Hallelujah by way of Peter by way of Rufus by way of Jeff by way of Leonard.
Hallelujah by way of Peter by way of Rufus by way of Jeff by way of Leonard.
Today at work I walked into the men’s restroom and began to open the door of a stall when, from within the other stall, came a voice.
“Uh, I wouldn’t go in there.”
I stopped in my tracks.
In my experience, communication from within a bathroom stall in the workplace is utterly forbidden due to social taboo associated with identifying yourself while on the crapper. I hadn’t recognized the voice of its inhabitant, and when I leaned slightly sideways to look at his shoes under the stall I swear he slid his feet backwards, out of my sight.
I addressed the closed door of the occupied stall, and the disembodied stall voice within.
“Is there something wrong with the toilet?”
“No,” the disembodied stall voice replied, “but, don’t try to use it.”
At this point the disembodied voice’s somewhat cryptic manner of communication was starting to bug me. Why not just say, “Watch out, that toilet is clogged,” or apologize from preventing me from using the bathroom with “Sorry, that one’s clogged,” which also tacitly apologizes in the case that the voice was actually the clogger?
Was there perhaps a little bit of guilt at play there? Maybe I was dealing with the clogger! Or, maybe he was so afraid of the taboo associated with stall-talk that he could barely string together a coherent sentence, let alone an informational one.
I decided to probe for more information, and to perhaps reveal the guilt- and/or fear- ridden, somewhat cryptic, disembodied voice’s identity.
“Did you call facilities?”
“No. uh. You should definitely call facilities. Good idea.”
Now completely frustrated with the lack of initiative of the guilt- and/or fear- ridden, somewhat cryptic, disembodied voice of the bathroom stall, I stalked out of the bathroom (still having to actually *use* a bathroom, mind you, rather badly at this point).
The had voice set up a wonderful catch-22 wherein I either took responsibility for calling facilities or be forced to feel guilty about the next person who tried to use the toilet. He was also playing upon the fact that only he and I would know the toilet was clogged in order to compel me to leave a “Do not use” note on the stall.
I was, in fact, embroiled in a twisted case of bathroom blackmail at the hands of the initiative-lacking, guilt- and/or fear- ridden, somewhat cryptic, disembodied voice of the bathroom stall. (Hands… of the disembodied… never mind)
Forced into complicity with the blackmailing, I phoned facilities.
“Hi. I work on 35, and I’d like to report a problem with the left hand stall in the men’s restroom.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Uh. I’m not sure. Someone told me to call facilities about it.”
“So, it won’t flush?”
Actually, I wasn’t even sure what was wrong with it.
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what happened when you used the toilet?”
“I didn’t use it. I was going to use it, but…”
Here I paused, afraid to allude to the blackmailing, initiative-lacking, guilt- and/or fear- ridden, somewhat cryptic, disembodied voice of the bathroom stall for fear of some unspecified retribution.
“…something seemed wrong. So I didn’t use it.”
“Something seemed wrong with the toilet?”
“So you didn’t use it?”
“So, what sort of service does it require?”
Again, I was stymied. What sort of service did it require?
“Um. someone should just come up and take a look at it.”
“Okay. I’ll just enter a ticket that you experienced a problem.”
“No, no, I didn’t experience it. I’m just aware of it.”
“Okay. So, you’re aware of a problem – an unknown problem – with the left-hand stall in the 35th floor men’s bathroom.”
The facilities operator hung up on me, presumably out of disgust.
I quickly scrawled a “do not use” note, attempting to disguise my distinctive handwriting (link) so that it would not seem as though i was responsible for the stall issue.
As I walked the note back to the bathroom, I began to wonder – maybe my blackmailer wasn’t really the actual blackmailer. Maybe I was called upon to resolve the stall issue not by an original blackmailer, but another victim of bathroom blackmail (much like Mr. Wadsworth leads everyone to believe in Clue). Perhaps the not-actually blackmailing, blackmailing, initiative-lacking, guilt- and/or fear- ridden, somewhat cryptic, disembodied voice of the bathroom stall was a sympathetic character who, after seating himself in the stall, heard a dreadful gurgling from the next stall and witnessed from under his door a pair of feet quickly fleeing the scene. Maybe his crypticism was only a function of his fear!
I checked back later in the day to see that, though my note was intact, someone had in fact tried to use the stall. And, without going into details, I can affirm that horror ensued. Or, did it? Maybe my blackmailer (or, more specifically, the original blackmailer, as I might have been on a second-tier blackmailer) had used the toilet specifically to enhance their blackmail of me, or even to pin the blame on me after I had left my incriminating “do not use” note – which I now dare not retreive lest my dress shoes be subjected to the horror that had ensued.
Moral: Don’t ever talk to anyone in the bathroom unless they’re at a sink.
Or, this could be the moral: Don’t take responsibility for something you didn’t do. Especially in a bathroom.
But, this is really the moral: The next time you ask me why I don’t post more often, be prepared to endure the insane ramblings produced by being stuck inside a high-rise for the entirety of the nicest day of the year so far. And by being blackmailed by a sympathetic, possibly not-actually blackmailing, blackmailing, initiative-lacking, guilt- and/or fear- ridden, somewhat cryptic, disembodied voice of a bathroom stall.
At some point in an early childhood filled with US history flashcards and learning math from Monopoly my mother realized that i was just as precociously intelligent as she had hoped i would be when she started those Better Baby Institute classes as a pregnant woman just barely having her quarter life crisis.
As much as this development affirmed her tireless educational exercises (starting with painting my room with the B.B.I.’s specified shapes and colors), it also meant she would have to redouble her efforts for the future in making sure she kept me on a strict schedule of constant didacticism. Her two-pronged assault on my four-year old world was a holistic one. By day i was enrolled in a Montessori school, and by night i was intended to begin my instruction on the violin.
This latter initiative turned out to be a spectacular failure. My mother, lacking in any prior musical experience in her entire extended family, just couldn’t grasp what was wrong. She brought me to the lessons in some nice woman’s comfortable living room. She made the violin available to me at the prescribed rehearsal times.
What she could not comprehend is that i had no relationship with this instrument i was supposed to be growing to love. Why a stringed instrument rather than a wind, or why not enroll me in a boy’s choir since i was hopelessly enamored with singing along to Jem tapes in the back seat on long car rides? I didn’t understand why this awful wooden box full of shrillness had been imposed upon me then, and i still don’t. I viewed my lessons as thinly veiled torture for some unknown crime, and at home i would scowl at the instrument tucked away in its case above the china closet.
(Why was it above the china closet? What harm could have come in letting me play around with it (as, i believe, is suggested by current pedagogical theory)? Maybe i might have liked it.)
I remember the whole violin experience as snapshots right up through my last lesson, which i remember in silent 8mm verité. We arrived in the instructor’s homey living room, and my mother informed the woman that i would no longer be studying violin, and she clucked in disappointment. What to do, then, with this last lesson? She was clucking, but i already knew the answer.
Her piano, upright, against the wall just through the arch into the next room. At every lesson i would stare over the see-sawing of my bow as it squeaked out nursery rhymes at the stately wooden bench and covered keys. On this occasion the keys were uncovered (from a prior lesson?), and as she spoke with my mother i wandered over to the piano. So, my last violin lesson was my first and only piano lesson. As the frames of the memory flicker and fade i can almost hear her words, “and this one is called ‘middle C’. Go on, you can play it.”
The piano subject was oft-pursued with my mother from that day forward, but she always held the party line that it was too expensive a thing to accomodate given the chance that i might just carelessly give up on it, the way i did the violin.
I could be imagining it, but i recall a sort of cruelness beneath this reasoning – as if she was upset at her first failure in the path to rendering me a perfectly rounded child and refused to accept that i had some alternate plan for myself.
(The first in a long line of our stubborn standoffs, which are best exemplified by the time in ninth grade when i locked myself in our car so i couldn’t be taken to get a haircut, as i wanted mine to grow long.)
Playing our new digital piano all day today produced a bittersweet satisfaction. Here, two decades later, and i finally have a full-sized keyboard in my own home. Aged twenty-four and i am playing the same “Mary Had a Little Lamb” exercises i once bowed on my lap on that violin, but finally on the instrument i’ve always coveted and prefered.
Sometimes i wonder: what if somehow my mother conjured up a piano for me to play when i was four years old? Would i have begun lessons and quickly given them up as being too tedious, just as i did for the violin (and, eventually, guitar)? Or, would i have been completey entranced by the instrument, as i was today? Would i have kept at it? Did i have some natural, predisposed love and talent for music that would have ben unlocked then, rather than in some diminished form a decade later when i received my first guitar? Could i have perhaps eventually becoming my own Rufus Wainwright or Tori Amos, effortlessly mingling classical conventions with catchy melodies?
I am upset about that possible lost potential, but that alternate reality is one of my many schrodinger’s cat pasts, equally full of a virtuosic me and one whose skills are simply dead in the box.
As much as i like to think the best of myself, maybe it’s better not to glimpse into that world. Better to just believe in what i want to do, and to learn it the best that i can.
In the subway they were all doppelgangers, or perhaps zombie invaders. Each one, be-suited or bedraggled per normal routine, but additionally distorted in a sort of post-holiday-euphoria crash. Not enough leftover cold turkey sandwiches and big ticket gifts to sustain the serotonin levels. Too many overzealous resolutions already dashed against the cold ground of winter.
I find myself subconsciously deferring to other people’s resolutions, as if by osmosis. (No, i will not eat that cookie if you won’t eat that cookie either.) Really, i think i am still too self-satisfied about keeping my 2004 resolution running to bother making any other ones.
In any event, i resolve things all the time. On one sleepless evening in seventh grade i resolved that starting the next day i would be incredibly attractive. So much so that i would be irresistible to all thirteen (and possibly fourteen) year old girls to cross my path. I attempted to plot my means of attracting them as i drifted off to sleep, but the next day i was the same, simple me.
I lose count of how many times in any given year i resolve to become more attractive, or more practiced, or more active – no need to artificially inflate the total so early on in the proceedings.
If only i could have fast-forwarded my frumpy seventh-grade clock forward a decade i would have realized that all that stood between me and the hearts of tweenagers everywhere were a few well-placed acoustic Kelly Clarkson cover songs.
I am ever so slightly turning into my aunt, who would leave the heat turned low on even the most frigid of days. It’s not about saving money (though, with the Philly gas price hike, it should be) so much as it is about human endurance.
I can endure my house at 57 degrees in a light jacket and jeans and stay quite comfortable. Is my quality of life going to rise commeasurately with the temperature if i eek it up a mere 10 degrees to 67? Or, if i plunge myself into debt to attain a summery 70 or 71? Will i have acheived a perfect state of bliss if i can wonder around in shorts, eating ice cream without threatening to shiver myself off of the sofa?
Today Elise’s step-sister came through Philadelphia with a college friend from Oregon. The two of them snatched me up on my street as i arrived home from work, before i could get my key in the door. We did a sort of remedial tour of Philadelphia landmarks under Broad street, which included a trip to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
I was hesitant to join them at first, being the jaded Philadelphia lifer that I am, but there was something special about being in those places so nearly empty – without the school kids that usually pack them full. Somehow it seemed more real to walk inside from the cold to these empty, echoing rooms wondering which of our founding fires got to sit the closest to the fireplace. Because, if the day was cold, the Continental Congress certainly would be – there’s not too much to those walls.
That thought sustained my negligence of our heater through the evening, but it hasn’t carried me through to fitful sleep. Our bedroom, an addition to the house, hangs precipitously over our back door, my side of the bed exposed to the bitter elements on five sides. Even at my most endurant iron-man moment my resolve to avoid using our heat evaporates upon entry into the bedroom – especially without Elise and her heating pad to huddle up against to osmose some warmth.
It is wooshing now, up from the basement and through snaking ducts, making its way into the frigid bedroom in a futile attempt to ward off the cold surrounding our bed from almost every side. Not futile because it won’t get warm, mind you, but futile because i am much more likely to fall asleep on the couch while watching a movie than to wait until the bedroom gets warm before going to sleep.
I’m sure Ben Franklin had much heavier pajamas than me, anyhow.