Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Feeling Flushed

I got my water bill this week. My usage was five times higher than last year. It’s the price I pay for not fixing the leaking toilet. At about $29, it’s a fair price.

I know exactly how to fix a toilet. I know what’s involved, because I’ve done it before. That's why I put it off.

The first time I liberated a toilet from the floor was when I remodeled the former Musette Bar. It had the kind of bathrooms you’d expect in a 70-year-old pub. I didn’t want to stand in the bathroom, much less crawl down on the floor with a wrench, cheek to cheek with the toilet, looking up from the bottom to remove the tank.

If you can find the floor bolts under the filth, they will be rusted on. Urine is corrosive.

It amazes me that a man can hit a tiny golf ball with a skinny club and knock it into a four-inch hole three hundred yards away, but he can’t hit a toilet bowl from thirty inches.

It’s hard to drain all the water out of the tank and bowl before you remove them. Inevitably they splash. Yes, it’s just water, the same water that comes out of the sink. But once it’s been in the bowl, it’s toilet water, and now it’s running into your shoe. You try to get your mind onto more palatable things, but every step reminds you of the task at hand.

The toilet peels away easily from the floor. The gooey connection that once existed between bowl and sewer pipe looks exactly like you’d expect. But it’s not what you think. The gummy charcoal-colored goo is wax, a once amber-colored seal. It’s fake shit, really, as real-looking as the fake vomit in the novelty store, except it’s made of wax. It is Madame Tussaud’s mixed with Spencer Gifts.

It scrapes off easily with a putty knife. Nothing could look more repugnant, but it doesn’t stink. Of all the vile places to find yourself in the world, the connection between toilet and floor doesn’t smell. Good news, but you’re not smiling.

Jimmy lived in a humble apartment above the bar. A one-eyed Marine veteran and retired union bricklayer, Jimmy’s job was to defend his stool at the R Bar from 3pm until close. He didn’t walk well sober. Weaving home late one night, he managed to conquer the long, pulsing stairway, making it to the bathroom just in time to relieve himself, at which point he got the spins. The small bathroom became a white tile carousel. He grabbed the metal medicine cabinet for balance. It came loose from the wall, smashing open the toilet tank on the way down.

At 6am the next morning, his neighbor George checked on him to see why the water was running. He found Jimmy asleep on the wet floor, medicine cabinet still clutched to his chest. The toilet, unable to fill a tank that had no front, was now raining onto the bar below. The new stage I had finished the day before was curled up like a potato chip.

There is an unpleasant intimacy in removing the toilet of someone you know. At least by now I was getting faster at it.

Reattaching a toilet is a snap. Set the new wax seal, drop the bowl on top, screw it down with fresh, shiny new bolts, attach the tank on top, screw on the water connections, turn the water on, scream because water is flying everywhere, shut the water back off, tighten the connections, and—voilà!—you’re done. Okay, not voilà. Voilà is not a toilet word.

After replacing a toilet, you can’t wash your hands enough. I took a whole shower, scrubbing with an abrasive, long handled brush because I didn't want to touch myself. Some sweet-smelling lotion afterwards, nice white clothes. Fresh, garden tomato bruschetta, a glass of red wine. A spirited discussion of live theatre. Anything to reel me back to civilization.

I sat on the veranda in the candlelight holding my wine, unable to relax because every droning cricket and cicada sounds just like a leaking toilet.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Boxed In

If I tried to roll dough into a rectangle, I wouldn't be able to do it.

I had my heart set on making pizza last night, but discovered I didn't have any yeast. So I saved time by buying one of those dough-in-a-tube things. I cracked open the tube and unrolled the yellow dough. It was the shape of a cookie sheet.

I don't know if that shape is supposed to be convenient for me or for them, but I didn't want a rectangle. If God wanted pizza to be rectangular, he would have shaped Italy like Wyoming. I associate rectangular pizza with Roy's Pizza in my old home town. Roy's Pizza was made with boiled hamburger.

So I wadded the dough into a ball, mushed it, then stretched and pulled it out into a…rectangle? Try again.

I wadded it up again and whacked it with my rolling pin, then rolled it out again.


No matter what I did, the dough would return to its original dimensions, as if it had a genetic memory, as if the shape were a Pillsbury trademark.

Any other time I'd be proud to be able to roll a sphere of dough into perfect corners. It ought to be impossible, but here I was, so good at it I couldn't stop doing it. Now it was personal. I didn't want no skanky Roy-ass rectangle pizza.

Laura touched my shoulder as gently as if it were a mousetrap and whispered, "Michael, relax. Deep breath. Count to ten. Cooking is fun."

It is only the second time in my life that I have actually counted to ten. The other time was also in the kitchen.

I whacked, kneaded, wheedled, stretched and rolled to a draw. It was certainly not a circle, and one might see hints of a parallelogram, but the finished shape was mostly amoebic. Laura thought it looked like a slug. But definitely not a rectangle.

The overworked crust turned out as light and flaky as slap leather. It tasted rectangular.

This morning I lifted my head from my rectangular pillow, rose from my rectangular bed, shuffled out of my rectangular bedroom and saw my rectangular morning hair in my rectangular bathroom mirror. I had eaten a rectangle, and now I felt like The Fly.

As I write this I notice that, although my Macintosh computer screen is distinctly rectangular, the computer itself is shaped exactly like a ball of dough.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Aw, Shucks

The Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop at the University of Dayton just named me Humor Writer of The Month. Getting out of bed this morning wasn't a mistake after all!

Thank you, Matt.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Raising The Dead

Last night I slept like the dead. Unlike the dead, I woke up feeling great. So I guess I slept more like Jesus.

I shared that with some friends on a blog, and in a torrent of responses it was suggested that I probably slept more like Lazarus. I suppose it was too much for my friends to think I might do anything like Jesus.

Lay down your pitchforks and snuff your torches. I didn't say I was like Jesus. As close as I ever got to being Jesus was when I wore my curly hair very long with a scruffy beard, and favored flowing linen and leather sandals. One morning in church a little girl looked at me sweetly and asked, "Are you Jesus?"

If she would have said "George Carlin" I would have lied and teased and pretended. I personally know three friends who have been struck by lightning. Clouds gathered over my head while a clear voice inside me advised, "Don't even."

"No, little angel," I smiled. "I'm Michael. But Jesus thinks you're a great little girl and He said to tell you hi."

Should I have said I slept like a baby? When I owned Mick's Music & Bar, I slept like a baby: I woke up screaming every two hours.

I once had a dream about Jesus. He was a woman, and lived in a sand castle. After She saved my life, by literally lifting me up, she gave me a kiss. I awoke and wrote it all down. So if you are inclined to torches and pitchforks, there you go.

I didn't sleep like Lazarus. Lazarus, according to the New Testament story, went to bed gravely ill. He sent for his friend Jesus to visit him. Jesus, trolling about another town, promised to go but dawdled in the crush of admirers. By the time he arrived at the home of Lazarus, he was harshly informed by the poor man's shrill wife that Lazarus had been dead in his tomb for four days, and who do you think you are? and, so—now you're too good to visit your dying friend? Shame!

Jesus did what any man would do under such a blistering admonition: He squirmed. "Dead? Nobody's dead," Jesus shrugged innocently. "Lazarus isn't dead." They rolled away the stone, and out stumbled a bleary, cloth-wrapped Lazarus, feeling his way blindly out of the cave to many ooohs and ahhhs. Neat trick.

My mind reels at all the trouble I could have avoided if I could just change the circumstances after the fact. "I didn't forget your anniversary, honey! Look—[pling!] our anniversary is tomorrow!"

Of all the miracles Jesus performed—healing the sick, feeding the hordes, water to wine—this seems to be the only stunt he pulled to get himself out of a jam. Yes, he walked on water, but that was to prove a point. He didn't jump out of the storm-swamped boat to save himself. After he gave his friends a good scare and gave a little speech, he got back in the boat.

You could argue that he blew life back into Lazarus to impress the onlooking Jews, many of whom converted on the spot. But they would have been just as impressed if Jesus had turned the yelling woman into a slab of salt.

As a child I learned a song about "Lazarus was a wee little man…" I try to remember it but I always end up singing the words to "Old King Cole."

Jesus arose. Lazarus was awoken by Jesus.

I woke up alone.