To read this tragic tale from the beginning, click here.
A few days after my Norma Rae incident on the front stoop, there is a jackhammer attacking my innocent driveway. (“Why do you want to hurt me when I’ve done nothing to you?” asks said driveway. “Because we can,” says every right-wing politician since the invention of the ballot box.) Do you know what it’s like to be on a conference call (yes, another one), trying to appear professional and in control, while a man with a jackhammer is directly on the other side of the wall from you? A man who is acting out childhood fantasies of proving his mastery over concrete and getting perverted revenge on all those girls who rightfully scorned his advances in high school?
And apparently the driveway is fighting back. This jack-hammering goes on for hours, with angry chunks of said concrete slamming against the side of the house, full of bitterness and rage. (On the conference call, people are continually asking “Could you repeat that? I didn’t quite hear you. Is somebody on this call getting a root canal?”) I want to share my ordeal with all of them, on the off chance that one of the participants might give a damn, but I refrain, knowing that the Executive VP of Bitterness leading the call did not achieve her title by showing any compassion for anyone, ever.
There’s a knock on the door. I already know the drill. Door-knocking means there’s another freakin’ problem with the freakin’ plumbing, a familiar pattern that is now consuming my life. Sigh. I send an instant message to the one person on the call that might vaguely have my back: “I have to step away for a sec. Cover for me.” Vaguely responds back with: “I have no idea who you are. Stop texting me.”
I open the front door to find Dim and Wit shuffling around on the porch, working on how to express their next pronouncement of doom. I hate them instantly.
“Well, we busted up that driveway, alright. But it looks like we’re gonna have to get under the house and see what’s goin on, cause sumthin ain’t right.” Then Dim and Wit smile nervously. They have obviously practiced this, with choreography just short of Jazz Hands. I see a total of three teeth between the two of them. I am not amused. Then again, when have I ever been?
So I throw open the door, and we do the march of death to the hall closet where the entrance to the “basement” is located. See, this is Texas. We don’t really have basements. What we do have, if you own a pier-and-beam house like mine, is a dirt-floored area under the house where you can crabwalk around and eventually get to effed-up plumbing, should the need arise. (You can also use this area to hide the bodies of annoying co-workers, in a pinch, because they basically haven’t built pier-and-beam houses in Texas for fifty years or so and investigative officials don’t often think to ask “Say, do you happen to have an incriminatory crawlspace?”)
But first, for the purposes of this story, you have to get to the trapdoor which gives you access to the pretend basement. Since no one bothered to tell me that I might need to provide access to personal portals on this wretched day, I haven’t adequately prepared for such an intrusion. So there’s a brief interlude where I’m hauling all kinds of clutter out of the way as fast as I can. Vinyl dance mixes that no one has listened to for 20 years. Boxes of barely-used hair products that promised to give me follicular dominance but failed in the process. A taped-shut box that still manages to dribble glitter as I throw it to the side, whereupon a Patsy Cline CD pops out of said box and skitters across the floor. Hmm. Am I providing enough clues that my same-sex partner and I might possibly be gay?
I glance at Dim and Wit, gauging their reactions. They now appear to be standing much closer to each other than when I counted teeth, both of their faces flushed. Interesting. Shades of unshared desires? An unconscious sense of comfort that they may have stumbled across their own people? Maybe. But I really don’t care. Hate them.
After quite some time of sweating and grunting whilst no one helps me in any way, I get everything moved and open the portal. Dim and Wit descend into the darkness, practically holding hands. I return to my conference call, where Hillary, the Pope and the VP of Bitterness are ready to rip me to shreds for stepping away.
Mere seconds later, Dim and Wit hop out of the portal. I put Hill, Pope and Bitt on hold again.
“Dude, it’s really, really bad down there.”
“Everything has to be replaced. The pipes aren’t connected right, they slant the wrong way, you got leaks everywhere.”
Once again, I force myself to take several deep breaths. Dim and Wit slyly look at each other, as if wondering “do gay people breathe like this? Do we need to practice that?”.
Then I begin. “You’re telling me that, even though 6 of the 10 previous plumbers in your squad have also been down in the pretend basement, none of them noticed the issues you are bilging about now? Why didn’t anybody say anything? And why didn’t you check this out FIRST! This is where the plumbing slope STARTS!”
My cell phone rings. It’s my manager letting me know that the Pope is not happy about the wait and there might be an unpleasant Inquisition of some kind if I don’t reappear from whence I went. Sigh. Do people NOT understand what it’s like to have pickling issues? This whole ordeal has got to be over sometime soon or I will snatch up a knife and never put it back down again.
I turn back to Dim and Wit. “Okay, look, just go get what you need and let’s get this done.” They race out the door and pile into the truck. I think I can hear Gloria Gaynor wailing about how she will survive as they drive away. Apparently Wit has thrown caution to the wind and pulled out his bootleg CD of “Adventures of Priscilla” from behind the bottle of moonshine, handing it to Dim and letting their fingers touch longer than necessary. The truck and their relationship accelerates.
Two days later, because these plumbing hellions never come “right back”, they show up with two additional plumbers (ratcheting the tally up to 12 plumbers so far). The entourage descends again into the pretend basement, lugging pipe sections and equipment and whatnot. Since they are now working directly below where I am sitting in the home office and I can hear everything, it appears that they are having a frat party of some kind. Lots of laughter, sounds of mechanical destruction, and belching.
Hillary, on yet another conference call, asks me “Are you in a bar?”
No. Despite my aching desire to be in one. Why? Are you looking for Bill?
After hours of banging and nut-tightening and rounds of billiards, the frat party abruptly ends. (Out of beer?) The plumbers arise from the earth, proclaim all is well, and they drive off into the night. Gloria is still surviving. Well, at least for Dim and Wit. The two newest members of the plumbers’ union apparently haven’t gained enough seniority to have an opinion about anything yet, so they remain relatively quiet.
A day later, the toilet overflows. Again.
Time for a Bay of Pigs showdown. Somebody better flinch here, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be us. We get on the horn with the Plumbing Mob Boss and make our demands. Figure out what the problem is NOW. Repair the crater in the driveway NOW. Fill in the giant earthen vagina NOW.
Days pass. The plumbing mafia is now working with the City of Dallas, as apparently all homefield options have been exhausted and the issue must be with the city-owned side of the sewage network. Why this wasn’t a consideration in the beginning, I have no idea. I am weakened. I accept and go on.
I finally have to break camp and actually report to the work office, fully expecting that my security badge no longer works on the entrance doors. Amazingly, I get in, although I do have to shoo away some new-hire that thinks he can sit in my cube. (“I have SPERM older than you. GO!”) Magically and inevitably, the lovebird plumbers choose this same day to return. Over the phone, Dim explains that he is at the house and waiting on the city people to show up and do whatever it is that city people do when someone can’t poo.
Later that day, I’m driving toward the house when I notice an irritating, huge equipment hauler parked at the alley entrance on one end of our block. Lots of city workers sporting bright-orange vests are running around, waving flags and getting in the way. What the hell? I honestly make no connection between whatever they are working on and the faulty plumbing at my house.
I pull in our driveway, and my jaw drops open. There is an ARMY of these orange-vested city workers swarming all over the backyard and the alley. Tons of people. It’s like Woodstock, only without the drug-based happiness and revelry. There is a two-story digging machine thing (which looks vaguely like those huge four-legged mechanical beasts in “Star Wars” movies) ripping up massive amounts of asphalt and concrete out of the alley and depositing said debris into a dump truck bigger than my house.
I wander into said house in a daze. Terry is there. The noise outside is so deafening that we practically have to use sign language.
“What are they DOING?” he queries, as air-raid sirens fill the air and the local airport suspends all plane traffic.
What I want to say: “Dude, you were here first. Shouldn’t you be telling me?” What I do say: “I don’t know. Dim called me and said the city found something and they’re working on it now.”
And work they did. For hours. Digging and ripping and hauling off. It gets dark, and they bring in these ginormous searchlight things that brighten the sky. Just in case the whole neighborhood wasn’t certain where all the noise and commotion was coming from, our house is now lit up like Christmas on acid. Passing cars on the street in front of the house suddenly become stopping cars, with incredulous drivers taking snaps with their smart phones, creating little fireflies of humiliation.
Oh, and did I mention that half the houses on our block only have entrances to their properties from the ALLEY? And now they can’t get to their houses because the alley is blocked on both ends by stormtroopers and WMD’s. We are so screwed in the neighborhood popularity contest. We will not be winning Yard of the Month in the foreseeable future, if ever, but we will most likely be Agenda Item #1 at the next meeting of the home-owners association.
Somewhere around midnight, possibly two days later as I sort of went somewhere else mentally for a while, the noise stops. The army of city workers rumbles off into the night. Um, could you maybe let us know what you found and did? Guess not.
With hearts pounding, we approach the guest bathroom toilet. And flush. The water rockets down the pipes with no problem. We flush the other toilet. No problemo. We turn on every device in the house that involves water. Everything whisks away with no sign of an issue. The long-sought celebration begins. I am actually a functioning human being again. I can release my pickles at will!
Then it dawns on us. Apparently, none of the things the Plumbing Committee pursued were really necessary in the end. Helpful in the long run, maybe, but not necessary. The real culprit was on the city side of things. The side where we don’t have to pay for anything.
I am back in my dark place again.
Cut to five days later. The Plumbing Mafia Mob Boss is at the house to collect payment. He glares at me. I glare at him. This gets us nowhere, obviously, but I am still seething with dissatisfaction and rage. He clears his throat. I make the fork-fingered sign that I think I remember from my days as a little Italian boy, the sign that means you are nothing to me and I spit on your grave.
He looks at me like I have a cognitive disorder. Perhaps that was not my best move.
Then he slides the bill to me, face down, because he can play just as many games as I can. I turn it over with a flourish that I hope expresses my hatred for him. My disdain.
Then I see the total. 2300 dollars. Might sound like a lot, but really, he’s had at least 12 people come out here. (I am now Facebook friends with 4 of them.) Repeatedly. For a month. They’ve rented expensive equipment, they’ve been here for hours on end, they’ve basically replaced every inch of plumbing in the house, all the way to the “city side” of this whole ordeal. I want to hate him. But I can’t.
And he knows it. His people messed up, repeatedly, and he has acknowledged that by not passing on the full cost of this mess to me. I sigh and write out a check.
He smiles as he walks out the door, the theme from “The Godfather” playing in the background.
My eyes wander to the Linda Blair tortilla, which I have conveniently left on the kitchen counter because I knew I would need her as a prop at some point in this diatribe. She is mocking me, I can feel it. The tortilla starts to levitate in a smarmy manner to let me know that I don’t have any control over my own life. I calmly walk over and snatch it up, march down the hallway to the office, and promptly shove the damn thing into the paper shredder. There are tiny little screams of pain and surprise. I may not have control, but every once in a while I get to destroy something and this gives me temporary solace.
Speaking of, perhaps I should go back and finish that XBOX game that has been on pause for the last month. Maybe I can win another Golden Rod of Power and pretend that the kingdom is at peace once again…
The end. Finally.
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 05/15/09. Revised and updated with extra flair for this post.
Categories: My Life