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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 32: "Six Toilets in a Row"

So where does one begin to take apart a building piece by piece? The roof? The floors? Top-down or bottom-up? Well, Dad decided to salvage the old schoolhouse from the inside-out: that is, leaving the roof and shell of the building in tact to keep people and the weather out as long as possible.

On our first Saturday of work, the outside of the building went untouched, but inside we removed all light fixtures (which proved to be of no future use or us); took the chalk boards from the wall without breaking the heavy sheets of slate (which proved to be of no future use to us). We removed all inside doors with their trim. And then the fun began.

With mallets and hammers we busted out the plaster interior walls between the vestibule and the bathrooms. It was the only way to make the rooms light enough to begin taking out the sinks and toilets. These fixtures were white with a small blue American Standard imprint and pitted chrome hardware, circa 1930's. There were two sinks and toilets in the boys bathroom and three sinks and four toilets in the girls bathroom.

Dave and I had never worked up close and personal with toilets before. Fortunately, it had been years since they had been used. They were dry as bones, but still... imagine the faces of two boys reaching with wrenches around, under, and inside of these old johns to unfasten them from the floors and wall.

“Just think of all the butts that sat here through the years,” Dave gasped, holding his breath and tugging on the lag bolts in the floor.

“I’d rather not think of that,” I said, removing the seat from the stool beside his. “I don’t know why Dad wants me to take these seats off. What are we going to do with six toilets.”

“It’s bad enough we’re keeping the toilets. I’m glad we’re chuckin’ the seats,” Dave said. “Besides, these kind of seats are never used in houses.”

I held the black U-shaped seat up as if seeing it for the first time.

“I never thought of that. So why are public seats open in the front like this?”

“It’s more sanitary. Think about it,” Dave paused as if considering further explanation, but I was suddenly grossed out. A shiver went from the fingers holding the seat all the way down my spine, and I tossed the big horseshoe across the room onto a pile of broken sheet rock.

“Everything all right in there?” Dad yelled from the ladder.

“Yeah, It’s fine,” I said. “We were just wondering what we’re going to do with all these toilets.”

“Well, I’ve got three bathrooms planned in the house. I don’t know if we’ll use those or not, but we've got to haul 'em off either way so load them into the van. I’m almost done here. I’ll come give you a hand with what’s left in there.”

By lunch time, the van was loaded with the six toilets, five sinks, and two drinking fountains. We all felt particularly dirty, but after washing up with water from our five gallon camping cooler, we were clean enough to scarf down a few sandwiches and get back to work.

By nightfall, all the ceiling tiles were down and the batting of dusty fiberglass insulation from the ceiling and walls was neatly piled in the corner. This stuff used to be called Rockwool. It does not contain asbestos, but it's prickly and our forearms itched for weeks. We did not have dust masks and didn't think to wear rags around our faces. In no time our nostrils were dark as a chimney sweep's and our handkerchiefs soon looked like small canvases of modern art in splatters of black snotty paint.

The worst part about that first day and all the days of salvage work to follow was that the Dad had long been in the habit of working until dark, but during the schoolhouse weeks, we worked 'til dark and then still had another hour of work in going to the property to unload that day's treasures into the barn.

That first Saturday we drove the old blue utility van Dad bought from his friend Virg Palmer. It had been a Michigan Bell truck and still had the yellow siren on top to prove it. (That’s the van there in the picture of my friend Bob Johnson riding on the tire swing from Chapter 30. Bob was the only guy I knew who had multiple pairs of white jeans.)

Dad drove the van and Dave usually got the passenger seat. I rode on the spare tire tossed in the back. But that first Saturday night, I sat not on the spare but on a wobbly toilet just behind the gap between the seats. When we got to the barn, we unloaded the toilets in a row against the inside north wall. It looked much like this picture--except our toilets weren't as clean and had no seats.

The toilets stayed in the barn like that for about a year. Mom insisted that her house was not going to have those old nasty things in it, and Dad eventually saw it her way, busted them up with a sledge hammer and dumped them at the land fill. There was one funny thing that happened with the toilets a couple weeks after we put them in the barn.

My friend Bob Johnson had come with me to work at the school one Saturday. (That's Bob riding the rope swing in the picture with the van above.) After a long day of pulling and de-nailing lumber, we had a load of boards to put in the barn late at night. Bob had been in the barn before but not since the six toilets arrived. When the lights came on and Bob saw all that porcelain, he laughed and asked the same question we had asked:

"Whoa! Mr. K. Why do you need all these toilets?"

"Well, Bob. Ya see," Dad paused for effect, "We plan to build a really sh*tty house." [except he didn't pronounce it with an asterisk] Then he laughed hard at his own joke. Bob was speechless.

Now I realize that many readers will find nothing wrong with my father's lame attempt at some bathroom humor. After all, Bob's question was a perfect set up for that line. But you have to understand that my Dad was our Sunday school teacher. He was chairman of the Deacon Board at church. Bob had known and worked with my Dad for years and never heard the slightest cuss word come from him. Dad's joke was so unexpected, so out-of-character...that Bob just stood there stammering, eyes wide. He couldn't even manage a courtesy chuckle. Dave and I would never have attempted such humor with Dad, but whenever he did, we typically snickered. This time, however, we just winced in the awkward silence.

Dad quickly stopped laughing and said straight-faced, "We don't know what we're going to do with all these toilets, Bob. We've got plenty to spare if you ever need one."

Only then did Bob come out of shock. "We're all set for toilets, Mr. K," he smiled.

It's a little anecdote that Bob and I never forgot. It is funny only in the odd and innocent context of the world we knew at that time. Perhaps it's a detail not worth sharing, except as a reminder that adults are sometimes put on pedestals, and pedestals are a risky stage for vaudeville. On the other hand, a life truly worth looking up to knows when to kick aside the pedestal and settle for a stool.


Blogger the walking man said...

Your dad knew the right time to take a bus away from serious to funny. I doubt it the first time Bob had ever heard the word so the humor was where he heard it from.

4/10/09 5:31 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You're right. Dave and I and all of our friends heard every word in the book every day at school (just as Dad had as a kid and in the Navy), but as you've no doubt surmised from getting to know me through POI, there was (and is) an emphasis on "ought to do" rather than "can do."

The lines that can or cannot be crossed vary from person to person (denomination to denomination), but there is always the risk of hypocrisy when one's faith is boilded down to "dos and don'ts". I know you know scripture as well as I do (haven't figured out why that's true yet) and you know that the Bible says "As a man thinks in his heart so is he," so merely eliminating certain words from coming out does not necessarily reflect the heart.

Faith is more about transformation than information, and Dad was very much transformed when he became a Christian in his thirties. Bob had only known that man. Hence the shock, which as you said is one of the most effective forms of humor.

Thanks for being a reader here, Mark. Have a good week, my friend.

4/10/09 8:34 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

I know what the book says Tom simply because my belief is that when I read; "...and God himself shall teach you..." I had faith enough to claim that as one of the abilities God gave man. Trust that what I was reading and hearing within my heart is truth.

I know so many, and have met even more, who use the same words found in the texts I have read, but they never seem to get to the rightly dividing thing correct because they glossed over the "God himself" sentence.

I do not believe in multiplying the words with opinion of men but rather simply accept them as what God had to say and in that acceptance have come to understand what God himself wished to teach.

I think I would have liked your Dad.

You have a good week as well brother.

5/10/09 8:05 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

While I have benefitted greatly by the teaching of others and some helpful examples, etc. I would agree (and those who have taught me would agree) that one of Jesus's goals was "cutting out the middle man." And I would agree that there have been many individuals and institution trying to put in "middle men" ever since.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 "...For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
Who gave himself a ransom for all

I have often thought that you would have liked my father and he would have enjoyed visiting with you. We have been having this conversation, you and I, for a few years. Hard to believe...

But I have often thought how much you would have enjoyed seeing the things and people I write about in real time. And knowing that you read here has helped me continue writing. So thank you, Mark.

5/10/09 11:20 PM  

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