemed like a better option than committing myself to an insane asylum, which was Plan B. (And I did bookmark a few interesting institutions, just in case.)

The next morning, I was a bit surprised when the Grinding Duo knocked on the door. It had taken them three days to get here the first time around, so I really wasn’t expecting to see them again in this same century. And they were very excited, announcing that they had located a fancier machine that wiould work better than the irritating and ultimately pointless machine from yesterday. This sounded promising, although a tad dubious. (Why didn’t they kind go find this miracle machine yesterday when it was obvious to even my untrained observations that it shouldn’t be taking 12 hours to snake a toilet?)

Still, they were here, they had some man-tools, do what you need to do. And they did. Within three minutes, they were at it, with that grinding noise that will never leave my mind for the rest of my life. We also had a new development, with the house now vibrating as they were grinding, substantiating the claims that this machine was more powerful than its lack-luster cousin of yore and, as a bonus, letting me know what people in California feel like on a random Tuesday when the fault lines get itchy. Sadly, my personal earthquake stretched from morning until late in the afternoon. I was not impressed.

Suddenly, the grinding and vibrating stopped, and the Lead Grinder summoned me from my clenched and puckered position on the ceiling of the office. He thinks they’ve cleared the demon out. Things went smoothly, except for one small problem. (Of course there’s a problem, how could it be my life if there wasn’t a problem.) He very briefly waved some hose-looking device in front of me and just as quickly hid it behind his back, making sure I did not have time to study it and become alarmed. There was a small incident and this device has been broken. They will have to go buy a replacement and return. Then they raced out the door to parts unknown.

They are gone for hours, which should surprise no one considering their leisurely schedule thus far. In the interim, Terry arrives home from his job, where there has been no day-long grinding except for what he might have done with his teeth as he valiantly refrained from taking the life of a worthless co-worker, and he has some questions for me. “So what did they do?” I have no idea. “But you were here the whole time.” I have no idea. “Didn’t you ask them?” I have no idea, something broke and they went to go find an unbroken one.

This unsatisfying conversation is interrupted by the return of the Barbershop Duo. They clattered in the door, racing past Terry and I as we stand in the hallway and work on our relationship issues. They are in the house roughly 37 seconds, replacing the mystery part, and then running out the door like the hounds of hell are nipping.

This can’t be good. They said it was fixed, but why are they running?

Terry: “Did you flush the toilet? To see if it worked?”

Brian: “Um, you’re standing right here with me. Did YOU flush the toilet?”

This gets nowhere fast, as is the standard protocol when two people love each other but don’t always have the same focal points. He’s thinking it’s all about me being the one officially in charge of the home invasion. I’m thinking it’s all about me not being able to have a bowel movement for the last five days.

I sighed. Then I approached the guest-bath toilet and gave it a test flush. It immediately over-flowed, water everywhere.

The anguished wail that erupted from my lips destroyed all flora, fauna and fine china in the entire neighborhood. Three people had to be flown out by helicopters to nearby trauma centers…


To be continued…


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



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