Monday, April 23, 2007

Talking Shit About Modern Life

(A pungent meditation by Simon)

OK, I'm going to share now. About home ownership, modern existence and how both really stink sometimes. I believe it will shed some light on a dark and fearful corner of the Jewish-American psyche. But if it doesn't, at least I'll get to vent. That's gotta be a good thing, right?

So the lovely Julia and I are blessed (you know, in the secular, "I'm not religious but I'm also not a jerk" kind of way) to live in a beautiful home that sits on a glorious hilltop — but that also sits below street level. I won't get into the topography of the neighborhood except to say that our driveway is mighty steep and the shlepping of garbage cans up to the road each week is a hamstring-stretching delight.

Another consequence of our house's placement is that rather than being connected directly to the main sewer line, we have a sewage ejector. That's a pump that shoots our black-water waste alllllllll the way up the hamstring-torturing driveway to the happy shitline shared by all the neighboring primates.

For three-and-a-half-years, this system worked like a charm.

Ah, yes. I can hear your moans of compassion from here. But before we get into the icky ordeal that followed, a quick observation about modern life.

I would hazard the assertion that Jews like myself are particularly prone to the far extremes of squeamishly contemporary fussiness. Though it's handily shoehorned into the category of neurosis, I believe our sensitive faculties also bespeak a certain awareness that we are fugitives from the fearsome dirt of the shtetl.

Our ancestors lived in a horrible, filthy foulness and called it normal. The odors to which their noble noses became accustomed would cause us to retch continuously and beg for sedation. Let us say, they owned their stank. Not so we lily-livered, deodorized, groomed and exfoliated modernites; our unsustainable, globe-warming lifestyle has allowed a great many of us to push the acrid smells of our own biology off to the far margins.

But if any part of our laughably dandyish existence is to be praised as a miracle, I think, it would have to be the fabulous and deceptively humble advent of indoor plumbing.

Not only because it ushers our jobbies out of sight with the aplomb of a loyal valet, but because it functions with such heroic consistency even as we take it utterly for granted.

But sometimes the loyal valet falls ill and takes to his bed. Perhaps he dies outright in the midst of his daily chores. And then, oh, the wailing and lamentation!

So let us say that the failure of our sewage ejector evoked in me an unbidden panic. In typically undramatic fashion, it simply stopped working, and the pit in which it resides began to fill with a rank liquor that I noticed only because I happened to open the bathroom window and inhaled a septic breeze.

We called a rooter company, which charged us a hefty fee to stop by and say there was nothing they could do because they didn't work on sewage ejectors. (Nice of them to mention that on the phone; I plan to drop by the owner-operator's home around dinner time some evening and demand 80 clams for not working on his Web site.) A brace of phone calls to what seemed like every vendor in the L.A. area led to a scary pu-pu platter of possibilities. These included:

  1. Paying thousands of dollars.
  2. Having to sit with our septic stew for an entire weekend if it rained.
  3. Going without our ejector for days while it went to the pump hospital and had its boo-boo checked.
  4. All of the above.

As this mini-drama unfolded — and mind you, I realize this is an everyday homeowning inconvenience and doesn't hold an electric candle to the daily agonies suffered by most earthlings — I was covered with a semi-permanent layer of cold sweat. I became, in fact, a freakin' baby, whining and hurling imprecations and just about throwing myself on the floor for a good, old-fashioned, wah-wah tantrum.

Julia, on the other hand, was philosophical and good-humored about the matter. Why?

I guess because for me, the failure of the sewage ejector was a kind of metaphor for the apocalypse that looms in my psyche — the day that will come when modern life just breaks down and we must descend, like our pestiferous forebears, into the primal muck once more.

I believed, on some level, that our bubbling menace would not stay confined in its pit but would surge back whence it came, shooting out of toilets, shower drains and sinks like the brown geyser of fate itself, besmirching our lovely, comparatively antisceptic refuge with the intractable gunk we moderns had labored so mightily to banish. That our house would be ruined, that our lives would be ruined, and that this was merely the overture to the Wagnerian opera of envirnomental collapse we'd been promised since we made the first pinpricks in the ozone layer.

I felt we would have to go native and forage for walnuts in the despoiled wilderness of Northeast L.A. while the infrastructure of civility corroded around us.

Wah, wah, wah.

We went away and stayed with friends in sparkling, sunny, dazzlingly clean Orange County for part of the weekend, far from the dark pool of yuck, and this morning the nice septic-service people showed up with the tanker truck, cheerfully sucked it all out in, like, five minutes, and requested their (rather reasonable) fee. Then the pump-repair guy came right over and got to work replacing our ravaged mechanism (pricey, but not outrageous).

The world had not yet gone to pieces. We picked up the phone, the people came, paper money still functioned as currency, and a new valet stood ready to attend to us.

And I will never flush again without a shudder of gratitude.

Thanks to Jo for the awesome baby skunk photo.

1 comment:

My Foot's Asleep said...

I think the combination of the subject matter with the pictures - completely brilliant.