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Al Martinez

A toilet is a toilet no matter how you look at it. : One by One

March 17, 1988|Al Martinez

Everything we own is breaking down. It started with a blinking light in the dining room and progressed to the dishwasher, the microwave oven, a TV set, an upstairs toilet and the furnace. Also, until we had it fixed, the car wouldn't make right turns.

I would suspect spiritual intrusion, but it has all happened before, though not necessarily in that order. When something goes, everything goes.

It began, as I said, with the blinking light in a ceiling fixture of the dining room.

Blinking lights don't bother me as much as they seem to bother everyone else in the family, so when my wife suggested I do something about the light, I said sure, and turned it off.

"While dining by candlelight may be very romantic," she said, "it is obviously not a long-term solution to what is probably a short in the fixture."

I said, "All right, all right, I'll fix the damned thing," and was rummaging around for a ladder when I noticed that the dishwasher was making a funny noise. It clanked when it should have hummed.

"Here we go," she said, "another breakdown. It always happens in threes."

"Nonsense," I said, and was looking into the dishwasher when my son hollered from upstairs that the toilet was overflowing.

"Three," my wife said.

I don't mind messing with broken light fixtures and I don't mind tinkering with dishwashers, but Lord how I hate stopped-up toilets.

Unstopping them is my job for some reason, so I have developed a familiarity with toilets over the years, though that doesn't make the job any more desirable.

A toilet is a toilet no matter how you look at it.

I unplugged it by replacing a part in the back and plunging the front. Then I telephoned someone to repair the dishwasher, and then I sat down. The dining room light could blink until hell froze over; I was going to watch television.

Fat chance.

I was no sooner settled before our RCA Colortrak 2000 than it began jumping from station to station without anyone touching the controls, like the wild ambivalence of an astral critic.

I chose to ignore this, hoping it would somehow stabilize, but eventually the picture tore itself to pieces, leaving visual static on the screen in shades of gray. I sat staring at it in frustration.

My wife walked into the room and said, "Isn't that what we just had fixed?"

"Not four months ago," I said with a sigh.

"It's doing the same thing."


"But you're still going to sit there and watch the static?"

"You get used to it after awhile and begin to pick out a story line. It's like watching a movie of the week."

I was beginning to enjoy the plot when the screen went black.

"No. 4," she said.

"Anyhow, this blows your theory that things break down in threes."

"No it doesn't," she said. "It just means we have two more to go. They break down in groups of three. Like three, six, nine, twelve . . . "

Our daughter-in-law called from the kitchen. "The microwave isn't working!"

"Five," my wife said.

We decided that the microwave was old and needed replacing. Sears was having a sale, so we stopped by.

But the first salesman we talked to couldn't be bothered and the second one didn't know anything about microwaves, so we said to hell with Sears and bought a new microwave at Circuit City.

Back in the car my wife said, "That ought to lift the curse. It all stops at five." Then she said, "Didn't we pass this way before?"

"No," I said, "it just seems that way. It's an optical illusion."

"We did pass this way before, we're going in circles."

"No problem," I said. "It's just that . . . well . . . the car won't turn right without dying."

"No. 6!" she said triumphantly.

"It isn't broken," I said. "It can still go to the left. I'll just keep turning left in ever-widening circles until we get on a straight line toward the house."

"Didn't you just have the car fixed?" she asked.

"Not two months ago," I said. "In fact, I called the mechanic again this morning."

"What did he say?"

"He said try not to turn right."

"I think you need a new mechanic. I also think this qualifies as No. 6."

"All right," I said grudgingly.

"All right what?"

"All right to both the new mechanic and to No. 6. I just want it to end."

"I think we're safe," she assured me. "No one I know has ever gone to seven. It would be a record."

I finally managed, through a series of thoughtfully executed left turns, to reach home and was looking forward to a pleasant dinner under a blinking light followed by an evening of watching gray-tinted static on television.

But my son met us at the door in a heavy coat and said, "Guess what, the furnace isn't working."

"Don't say it," I warned my wife, though as I started down the hall toward the furnace I swear she whispered "Seven."

What the hell, at least it was a record.

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