“Don’t Flush”

The healthy days: a little mishap at a Manhattan apartment …

When I’m on vacation, I eat like a camel. There’s a lot of gorging and then sitting around for hours before the next feasting takes place. Pizza, sandwiches, and pastry, whatever I can get my hands on. It’s primitive man at his best with little concern for the consequences.

The only caveat to my ritual, that I can recall, took place on a two-day Big Apple trip, a la pre-Christmas season 2007, where the concept of mobility for the sake of enjoying crowd-pleasing tourist sites reigned supreme. There had to be movement in order to experience the holiday magic that is New York City during this most festive time of year.

Now, I’m normally reluctant to crash at a stranger’s house unless the occasion leaves me with no wiggle room for sleeping accommodations. In this case, a required overnight stay at any place other than the exorbitantly priced Manhattan hotels would certainly have to fit the bill. Besides, there’s always a need to preserve one’s loose change for eight-dollar sausages and arbitrary purchases at batty street vendor stands.

Enter my wife’s affable colleague in the big city office building with a generous offer to rest our out-of-town derrieres in her cozy apartment for the night, and we had ourselves a NYC trip in the making. Indeed, we also had our long-awaited line-up card ready: Wall Street, Ground Zero, The Battery Park Esplanade, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Central Park, and the 7pm Seventy Fifth Anniversary of the Christmas Spectacular show at Radio City Music Hall.

We ultimately hit all of our spots with vehemence on that brisk sunny day that chapped my face so much so that a Vaseline shower would’ve served only as a soothing warm-up activity. It was a splendid time, a fine day spent trotting the streets and inhaling the city’s holiday ardor, with constant breaks so I could shovel vast quantities of food into my mouth. And the weather was a pleasing companion to my wife’s new digital camera that made its click on every corner.

But there’s always a price to pay for too much indulgence. It’s that certain cumulative effect in which the final result is always the same: a reflective moment on the commode at either the end of the day or the following morning. For me, it was right as I awoke at about nine in the morning in that stuffy studio apartment on West 72nd Street, where I could be found tiptoeing on a cold, creaky hardwood floor so as to avoid any obnoxious noises that might awake my sleeping beauty. Had I known my discreet shuffle to the crapper wouldn’t have mattered, however, I would’ve stomped like an elephant while scratching my ass and singing a popular Frank Sinatra tune ... I quickly and quietly shut the old, white, cracked bathroom door and began my business. No big surprises. Or so I thought.

It’s always the flush you hesitate on. The bowl was plugged with too much toilet paper, and there was no plunger in sight. By this time, my partner was already prancing around the apartment like a bushy-tailed squirrel. I don’t even recall how I specifically summoned her into the bathroom, but what I do remember is jamming my hand in the toilet in an effort to clear the obstruction.

One full round of greased up toilet paper and I still wasn’t sure whether the coast was clear. “Should I flush it?” I asked with a crackle in my voice.

“Um … sure,” said my wife.

It was like one of those slow motion climactic sequences in the movies. Toilet flushes. Two sets of eyes watch the water spiral down the toilet bowl … water then shoots right back up and starts to rise to a high level … it gets higher and higher, and higher and higher … it’s at the top now … water then starts to rapidly flow over the toilet bowl and onto the floor. Whoosh.

“Oh no. it won’t stop,” she screamed.

“Holy crap,” I screamed back. We grabbed the nearest bath towels and dropped them on the floor, making frantic attempts to soak up the never-ending flow of shit water.

“Whaddidya do!”

“Just get the goddamn towels, will ya!”

Several minutes passed and the overflowing toilet catastrophe was only in its infancy. Neither of us could stop the pain. In a complete state of panic, we reached for even more towels and threw them down on the floor. “Now where was that plunger?” There wasn’t one, anywhere. I quickly reached for the water valve shut-off at the back of the toilet and turned it clockwise as hard and fast as I could. This provided some relief, but the water was still running, and the pipe started shooting off water in multiple directions. I straddled the toilet bowl, my feet making a splash in the virtual cesspool on the floor. Like a crack head anxiously awaiting the touch of his crack pipe, I clasped the toilet head and removed its top. Then I reached inside and pulled the flushing device forward.

“Here, hold this up,” I said to my wife. She came in for the rescue with her left hand while simultaneously pushing the pile of drenched towels back and forth on floor with her right. “All right, I’m gonna go get some help now,” I said. I dashed out of the apartment and down the hall to the nearest neighbor. I gave a fierce knock at the door. No answer. Same thing at the next door. No answer. And down the line I went. No one answered. It was nine-thirty on a Saturday morning for cripes sake. Apparently nobody wanted to help a panic-stricken, fowl-smelling stranger in desperate need due to an untimely toilet bowl uprising.

Next, I practically jumped down a flight of stairs and landed on the heels of my feet while shouting “h-e-l-l-o.” I ran over to an apparent maintenance room door in the lobby and began pounding on it with my fist. No answer. I stumbled upon a young woman with surgical gloves standing in the middle of the hallway. “Hi, excuse me. I’m having a bit of a problem with the … toilet … in the apartment. There’s … uhh …water everywhere. Do you have a plunger I can borrow?”

“Hold on. Let me check,” she said. The woman ran around the corner into a dental office and came back with a set of keys. “I think we have one in here. Did you try Larry the maintenance guy?”

“Uhh, no,” I said. She opened a nearby closet door and within a minute turned around and handed me the happiest plunger I had ever seen. “Thanks, I’ll bring it right back,” I said.

Things finally started to calm down once I plunged the toilet to its death, and even though we still had the disgusting water on the floor situation, we didn’t have to act as human plugs anymore, although we still needed to find Larry the mystery maintenance man.

“I’ll be right back, babe,” I said. This time, I scoured up and down all eight floors and then resumed knocking on the maintenance door in the lobby. I spotted a half-dead elderly woman with a walker making her way toward the elevator. “Do you know where Larry the maintenance guy is?” I asked.

“Barry … Danny … Gary … Bobby,” she babbled as I continually asked for Larry. I was on the verge of going clinically insane after making numerous attempts to learn of Larry’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, the old woman and I were on two different planets, so I abandoned my impromptu interrogation and ran back up the stairs. I even went next door and asked the Asian man at the dry cleaner’s if he knew where to find Larry. The man was nowhere to be found.

So I dashed back to the apartment and lent some aid to my wife, who could be seen dunking an empty water bottle in the toilet. She looked like a pro the way she submerged the empty bottle in the toilet water, coming up seconds later with a full bottle. I watched in amazement. After delegating for a few minutes, I left again for one last attempt to locate Larry. And just as I approached the maintenance door, a man came walking out. “Are you Larry?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, with a stoner’s look. I started to wonder if he’d been in there the entire time getting high off various cleaning solutions. But that didn’t seem to matter, because next to the young lady with the surgical gloves and the sacred plunger, Larry’s was a hero. He saved the day by making the toilet work just as horribly as it had in the first place. My wife and I graciously thanked him as he stood there watching us mop up the mess on the floor. We had some more work to do, for sure, and we weren’t givin’ up on each other. After all, we had another day in New York City ahead of us.

Later on that morning, we met my wife’s colleague and her boyfriend for brunch at a French bakery in the Time Warner Center. She asked us how we’d slept and if everything had been okay for us in her apartment. We played it cool and said that everything was great. But then, right about the time the check arrived, my wife came clean. Needless to say, her colleague was confounded upon hearing the news.

“Is there shit all over the walls?” she asked. We assured her that everything was fine and that we’d only dirtied a few bath towels. Ironically, she wasn’t at all impaired by our little mishap. In fact, she even extended us the invite back for a future stay, which made me wonder if she drank whiskey shots first thing in the morning.

A couple of days later, I thought long and hard about what happened the morning that everything went to shit in that Manhattan apartment. I kept asking myself, what’s the lesson? Well, this is what I came up with: Don’t flush. If you’re staying over at someone’s place unsupervised, don’t flush. Don’t ever flush. Plain and simple. Just don’t do it.

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