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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Dad Is SO Not Joe the Plumber

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.


Water Music

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.


Bill Stankus December 17, 2008 at 11:01 PM  

A lake under the house, three inches of standing water from a broken pipe? So, did you sell the place as a house boat or as a petri dish of exotic molds?

Your dad's only mistake was he didn't have a big enough hammer... or a big enough turkey baster.

tangobaby December 17, 2008 at 11:05 PM  

The lake under the house only happened in the winter when it rained. The ground in that part of the world has a lot of clay in it and so the water never really soaked into the ground if it rained a lot.

They eventually got some guy to dig a ditch or something under the house (for all I know there could be a body in it) and now there's a little pump they plug in when it rains.

They still live there.

And my mom is a decorator, which makes the opposing talents of my parents even more interesting.

ps. I think if he had a bigger hammer the story would have been a lot worse at the end. But the turkey baster is a nice touch.

Don't plumbers use turkey basters? They should.

Bill Stankus December 17, 2008 at 11:14 PM  

My dad was a "putterer". Nothing was thrown away - he would attempt repairs on anything ... even if the toaster or lawn mower was beyond hope. I think my mother's high blood pressure stems from dealing with all the repaired relics. Sure, most (some) of his repairs sort of worked but who wants stuff 15 years past their prime when a new one wouldn't cost much and would worked as it should work.

Sozol December 17, 2008 at 11:58 PM  

Priceless! I can litteraly see your father on the floor with the turkey baster. :D

If it is of any comofort, my father is kind of the same. But he is actually really good at fixing things. The problem is however that he is the biggest clod in the hisory of man kind. The end-effect is kind of the same as for your father. :/

Brenda December 18, 2008 at 1:11 AM  

Funny story. Somehow as I was reading it, I was thinking of Chevy Chase playing the part of your father.

There is a Three Stooges movie where they do some plumbing. I usually hate them, but it's really funny. There's always something funny about grown men getting wet and frustrated.

At least you can be proud that you came from such a great family that can give you years of material for future writings.

A Cuban In London December 18, 2008 at 2:07 AM  

'Where's my f...ing hammer?' 'Sid, it's in your hand'.

Priceless :-D.


Greetings from London.

Mia December 18, 2008 at 4:01 AM  

Hahaha I'm sorry, I just couldn't help laughing out loud when I read this....RE: the "Trying to make you smile" tag, you definitely succeeded!


Char December 18, 2008 at 6:01 AM  

what a great nuggest to pull out! this was priceless and so reminded me of my dad!! I can remember the dreaded pipe snake in our house. Yours sounds much funnier though.

Dubtak December 18, 2008 at 6:54 AM  

Thanks for stopping by my little Quick-Stop of a blog. Good to see that the Bay Area Bohemian or at least Western Water Way Writers are doing good works still (neither of these are actual things, I'm just running low on sleep).

To answer your comment, Bill O'Reily only bothers me when I need a scapegoat to be incensed about, and to my credit that is a two-year-old post.

I really do admire the little internet nest you've built for yourself, and I, as an artsty(ish) type living in San Francisco (Daly City, but I cannot even consider affording to live in the city itself) am anxious to hear more about tango, my wonderful city that I almost live in, and fathers with less-than-perfect home repair records. If ever you are in need of a fresh perspective on....anything really, stop on by and leave a curteous yet cutting comment. Ta ra.


(My name is Gabriel. The whole anonymity thing is more of a mental exercise for me and less about security. The more you know...)

Annie December 18, 2008 at 7:22 AM  

Great story...thanks for the early morning laugh (aside from the fact that I just kind of snorted hot tea up my nose).

paris parfait December 18, 2008 at 7:45 AM  

Ha ha! This story explains a lot about you. :) xoxox

Mari December 18, 2008 at 7:46 AM  

That was wonderful! My father was fairly proficient. When there was a plumbing disaster, we kids usually were the culprits. Like the time my wax caught fire from a candlemaking kit, and I poured the flaming wax down the kitchen sink, freezing the disposal into a knotty tree root configuration. My dad had some choice words for that one, although as I pointed out, it was better than burning the house down... : )

Melissa December 18, 2008 at 7:52 AM  

Great post! I see my family in that story as well!

Killer B December 18, 2008 at 7:53 AM  

Gents, let's be honest. We are ALL going to be THAT father some day. Not because we don't know how to do things "properly", but because tradition being what it is, it's just the way it has to be. Clearly, the turkey baster was the right tool for the job in this case, right? ;)

Great story, Tangobaby...

Sarah December 18, 2008 at 7:55 AM  

Well I've never had the sink incident happen growing up, however the rest is all something I encountered. Every last incident.... My amusement from childhood? My six year old brother jumping on my parent's waterbed with a scissors. You can imagine the sheer chaos as my pop was literally bailing water with a melamine mixing bowl and running it back and forth to the bathroom from their master bedroom. Hilarious! Of course, at the time it wasn't funny and we were all grounded, but now I look back and laugh. There was a lake in that room as the water poured over the sides of that bed! Ha! :)

Too funny... a great read!

J9 December 18, 2008 at 8:44 AM  

This had me laughing so hard, I had to stop reading and wipe my eyes! It reads like something from Jean Shepherd, and only true stories are actually funny!

Christina December 18, 2008 at 9:45 AM  

Sid is my kind of father! I grab the turkey baster when ever there is a crisis. ; )

What a hilarious memory.

dutchbaby December 18, 2008 at 9:48 AM  

I personally liked the part where the "glasses fogged up like pieces of Lalique glass" and "odds and ends ... suspended in a miniature pool like vegetables in aspic."

Thanks for the laugh!

~K December 18, 2008 at 11:49 AM  

OMFG!!! That was fantastic, and by the way Julie Somnambulist is my new word of the day! I began to picture your dad like the dad in A Christmas Story. Did he ever get a leg lamp from Italy? I laughed out loud, fortunately for me I did learn my way around a toolbox young. The first thing my step-dad taught me was always now where the main water shut off is to the house!

Yoli December 18, 2008 at 12:00 PM  

Oh Tango lady you cracked me up!! LOVE this, absolutely priceless.

julochka December 18, 2008 at 12:18 PM  

knobs? there are knobs under the sink?

sababoy December 18, 2008 at 12:18 PM  

In new location of my life, it's taken even a long time, I miss my nature, my house, my mother, my father, my tyrant neighbors, my silent streets, my fields waiting for spring and you.


sababoy December 18, 2008 at 12:18 PM  

In new location of my life, it's taken even a long time, I miss my nature, my house, my mother, my father, my tyrant neighbors, my silent streets, my fields waiting for spring and you.


Theresa December 18, 2008 at 1:23 PM  

I like your blog!


tangobaby December 18, 2008 at 1:53 PM  

Hey guys,

Thanks for all of the great replies. Obviously I've touched a chord with you and you either relate a lot or else you want me to send my dad to your house for some minor repair jobs. ;-)

I'm waiting like a princess for my lunch to be delivered (actually, I'm chained to my desk because no one else can cover the phones now but saying I'm a princess makes it sound better) so while I try not to faint from hunger, I'll enjoy answering your comments here.

And with that....

@Bill: My dad was not a putterer, thank goodness. I think somewhere along the line he realized his "fixing" things limitations and never got to that stage, although our garage was always full of crap and I'm not sure how it all got there. My mom is really a good sport, that's all I can say. And I'm the straight man.

@Sozol: If it helps your imagination any, he was sitting with his legs straight out in front of him, like a V. Like when little kids play with toys. I can see it like it was yesterday.

I'm very comfortable with the childhood environment I had. I guess you just get used to toilet handles that flush upside down and you don't care. I hope you've enjoyed some laughs with your dad, too. It sounds like you have.

BTW, I popped over to your blog and your writing is lovely. I'll stop by again sometime.

@Brenda: Chevy Chase is a good call. He will like that. I'm going to tell him you said that. My parents wouldn't let us watch the Three Stooges because they were mean, so I'm haven't seen that film but I guess I can imagine what might have happened.

Yes, my family has given me plenty of fodder. This is really just the tip of the iceberg. I still get calls from my mother that start: "You'll never believe what your father did today..." and in the background I can hear him laughing.

@Cuban: All these years later, I still laugh. I'm glad you liked it too.

@Mia: It's nice to know that my story is universal enough to make a new reader crack up just like I did. Some things are just plain funny and if you have a good imagination...

@Char: I think we had a pipe snake, too? I don't recall if there's a story there. My dad isn't intentionally funny, but he laughs a lot when you talk about him. I think it's nice that he can laugh at himself when everyone else is laughing at him, too.

@DubTak/Gabriel: I don't intentionally let myself near Bill O'Reilly but if it happens by accident, I just remind myself that he's still the host of Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood or whatever serious news organization he came to before Faux, with a better salary.

Please do check in and Daly City is home to Rex Navarrette, so it's a place to be proud of. Plus you have the In-n-Out Burger AND the Krispy Kreme all in one parking lot!

ps. I call our Blogger names our Superhero Names. I answer to tangobaby, TB (initials, not the disease) or Julie, whatever works.

@Annie: Ouch! I hope you didn't burn the inside of your nose! But I'm glad I made you laugh!

@paris parfait: It does, kinda. That's what I thought too. xoxo

@Mari: OMG! You were naughty! But then one needs to wonder why your parents let you have a candlemaking kit! I'm glad for your sake that didn't burn your house down. That wouldn't have made for a fun blog post. ;-)

@Melissa: thanks!

@Killer B: If what you say is true, then generations of future children should be raised with attention placed on how to use basic tools and how to have a good sense of humor without openly laughing at their parents. Good luck to you!

@Sarah: Your story made me laugh! OMG, that's awesome! And you told it so well, in just a paragraph. What happened to your brother?!

@J9: Oh, I'm so glad. And I LOVE Jean Shepard so that is like the ULTIMATE compliment, thank you! I stopped by your blog and I really like your photo. I think we had the same jumper. But you had cuter hair.

@Christina: When you come out here someday, I'll be sure you meet Sid and he can sign a baster for you. Wouldn't that be awesome?!

@dutchbaby: I am trying to be better about describing things accurately. And funnily. I guess I did good here.

@~K: Technically it would be Sid Sonambulist because I was just the observer. My dad's name is Sidney, and I just remembered once when he got some mail addressed to "Disney" instead of "Sidney" and we laughed a lot and found that to be a very perfect typo. We called him Disney for a few weeks.

@Yoli: I'm so glad! And happy birthday, again!

@julochka: Yes! There are knobs under the sink! You must go and check right away so that some day Sabin is not writing secret stories about you. But she might already be doing that. Was she there during the incident with your hair and the candles?

Johanna December 18, 2008 at 3:41 PM  

This very revealing and hilarious historical document sure 'splains a lot about you...

I can honestly say I never saw my father wield a hammer or even venture near a tool box. He DID, however, own a '72 'stang and would get this crazy grin every time he got behind the wheel.

tangobaby December 18, 2008 at 3:52 PM  

Johanna, maybe he was smiling because he used to drive that 'Stangto his secret second job as a plumber!

You never know...

Johanna December 18, 2008 at 5:18 PM  

LOL! Well, if he did, he cleaned up REAL good. Dad always smelled great :-)

tiffanyrocks3378 December 18, 2008 at 8:44 PM  

you have to do this http://www.real-wishes.com

Paris Atelier December 18, 2008 at 9:34 PM  

Oh My God!!! I haven't laughed that hard in a long time! My husband came in to the study to see what the commotion was!

I just found your blog and I am already a HUGE fan! You are amazing and talented. I can't wait to dive into some other posts!

Thank you! It was a dismal day until I read this!
Paris Atelier~

robinbird December 18, 2008 at 11:26 PM  

i was here earlier and got so carried away (that happens to me sometimes) with the fun of your post that i just kept it on my desktop for hours and read other peoples comments as they came in. you touched a nerve alright. you are definitely not adopted.. you all sound like you were cut from the same crazy cloth :) wow you have been brilliant for many years already! what will happen next if you keep this up!? see that sidebar over there on the right...scroll up almost to the top and read the four things you want to do before you die.... i can see that three of them are well within the range of possibilities...

Rosie December 21, 2008 at 12:57 AM  

Write a film script!

Relyn December 21, 2008 at 8:36 AM  

Can't you just hear David Sedaris telling this in his voice? Oh my. Still laughing.

My Mom always felt slightly gypped because my Dad would (this is the truth) call someone over and pay them to hang pictures for them. He did no home improvement type things. None. I'll have to show her this so she knows how lucky she's been all these years.

AphotoAday November 25, 2009 at 7:46 PM  

Am just reading this post, now almost a year old, and am quite caught up in it... I have had similar experiences... I always grab for the hammer first too...