Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Burrito

            This story is not about a real burrito.

            I used to work in a school with Autistic kids and it changed my life.  I began to see my similarities with them, and the line between crazy and sane faded away.  We differed only in grades.  Some of these kids just had characteristics that were more exaggerated than mine.  Say a kid really like to repeat verbatim an entire Sesame Street skit.  That might seem weird if you are sitting next to a stranger on the bus, but we relate shows and events we enjoyed to our friends all the time.  I once spent a first date describing the entire final episode of Quantum Leap.  We’re getting married.
Or a kid might be so worried he is going to get in trouble on a field trip that he sabotages himself by yelling and licking the windows of the bus.  Sure he gets in trouble, but the waiting and wondering is over.  He has taken control.  Many of us are anxious about the unknown, and have strange ways of taking from the ether.  I used to get really anxious about what I was going to order in a restaurant.  There’s just too many choices.  Now I’m a vegetarian, and that cuts out a lot of options.  But now there are more and more good vegetarian options, and I’m starting to get worried again.  Maybe I should cut out dairy.
Most teachers are female, and though this made for a lot of cute coworkers, there were also a few strange gender roles that formed.  It seemed that I was the only one that could move heavy desks.  This isn’t so surprising, and I helped as much as I could.  But why was I so much more adept at plunging the toilet than my coworkers?  Where did I learn to work the wooden handle, to listen to the building’s old pipes, to do quick little pumps, super slow deep ones, to almost always get the desired effect.  I was the king of plunging toilets.  It was my thing.  It got to the point that whenever I heard someone saying they were about to call a plumber I stopped what I was doing, wagged a finger, said “wait a minute” and grabbed the plunger.  Then I ran back and made sure someone was watching my kid.  Anyway, nine times out of ten I swaggered back to the front desk, hitting my hands against each other as if they were dusty. 
“Cancel the plumber.”
“I didn’t call yet.”
“Problem solved.”  Then I’d amble back to the bathroom and look at the murky water all over the tile that had spilled when the toilet was first clogged.  Before I was called in to solve the problem.  Why should this part fall to me as well?  I was a professional, not a custodian.  Now I don’t mean professional as in teacher, I mean a skilled laborer in the art of plunging.  Get that damn teacher who works with the little kids to mop this up!
When the Executive Director left the school she gave me a signed plunger as a parting gift.  Clearly I’m not making this up.  I was respected, at the highest level of authority, for my work.
But then one day it all changed.  It began uneventfully as usual, when I heard that the upstairs toilet was clogged.
“Did you try plunging it?” I asked Terri, not caring what her answer was and already planning my strategy.
“It didn’t do anything.  Eddie was in there…”
I held up my hands.  “It’s all right.  That’s all I need to know.”
I headed upstairs, thinking on the finicky toilet.  I used to work in a classroom right next to it, so I knew all about the chain that kept breaking and the low water flow.  You had to know these things to be The King of Plumbing and The Problem Solver.  I was considering checking the chain first, to make sure that wasn’t the problem, but as I entered the bathroom a rotten stench, like rotting flesh met my nose.  I closed the door because I like privacy when plunging, especially when it’s a doozy.  I walked up to the porcelain bowl.  As if to increase the suspense the lid was down.  God the smell was bad.  I was actually beginning to get a little nervous.  Not “oh no there are three kinds of grilled-cheese-sandwiches nervous, but my 1000% confidence was ebbing.
I reached forward slowly and flipped up the lid.  There, filling up almost the entire bowl, was a burrito-sized turd.  Not a small mall sized burrito, but a large thick taqueria burrito.  Turd isn’t even the right word.  Turd sounds small, like a baby bird or a stick.  This was a forearm.  No, it was more like a Tump, or a doop.
It was light brown and seemed soft and flakey like old wood.  Maybe the water was slowly disengaging the outside layer, but if I waited it out this would probably take weeks.  The top third of the tump was above water, so great was it’s bulk.  It was like an iceberg.’
“Assberg” I murmured to myself but didn’t chuckle.
After staring in awe I finally was ready to act.  I pushed the plunger toward the hole, pushed a few times and flushed.  The doop was unscathed and simply shook a bit, like a tired snake.  Or a snake laughing at me.  It didn’t even spin, it was so big.  It just shivered a little.
I plunged a few more time but I could tell that flushing then would be no more successful than the first time.  I set the plunger on the tile, stood up straight and took a step back to think.  Okay, time to solve this problem.  The thing is too big to go down, and too strong to break up.  But this crap needs to be broken up into, oh, maybe quesadilla sized pieces, but how was I to do that?  I could reach in and break it apart?  The thought mixed with the smell made me gag.  I imagined it’s slimy texture between my fingers.
I needed some tool that would do more than simply push, but would break it.  I looked at the handle of the plunger.  Okay, lets slow down.  Before I do something I regret, maybe I can still use the plunger the traditional way.  Sort of.
I grabbed the handle of the plunger and began to hammer like John Henry.  I hit it lightly but forcefully, I didn’t want to splash all over.  I focused on its middle and kept chopping until it started to break up into pieces.  I flushed.  It didn’t all go down, but a bunch of it did.  Three of four flushes later and it was gone.  It was over so fast I couldn’t believe it.  I put the plunger back in the corner and washed my hands.  I opened the window and looked outside at the trees swaying in the wind.  I felt alone with the memory.  I didn’t go downstairs to gloat.  I couldn’t imagine speaking after something like that.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Echo Part 2: Science Class

Part 1: Talking To Strangers is my previous post.  Thanks!

            Sally, lost in her thoughts, walked down the hall toward her class.
            “Hey Sally, nice dress.  Was the Goodwill having a sale?”  A few snickers accompanied the usual lame joke that, because it was mean seemed to be clever.  Sally ignored them and walked a little faster.  She tried to angle her head forward and will herself to be in her classroom.  Her legs felt like they would stumble any moment.  Unfortunately, a few lockers away from room 102, her backpack was shoved off her shoulder, and Candace blocked her path.  Candace was as big and strong as any boy in school and her breath smelled like pickles.
            “Hi Candace!”  Sally said as brightly as she could.  Candace squinted her eyes at such obvious fakery.  Sally imagined Alec crashing through a window, doing a shoulder role, and coming up with a kick to Candace’s belly that would send her straight through the wall.
            “Hi Smelly!”  Candace’s pickled words swept over Sally’s face.  She tired not to roll her eyes.
            “I need to get to class.”
            “You need to get out of my face.”
            “Well, actually…”
            “I know what you’re gonna say, but I don’t care.”  She then gave Sally her mean face, which was pretty scary.  Finally, Sally backed up and walked around her to get to her class, her backpack hanging from her elbow.  She took her seat near the row of windows where she could spend the class gazing at the silver dollar eucalyptus trees and doodling.  She found that she could get by in school if she either did the assigned reading or paid attention in class.  When her name was called, as it sometimes was, she did her best to piece together what was being asked of her.
            For long stretches she found herself watching the wind shiver the leaves.  When she looked down at her notebook, she found a series of concentric circles filling the page.
            “Anyone else have any thoughts on this?  Sally?”
            Sally looked up quickly from her desk as all eyes turned to her.  She quickly turned her eyes toward the board as her inner focused illuminated last night’s reading.  Science.  Physics.  Atoms.  She sees a drawing on the board of two arrows pointing towards each other’s points.
            “I think it’s weird that nothing really touches,” She said after a moment.
            Ms. Gleico nodded.  “It doesn’t feel like that does it?  Everyone, pay attention to things you are touching right now.  The clothes on your body, the desk and floor under you, your arms on the desk.  Or head touching desk.  Billy!  Sit up!  It’s hard to believe but what you are feeling is electromagnetic force.  Your hand atoms and the table atoms never touch.  They are repelled by each other.  They get close, but, like two magnets don’t actually touch.”
            “So,” Candace began, if I throw a pencil, at, say Sally, it won’t really bounce off of her head?”  Snickers scattered around the room.
            “That correct Candace, but you really will have detention.”  Ooooo’s and laughs filled the room.  Sally raised her hand.
            “Sally, I don’t want this to continue.”
            “No, Ms. Gleico, I was thinking about what you said about atoms.
            “Oh, okay, go ahead.”
            “If my hand atoms aren’t really touching the table atoms, does that also mean one hand atoms isn’t touching another one.”
            “No one atom can touch another.  Well, that’s not exactly true, but basically yes.”
            “So what makes me, me?  If the parts of my body aren’t rally touching?
            “That’s a great question, Sally, and I think we would need to look at what you mean when you say ‘me’ or ‘touch.’
            “Well, Ms. Gleico, this should make Candace feel really good.  It’s not just her brain that’s not really there, but everyone’s.”
            “Oh my god!”  Candace squealed.  “Did you hear that Ms. Gleico?”
            “I did Candace, since she was talking to me.  All right ladies, let’s call it a draw and get back to talking about schoolwork if you don’t mind.”
            Just after Ms. Gleico turned to write on the board, Sally felt a small wooden object bounce off the back of her head.  She smiled and whispered, “that didn’t really happen.”