A domestic crisis leads to contemplation-- w-i-p
|I gasped in dismay and stood frozen in place, staring at the steadily advancing water. Oh please God, don't let it overflow! I silently pleaded. Like that was a prayer God would deem worthy of answering, I immediately chided myself. My mind took in how perilously close the vent was to the toilet, but my body was immobilized, helpless to stop this newest domestic crisis.
With no help from me, the water peaked shy of overflowing. Relieved, I pondered my options. Although I'd never worked on a toilet before, I knew I had a plunger and even knew where it was. Let's see-- no danger of electrical shock, no complicated machinery, and no assembly required. I can do this. I am woman, see me plunge!
All my concentrated efforts working the plunger were soon rewarded by several creamy white chunks released from their porcelain confines. I stared uncomprehendingly. What the hell was in my toilet! "Katrina," I called out to my college age daughter seated in the adjoining den. "Is there any reason why there should be potatoes in the toilet?"
"There shouldn't be..." she vaguely responded.
Not the answer I had wanted to hear, but what had I expected? The only other members of the household, our two cats, were certainly not the guilty parties. After all, they had not evolved past the litter box. I walked into the den, for this would require a face-to-face explanation.
"What do you mean, there shouldn't be?"
"Well," she averted her eyes as I waited for a response that she already knew would not calm me.
"Why on earth would you flush potatoes down the toilet? You never even did that when you were a child!" I said as calmly as I could.
"I dropped 'em on the floor. That awful cat tripped me up."
"How much?" I interrupted.
"Just a handful," she said as she made a cupping motion with her hands.
"Yeah- but how many....actually?"
"Let me think. I cut up three potatoes."
"Three, you flushed three potatoes?"
"But they were cut up."
"You mean to say you walked through the kitchen, past the compost bin, through the den to the bathroom to FLUSH potatoes?" My voice rose with increasing agitation. I was already envisioning huge plumbing bills on top of the embarrassment of explaining how potatoes ended up in my toilet.
Katrina had wisely become mute and was avoiding eye contact. Much like what experts recommend you do when you encounter potentially deadly animals in the wild. In her twenty years, she may have not grasped the concept that one does not flush potatoes down the toilet, but she had learned that silence was the best response to this Mama Bear's tirades.
"Well, we're going to have to use the toilet in the basement. I'm not paying a plumber until I've tried to clear it myself. Sid should have a snake-- he's got every other tool known to man." This was not going to be a pleasant solution. Our home, nearly 100 years old, had an ancient toilet in the basement. I'd had to cut the water off to it once and it had never worked right since. "I'll put a bucket next to the toilet and we'll just have to rely on good ol' gravity." This would be punishment- not nearly enough though- for I knew Katrina hated the dark, dank room downstairs.
Just as I had predicted, my brother had a plumbing snake to loan me. It didn't look substantial enough to do the job and I couldn't quite figure out how I was going to get the whole length down the toilet, but I was determined to give it a go. For some reason, I just couldn't get any of it pass an unseen obstacle in, for me, the alien landscape of the toilet. I reasoned that if I could just visualize it, maybe that would help, so I ran down to the basement to examine the convoluted trail of ancient pipe. When that strategy failed, I decided tactile exploration was my only option. To overcome this problem, I philosophized, I must be one with the toilet. Biting my lip, I stuck my hand into the cold, clear water. I finally grasped the problem and with a bit more body English worked the snake upward and through many feet of pipe.
Still no improvement for the high water level and slow drainage were proof that potatoes still dwelled in my pipes. At some point, it hit me that this was a plumbing snake alright, but it was too wimpy to be a toilet snake. All that effort and the indignity of exploring the depths of the toilet's inner workings were for naught.
The next evening, armed with a properly stout snake, whose official name was auger, I was ready to pulverize some potatoes. Still having the visual map of the innards and freshly educated by actual directions, I bravely and confidently set to solve my plumbing dilemma. I was so confident that I was laughing to myself as I considered conveniently forgetting to tell Katrina that the toilet was working. She hadn't suffered enough just yet.
Fate has a way of punishing unfounded confidence. After working the auger faithfully to the instructions, I was only able to dislodge a few potato pieces. Plunging in again, to my dismay, the snake would not come out. I twisted, jiggled, shoved, and pulled until sweat poured from my brow and trickled down the middle of my back. Just great, I thought, now I've got potatoes in my pipes and a snake stuck in my john. It looked like a wobbly toilet erection. I imagined it stuck forever for there was no way I was going to suffer to have some Bubba saunter in, jerk it out, and charge me $50, all the while laughing at a hapless female who had dared attempt a man's job. It would just have to stay there, that's all. I'd camouflage it, if I had to, making it look like a hobby horse and adding a split toilet seat. I could already picture my having to throw a leg over to get astride the throne!
Defeated, I ignored this, the newest fixture, in my bathroom for a few days. I reasoned if I just left it alone for a little while, maybe I could just sneak up on it and pull it out. When I was in college, I had had to make up a chemistry lab. After fumbling around with the my locker combination for at least thirty minutes, I had gotten extremely frustrated because I knew the numbers were right. Finally, I decided to walk out of the deserted lab and then come back in as if I was just arriving. I walked right up, turned the lock, and it magically opened. The chemistry just wasn't there this time for the snake held tight.
After about a week of this ordeal, I finally understood the expression "slap happy" as I was near delirious from the absurdity of the situation. Much to my daughter's distress, I had shared my misery with her grandparents and aunt. It was about the only relief to be had.
In this mental state, I joined a group of coworkers during lunch. There were always interesting dynamics going on among the people who typically gathered in the break room. Both amusing and irritating were the interchanges between my friend, Lori, who frequently and loudly voiced complaints about her husband, and Ray, a manager, who knew exactly which buttons to push to rile her up. It was irritating to me for several reasons: Ray never seemed to know when to stop; Lori, unable to ignore him, always fell into his trap; and, most of all, I strongly suspected the things Ray said in jest were really how and what he thought. It was like verbal mud wrestling between Mars and Venus-- no one got hurt, but it sure could get messy. I never got directly between the two, but often coached Lori from the sidelines to get out of the ring. I really didn't have any problems working with Ray, but I always took great care to keep it on a business level and my contempt for his comments and ideas to myself. Let's just say, if I were married to him, I would only hope the coroner wouldn't think to check his windpipe for feathers.
But this day, I let my guard down and expressed my frustration at my normally intelligent, thoughtful daughter and the plumbing fiasco. I meant only for Lori to hear, but Ray, always ready for a joust of words with the "weaker" sex, pounced. "A woman ain't got no business doing work like that. That's what you need a man for!" he crowed.
Yeah, right, I thought, that's just what I need a man for, to snake my bowl! Any other time, I may have just agreed with him and walked away, but not after the week I had endured. And this man, of all men, was not to get the best of me. "I've looked over many a materials and tools list for a lot of projects and, you know, I haven't found a single one yet that says you have to have a penis!"
Silence erupted. The room's response almost made the week's ordeal worth it. All ears waited for Ray's response. Never seemingly at a loss for words when taunting the opposite sex, he sat with his mouth flapping soundlessly. I suddenly realized that I'd broken an unspoken rule and the ensuing moments would determine my place in the corporate world-- Ray's world. I instinctively sat with my eyes down fearing direct eye contact would be seen as a challenge. I, too, had learned about survival in the jungle we call business.
"You need that second brain for those kinds of jobs. That's why a woman ain't got no business doing that kind of work. A second brain!" Ray finally countered. The only other male in the room seconded it with a laugh and a slap on the leg. Weak laughter emanated from the women. The tension had left the room for Ray had rallied to meet the challenge. Mind you, it may have not been a knockout punch, but he'd saved face.
Another survival skill I had learned the hard way was simply to shut my mouth. Well, this was such a time, but I struggled mightily not to state the obvious. If what Ray said was true, then I thought, some woman has turned to her husband and said, "Oh honey! You're aroused. Now would be a great time to finish the deck. Let me get the circular saw for you." And if she really wanted to finish him off, she could send him out after it had rained.
Now, not being an owner of such a tool, I admit that I'm not an authority, but it just doesn't seem that a rapidly spinning, razor-sharp blade and an activated second brain Ray spoke of would logically go hand in hand. I doubt if it would even be useful in turning the page in one of those do-it-yourself manuals. But I forget myself, for no real man needs instructions, right?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not a radical feminist. It just seems I'm always unwittingly sticking my 38 double-D's in where they don't belong. I'd just never believed your gender should preclude you from doing what you have an inclination or a necessity to do. To me, that kind of thinking was just like assuming a tall person should naturally be a star basketball player.
I was left to contemplate whether my way of thinking was a "dud" or "stud" deterrent. I was in no way in a hurry to search for either, but I didn't relish the thought of entering my silver years alone. Was this willingness to tackle "male" jobs a dirty little secret I should carefully guard against revealing to any future suitors?
How had I arrived at this mindset? Why hadn't my parents taught me better? This truly was a puzzle, for my father, twenty years Ray's senior, had been born and raised no more than ten miles from Ray's family's home in a community, I kid you not, called Red Hill. If daddy needed help with a job, it was equal opportunity time. As a consequence, my sister, seven years my junior, was even more versatile with tools than I and could back a two-ton truck up better than most men she worked with.
Still trying to figure out how to end this story. Would appreciate feedback and suggestions.