It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything, and while I’ve had other priorities to sort through, I’ve really missed it. The daily writing and the weekly posting of new stories became quite a habit for me, and while it might be a while before I fall back into the diurnal practice of crafting pithy sentences, that doesn’t stop the words from swirling around in my head. I have actually lain awake at night staring at the soft green glow of the smoke alarm light while composing sentences in my head.
Writing is nothing at all like riding a bike; in fact the longer one stays away from writing, the more difficult it becomes to reclaim that familiar cadence. There’s a link between the brain and the fingers on a typewriter keyboard that feels almost musical when a writer gets on a roll. So, that’s why I’m here. I’m trying to regain that polyphonic element of writing that was getting rusty.
As for why I stopped in the first place, we’re working on that, and I’m hopeful that 2016 will be a more … let’s say unproblematic year. Fingers crossed on that one.
So here’s the story:
The house in which I grew up was, by modern standards, cramped. I never thought so at the time, but looking back on that split-level cube of a house, I wonder how we did it. If not for the paneled conversion of the attic into two serviceable bedrooms, I don’t know where we would have fit five kids of disparate genders and ages and two adults in a two-bedroom home—and two small bedrooms at that.
As they say though, we managed, as did every other prolific Catholic family on our quiet, suburban street, each house busting at the seams and most, if not all, doing so with one bathroom.
That alone should have been a good reason to pump the brakes on adding to the family roost, but things were different back then. Still, I think it was why the absolute moment a kid graduated from high school; they were off on his or her own. Our parents were smart. Hold your bladder for twenty or so years and one by one, the line to the bathroom will get shorter. I’m thoroughly convinced that my mom’s dream was to eventually take a lazy bubble bath without somebody pounding on the door with an urgency normally reserved for a house fire. MOM …I GOTTA GO … BAD! must’ve rang in her head for decades after we all moved on.
I bring this up because my wife and I are two people living in a three-bathroom house. We have a spare bathroom. It’s upstairs, and if I do say so, it’s rather nice for a spare. Imagine that. Both of us could be using different bathrooms at the same time, and there would still be one languishing, the water evaporating from the toilet bowl. Every once in a while, I’ll trudge upstairs and use it, feeling every bit like Donald Trump must feel when he parks his butt on his gold plated commode. “It’s fantastic. It’s a spare.”
The other day, I did just that, and as most cultivated people do, I pushed down the lever to flush the toilet when I was finished. It’s such a simple action, really, and one that has been around since John Harrington invented the flush toilet in 1596.
Nothing. The lever went down, but nothing happened.
“Well, this is a pickle,” I said to myself, suddenly thrust into the Stone Age of plumbing.
I lifted off the tank cover and looked inside, and could see immediately that the chain thing that lifts the flapper thing was not connected to the flapper. So I reached into the tank and pulled up the flapper manually. That took care of that, but it still didn’t fix the problem. So I looked closer and noticed that the ten-year old flapper was disintegrating. These things happen, and unless one has a landlord, it usually means a simple DIY repair.
Well, not always simple, because when I built the house, I wanted to make sure that we had toilets that actually flushed, unlike many contemporary toilets that—due to water restrictions—won’t flush anything, and I mean anything. That dead goldfish your kid got at the State Fair would clog up most contemporary toilets, sending a tsunami of water up and over the rim of the bowl. I wanted nothing to do with that. I wanted to flush with confidence, not peer with anxiety at the swirling water with a plunger in one hand and a roll of paper towels in the other.
The long and short of it is that these wonderful toilets, these toilets that are capable of flushing entire chunks of sod, need a brand-specific flapper to cover the gigantic hole that makes it possible for a twenty-first century toilet with barely a gallon of water to flush the same or better than the five gallon, 1950s toilet that was in that tiny cube of a house in which I grew up. That thing never clogged. In a burst of eight-year old curiosity, I actually flushed an entire towel down that toilet just to see if it would do it, and it slurped it up as if it were a strand of spaghetti.
The giant flapper that I needed isn’t sold in the neighborhood home centers or hardware stores. They have to be ordered from a plumbing supply house on the other side of town, but since this is 2015 and darned near 2016, I simply ordered two of them from Amazon—one to fix the spare toilet and an extra one for when the next one goes. Seven days later, they arrived in my mailbox.
When my wife brought the mail in, I opened the box and took one of the flappers upstairs. Ten minutes later, everything was back in business.
“What should we do with this thing?” Mrs. G. asked, referring to the spare flapper. I had set it, in the box, on the hallway bench in front of the basement stairs. My plan, if one would call it a plan, was to hang it on the wall over my workbench. This seemed to me to be the most logical place.
“Why don’t you put it up in the linen closet?” my wife asked.
“Why would I store plumbing supplies with the towels?” I queried, not wanting to knock her idea, but, well, mine was better.
“You’ll never find it when you need it,” she said.
Now I’ve been married a long time. Long enough to know when to say something and when not to say something, but something in my reptilian brain sparked up, and the words came out.
“OK, you have three or four cabinets all over the house, closets everywhere, more storage shelves in the basement than the stockroom at Pottery Barn, and every time you store something, a few months go by and you can’t find it. It’s gone, swallowed up in some weird black hole that surrounds our house. I’ll take the hit if we lose the toilet flapper, but really, putting it in the linen closet is not going to work for me. If we’re going to do that, we may as well put the lawnmower in the laundry room.”
I dodged the bullet on that one; I think because the great leg lamp nightlight incident of a few weeks ago was still fresh in both of our minds. Last summer, we bought a leg lamp nightlight and Christmas ornament at the Christmas Story House in Cleveland, Ohio. That was the last time we saw either of them until Christmas season rolled around, and we suddenly remembered we had them. Mrs. G. tore the house apart swearing they were here or here or maybe there, until both pieces were eventually found in our bedroom closet, in a bag, tucked off on a shelf. This was the absolute last place one would expect to find a leg lamp nightlight or ornament so yeah—the flapper is going over the workbench. I’m not right often, but I’m taking this as a win.