A Landscape Where There Are No Toilets
“Jimmy!” I shout into the phone, “I’m looking out the window at my front lawn at an honest-to-God human turd! That turd is sitting on a vomit-lookin’ blob of used toilet paper next to a filthy toilet! I’ve paid you $357 dollars for a new toilet. Was taking the old toilet and turd away not included in the price? Am I supposed to clean up this mess? And upstairs you’ve used a dark brown sealant around the foot of the white toilet, smearing it out in a 3” wreath—a brown color that looks like human excrement, Jimmy! Like a toddler got creative! And the rebuilt tile box at the back is smudged and dotted all over with sealant and grout and one tile is broken leaving a huge ugly gap! And the toilet runs, the seat’s loose, the list goes on and on! I could do better, Jimmy! My dog could do better!”
“We have a long history in this town, ma’am. A good name.”
“Jimmy, you had two vans here yesterday with your good name all over them. And today all the neighbors can see your calling card left on my front lawn!
“I’m busy till noon, ma’am. Then I’ll come right over.”
I stand over him in the bathroom. His closeness and smell of donuts remind me that he is human, that the human animal can look normal—brown hair, medium build, 30’s—and still be a very strange creature. “Today, Jimmy, let’s turn on the light so you can see what you’re doing.” The last time I found him at one point working in the dark. He said he couldn’t find the switch! I’ve decided not to leave his side. I repeat the long list of things to repair and he begins.
He says he’s just got to change a washer in order to fix the problem that is making the toilet run after flushing. After that job, he checks the loose toilet seat and says he’ll have to order a new one as the fastening won’t stay tight.
“Jimmy, why do you think that a brand new toilet would run and would have a loose toilet seat?” I ask.
“Everything is cheap these days,” he says.
Now he says calmly, “I’ll clean the smeared sealant off the floor and the tile.” He takes out a rag and rubs a cream over the brown wreath at the toilet base, removing some of the stain, then takes a screwdriver and starts to scrape the smeared sealant off the tile. I close my eyes. He’s scratching the tile, but I am starting to see that Jimmy does not mean ill. Soon, without removing even a quarter of the mess, he begins to grout in a new tile to cover the gaping hole left in the wall by the smaller tank. I suggest he needs to glue the tile in. “Don’t need glue—it’ll stick,” he says. He leaves smears on the tile from the new grout but they’re not as bad as before. I can clean them later.
I’m sitting on the bathtub rim watching Jimmy. He’s just put a thick-second-paler-coat-of-sealant over the big-mistake-darker-sealant. I point out that the wooden trim behind the toilet is now bowed up over all that sealant. So Jimmy takes it off and tries to re-attach it.
I open the window to dilute the sealant odor with fresh air and turn to see that Jimmy has driven in a big ugly tack at one end of the wooden trim. I know by now that there is no way to control him completely, and I mildly suggest he take out the tack and use thin staples like the ones used by the floor installer. From above, I see him press down the other end of the trim and drive in another big tack which splits the board in two.
“This isn’t working,” he says, “because the trim is not sticking down. I’ll have to take this piece away and find another this color. He hides the split part with his hands.
“It was oak,” I say, with one last attempt at control.
“No, ma’am, it’s just particle board.”
I decide not to call his bluff. He thinks I’m old and stupid. I’m just old and tired.
Vacuuming up the grout dust after he leaves, I become enraged at the bad tile job and endless plumbing perils, and I drag the vacuum viciously over the bathmat: a black rubber piece flops loose from the vacuum head. Uh-oh. I try to tuck the rubber piece back in. No dice. I don’t have the type of screwdriver that will fit the stars on the head to open it.
The phone rings. It’s my husband who’d left early that morning for a business trip.
“I just made it to Dallas.”
“I thought you were headed to Seattle?”
“That’s right. But the hour and a half connecting flight from Austin to Dallas took eight hours.”
He sighs. “We left Austin on time but at Dallas had to circle and circle waiting for a thunderstorm to end. When we were running out of fuel they directed us—along with thirty-five other planes—to the small airport of Shreveport, Louisiana, where we landed. Then began the torture. They didn’t let us off the planes and the airport didn’t have fuel for us. We sat parked on that hot black tarmac without air-conditioning and enclosed hermetically in that metal and plastic plane in a steam bath of sweat and urine. The stewardesses threw the last peanuts at us within a few hours and then we fermented hour after hour until we ran out of water, toilet paper and diapers—waiting for big trucks ordered from God-knows-where to truck in more fuel. Out the window we could see the pilots getting together to negotiate for the available fuel. We were told the pilots were trying to barter patients-in-danger-of-heart-attacks against numbers-of-babies-on-board. After a while, we saw the pilots’ circle erupt in fist fights.”
Offering words of comfort, I decide not to mention the plumbing boondoggle, nor the broken vacuum cleaner. I hang up and google Miele. The website says the repair store closes at 5 pm; I run to the phone at 4:56 pm and dial. “Bring it by tomorrow,” says a man whose life is structured, practical, and driven by the daily success of repairing washing machines and vacuum cleaners.
That evening I lie down on my bed, with visions of my Miele repairman waiting patiently in his shop for my vacuum cleaner.
What was that noise?
I time it. Every seven minutes, shmmmm, the toilet is refilling itself because it is still quietly running.
Hand on my forehead, I plan to hit the plumber the next day at 8 am with full voice projection.
I reach for my book.
Tonight, though, I’ll take off my hearing aids so I can’t hear the toilet refill, and I’ll read The Goodnight Trail—about the 1860s trail blazed by cowboys to drive Texas cattle to markets.* A landscape where there are no toilets, no vacuum cleaners, no flights and no babies. Where I’m riding the West Texas range, peaceful like, high on my bay horse, dust in my face, Longhorns at my side, willingly facing the Pecos River crossing, Comanche attacks and stampeding cattle.
The sun is warm, the sky is blue, I’m filthy, and I don’t care.
To read more of Laura Grevel’s work, click here.