My wife was in the kitchen the other day, where all good women ought to be, and suddenly called for help.
There are different degrees of distress cries in our house, ranging from "How about a hand out here, darling," to "My God, an eagle is carrying off the baby!"
I was lying on the couch watching the Anaheim Rams bumble their way to defeat when the shout for assistance came.
I listened for additional sounds from the kitchen to determine whether she was really in trouble or if this was only a ruse to get me off the couch.
"Damn it, Elmer, will you get in here!" she hollered.
She calls me Elmer only during times of high pique or impending disaster. The sobriquet derives from my tendency, even when sober, to slur my own name so that it comes out sounding like Elmer Teenez.
She knows that Elmer has a ringing quality to it, while Al is fired off quickly and forgotten.
I went into the kitchen and quickly established that water was seeping from a cabinet under the sink.
"Well, well," I said thoughtfully, and "um-hmm" and "I'll be tinkered."
"What is it?" she asked.
"First," I said, "are we storing containers of liquid scum under the sink?"
I was applying logic to the problem. Eliminate each possibility before determining specifically where the problem is.
"For instance," I explained to her, "if we are storing liquid scum under the sink it might have become . . . "
"There's no time for craziness," she said, "a pipe has broken!"
I was about to point out that hers was a rash emotional judgment, not a conclusion built on a pyramid of stable evidence, but she was in no mood for Aristotelian logic.
So I removed everything from under the sink and, sure enough, a pipe was broken. I bound it with duct tape and the leak stopped. I find there is almost nothing that can't be cured with duct tape.
"Not this time," she said. "I'm tired of halfway repair jobs. I'm calling a plumber."
"We'd have to take out a loan against the house to afford a plumber," I said. "I'll fix it myself later."
"Along with the falling-down mailbox, the flattened fence, the running toilet, the blinking hall lights, the stuck shower handle, the dripping faucet and the dead electrical fixtures in the living room and the utility room?"
"Put it on the list."
She looked me straight in the face and said, "Like hell I will."
Her attitude is probably justified because there has been a disturbing tendency lately for everything around the house to fall apart.
My wife's inclination is to have them fixed one by one, thereby keeping abreast of decay, while I, on the other hand, am willing to wait until the entire structure caves in and rebuild it from scratch.
Notwithstanding our differences, however, what is important here is the reason for the slow decomposition of the place.
"It's really odd," I said to her, "how everything seems to be going at once. The mailbox, the fence, the lights, the sink. . . . Even the goat is sick, and I'm not feeling too well myself."
"Please," she said, "I can take anything but a moaning husband."
"It's my eyes," I said. "I suddenly can't see too well."
"You've never seen too well."
"Well, it's gotten worse. Last night I think I brushed my teeth with Preparation H."
"If you'd wear your glasses you wouldn't have those problems."
"No man should have to wear glasses while brushing his teeth," I said.
"Then you're never likely to have oral hemorrhoids."
"The point is," I said, "there are forces at work here beyond our ability to understand. Like spectral sex and mass levitation."
"I don't buy the Twilight Zone theory. I'm betting a plumber will understand a leaking pipe."
"The last one didn't. He lay under the sink and talked to himself."
"He was a nice man and he wasn't talking to himself."
"Then," I asked, "who was he talking to? Answer me that. Who was under the sink with him?"
"Well . . . God."
"I rest my case."
There are times when I feel our house is haunted and other times when I feel that things just have a natural tendency to rot in Topanga, owing to a combination of factors that include elevation and moisture and maybe rats.
Every once in a while I hear them scurrying in the basement, but when I turn on the light, there's nothing there.
"It's like living in the Amityville house," I said. "I feel a presence. "
"You are about to feel several presences," my wife said. "A plumber, an electrician, a handyman and a veterinarian."
"What about my eyes?"
She smiled. "Say the word and I'll take you to a proctologist."
I went back into the living room, but it was too late. The Anaheim Rams had blown the game in overtime.
Then I heard a scurrying noise in the basement again.
It was a really weird day.