Some of you guys have really been so kind and complimentary lately about my writing. Thank you! And I did write some comments back about writing about what you know and writing from the heart and writing often because the more you write, the better you get...
And all that's true and I totally believe it. But the real deal about the history of my writing efforts became clearer to me tonight when I called my parents to say a quick hello. They were both hysterical on the phone and had a hard time talking to me.
They were laughing.
They had found a box of old papers, cartoons and photographs of my sister and me. Apparently, the old papers and cartoons were works that I had created, basically skewering one family member or another. So the truth about my love of writing really stems from me making fun of my family, and I must have done it so well that some pieces are pretty damn timeless, at least as far as my mom and dad are concerned.
What I learned from re-reading the story below explains why: 1. I truly appreciate a guy who knows his way around a toolbox, 2. where I learned to swear like a sailor, and 3. that my parents are totally cool--especially my dad-- in that they will let me go all David Sedaris on them publicly and tell humiliating stories about our family when I feel like it. (Tonight I told my dad that this family tale would make him famous and he was all for it.)
I wrote this little story when I was either a freshman or sophomore in college. I have only edited it a tiny bit to protect one innocent (my sister, and also because you won't be able to pronounce her name). I probably shouldn't call this a story because it's all true, every last word of it. You can even call my mom or dad to check... if they've stopped laughing.
ps.: Neither one of these guys are my dad.
I believe that everyone has an area of expertise, a subject or hobby in which they excel above the average Joe. And then there are the instances where it’s just better to call in a professional. Take plumbing, for example. If our suburban ranch-style house could talk, I’m sure it would have pleaded mercy with my father on many occasions. My mother tried to intercede on the house’s behalf, but my father was always steadfast in his assessment of the home repair job to be done. “We don’t need to hire anyone. I can fix it myself.”
I grew up in a house where you had to explain the variety of toilet handle positions to newly arrived guests, lest they become embroiled in an embarrassing bathroom predicament by trying to flush the toilet by pressing the handle down (a situation normal to most homes) instead of the more exotic upward flush movement common only to toilets in our house. Our interest in our guests’ bathroom habits probably seemed strange and out of place at first, but I’m sure they were grateful for the advance information once they were on their own in the lavatory.
Although we didn’t live anywhere near a bayou, our house’s windows steamed every winter from the small lake that accumulated under the floors with each rain. My sister and I whiled away the evening hours drawing amusing faces, alphabets, and tic-tac-toe games in the condensation on the bay window in the living room. We didn’t need to draw the drapes in the winter at our house; our family was cleverly concealed by the inner fog that bloomed from beneath our floorboards.
A slight downside to the underground lake was that the moisture warped our front doors, making them very hard to close, and each year was a little worse than the previous one. It got to the point where it was easier to let guests in through the garage rather than slam the door with the force required to propel a cannonball, and that the slam made almost the same noise as that aforementioned cannonball. The booming crashes (it always took several tries before the door stayed shut) became so horribly embarassing one year that my father ended up tying the door handles together (from the inside, of course) with a strong piece of rope. At first, I had delusions of knife-wielding attackers sawing their way into our domicile through the one-inch gap between the doors, but as the weeks passed, I realized the attackers probably felt sorry for us and I slept much more soundly.
One morning I awakened to the sound of a very long, very loud shower being taken in the bathroom next to my room. Which was kind of strange in that no one ever took a shower in that particular bathroom (it had nothing to do with plumbing anomalies in this instance). The water was absolutely pelting whoever it was hitting, and after a moment, I heard other noises besides the water: someone running, and muffled voices with an hysterical edge. Someone was crying. I should have stayed in bed, but then I would have missed the only geyser I know of in our neighborhood.
I stood in the doorway of the bathroom, and watched in gap-jawed amazement as an eruption of hot, steamy water from one of the sinks was smacking the ceiling with surprising intensity. My sister was perched on top of the counter, trying to stem the geyser with a pile of sodden towels. Her hair was plastered around her face in clumps and her eye makeup looked like Tammy Faye Baker’s Great Lash mascara on a particularly tearful day. My sister’s school outfit clung to her teenage body like Saran Wrap. She was crying. “Dad, I’m going to be late. They [the school administrators] are going to send me to Broadway.” (An explanation: My sister suffers from C.T.S., otherwise known as Chronic Tardiness Syndrome. Because of her condition, she was always on the verge of being sent to our high school’s version of a correctional facility. The mere mention of Broadway struck terror into the hearts and minds of kids and parents alike; therefore, my sister got a ride to school from my father every morning. This morning, however, she was definitely going to miss first period.)
Before I could comprehend exactly what was happening, an ominous thud crashed behind me. I whirled around to see my father, having just run in from the garage, wearing soggy flannel pajama pants so heavy with water that he was in grave danger of exposing his private parts to his children. His sopping rust-colored suede booties had left bright footprints on the beige carpet in the hallway, and his glasses were fogged up like pieces of Lalique glass. His expression was tragically frantic. He was holding a hammer.
I got out of his way.
My father dashed under the sink with the hammer, striking the frozen knobs under the porcelain bowl in an attempt to shut off the source of our newest attraction. The knobs didn’t budge. (We now know that you’re supposed to turn those knobs once in a while to keep them from freezing up.) My mother stood in the door to her bedroom, mirroring my expression on her face. She knew how to handle certain people (namely my father) in crisis situations. In the most restrained voice she could muster, Mom asked, “Don’t you think we should call a plumber? I bet Frank knows what to do.”
The fury from under the sink was palpable. “We don’t need a plumber!” Dad raged. (If this wasn’t an instance for a professional, then I am at a loss to ever think when a more appropriate time would be.) “These goddamn knobs are frozen! Son of a bitch!” With lightning speed, my father dashed back down the hall to the garage. My mother made a run for the phone, and called Frank the plumber anyway. My sister, frightened that she would never be allowed to leave her scalding perch, looked at me with enormous eyes. I went back to my room and shut the door, where I immediately burst into silent convulsive laughter (any giggle from me at that moment might have been my last). When I felt I could return to the scene, I put on my straightest face and reopened the door.
Dad had run back from the garage and into the fray. “Where’s my fucking hammer?!” he demanded of the gods. “Where is it?! Goddamn it!” My mother replied evenly, but with a tinge of iciness, “Sid, the hammer is in your hand.” Wild-eyed, my father looked confusedly at the hand tool he was clutching so tightly. His crazed glare softened and he seemed to understand English once again. My mother quietly repeated the instructions she had received over the phone, and like a somnambulist, my father glided into the garage, turning off the hot water heater as he was told. The geyser quickly stopped. The house was very silent, except for the sound of water dripping from the lip of the sink onto the three inches of standing water on the floor. My mother opened one of the bathroom drawers. My father’s watch, wallet, and other odds and ends were suspended in the miniature pool like vegetables in aspic. She closed the drawer again without comment.
My father reappeared from the kitchen holding a turkey baster. With that same sleepwalking gait, he moved silently into the bathroom and sat on the floor-cum-wading pool, mindfully sucking water into the turkey baster and squirting it into the bathtub. This was the scariest thing we had yet seen this morning; it appeared that his mind had completely snapped. My sister, my mother, and I looked at each other with furtive glances. My mother spoke again, with compassion, but also as if she was approaching a mad dog. “Sid, why don’t you get dressed for work? Your youngest daughter has to get to school. Don’t worry about the water; Julie and I will take care of it.”
He looked up at her like a three-year old who had been given a cookie. “Okay,” he said placidly. He dressed, and took my damp-haired, re-outfitted sister to school. After a few minutes, the shock wore off, and doubled over in laughter, my mother and I got down to the business of disaster recovery, minus the turkey baster.
I think this story might also explain where I got my sense of humor.
Now don't forget to turn those knobs under the sink! It's very important! Otherwise your children might write embarrassing stories about you someday and then put them on the internet for their own amusement.