Our personal sewer de-clog team, THE name in the sewage de-clog biz, responds after I leave two messages. We choose them because they fixed it last time this happened. Less than a month ago. The Original Plumber tells me that they are having equipment issues. None of the trucks would start in this zero-below science fiction nonsense we are living in.
"What does this mean for me?" I ask.
My mind is already overloaded with the realization of how often one uses the pipes in one's home. I don't really have leftover space for a stranger's alternator, or AAA Membership, or freeze dried ignition keys. He responds, but I can't really make out his garbled words. Seems he is trapped in a terrible cell phone range, another burden he throws down for sympathy.
It's looking like we are going to have to let the yellows mellow and do the browns on the town.
Chuck has the day off of work and texts me wondering about the best public restroom in the city. I have an answer to this. It's a hidden alcove in a public, albeit low-traffic place. It's always empty, always clean, and it is a great place to while away the hours, perhaps leisurely reading "Anna Karenina" and enjoying an apple. I won't reveal this little nugget, you all might ruin it. But here's a consolation prize: I will say that in the multi-stall, little privacy category, Target isn't bad. As an added bonus, it smells like baby aspirin.
Duluth isn't really my jurisdiction for public restrooms. Stops along I35 between Duluth and Minneapolis are, though. In Forest Lake, you can top it all off with gourmet coffee; In Stacy, you can help things along by purchasing fresh produce from the adjacent market.
In the chaos of not-flushing, relying on quick bursts of water for tooth brushing, and grabbing a bag so I can shower at the Y, I forget my purse at home. There I am: Dirty-haired, penniless, lacking identification, a home under shit siege and now ... hungry. I flap a packet of Brown Sugar Oatmeal, my pathetic desperation meal, at JCrew. She sees my distended stomach and parched pout and cobbles together a three-course meal for me: Gourmet crackers and fancy cheese, Jello and a sucker. She offers more oatmeal and apple sauce.
I believe she would have clasped me to her bosom, would it have provided sustenance. Friends.
"Did you get enough?" she asks me later, her kindest tone.
I nod; Maybe I purr.
I shower at the Y and I do it in that golden space of time where it can count for both Monday and Tuesday. I've belonged to the Y for the past 13 years and there have been spans when I haven't set foot in the building for months while continuing to pay membership dues. I used to justify this by simply being a lifelong fan of YMCAs in general. Now I'll forever justify it by remembering the Great Shower Incident of 2013.
Dirty, full of borrowed food, a home under shit siege. The shower is a Power Blast. Something car wash-ian. The hot, high-pressure stream is both a massage and sanitizer. I lather myself into a 3-inch foam. I rinse it off and do it again.
I crawl into bed that night and hold my forearm near Chuck's face.
"Smell it," I say.
"Smells like ..." he says.
Neither of us can place it. I think the word is "clean."
We dine out so we don't dirty dishes. We try to thoroughly empty our bladders while we are still in public. The person who used the unisex bathroom before me didn't flush. "Animals," I say aloud. If I wanted an unflushed toilet, I'd just go at home.
Back at home we avoid the living room, which is next to the steps that lead to the basement. We don't flush. We brush quickly and use hand sanitizer when necessary.
I count my remaining pieces of underwear and panicking. I'll have to submit to a pair with holes unless I can get to Target soon.
The Original Plumber is MIA on Tuesday. Chuck and I take turns calling him. In the meantime I line up another de-clogger who, when told this had already been done once this month by the Original Plumber, gives me a the vocal version of a sneer.
"Doesn't he guarantee his work?" the plumber asks. "Why would you pay us to do it. He should re-do it for free."
The frozen trucks, I explain, and the New Plumber acts like a dad who catches you sticking something weird in your ear.
"He's hiding from you," he says.
I make an appointment with the New Plumber with the understanding that if I can get the Original Plumber on the case, I'll cancel the New Plumber. He is cool with that, seeing as he doesn't understand the math behind us paying two different people to do the same job.
Then: Connection made with Original Plumber, appointment with New Plumber cancelled, Original Plumber flakes again, our basement is really starting to reek.
After another power blast at the YMCA I eat a giant salad, lazily, at the Brewhouse while reading a book. Afterward I catch one of Duluth's best-known bands playing a dub set at Red Star Lounge. Finally, reluctantly, I head back to Shit Central, timing my return to be close to Chuck's.
I call a new guy from bed on Wednesday morning. This place seems to actually have an office with a person who is paid to answer the phone. When Plumber No. 3 returns my phone call and does the requisite "Why not just have the Original Plumber come back and do it again?" choreography, I tell him I don't care about the Original Plumber.
If I see him I might punch him. I don't care if we have to pay twice, it's worth it to be done with the Original Plumber's terrible cell phone plan, frozen equipment, job that lasts only 29ish days.
Plumber No. 3 softens at this and seems to understand one can only not flush for so long. And so, after three days, he fixes it. He gags when he opens the manhole.