Sh*t Happens

I think this should begin with one fact, my girlfriend and I are not shy when it comes to our bodily functions.  Although I know of couples who have never once passed gas in front of each other, our relationship was solidified in cross country road trips where extended stomach pain was unacceptable. Plus, everybody poops. That was why I had no hesitation in asking whether or not she was the cause of the unattractive smell coming from the basement.

“Nope, not me,” she replied.

“It smells like a sewer down here, worse than a porta-john, I know it was you”  I added.

This may have been an exaggeration due to the fact that any smell similar to that of a porta-potty, especially those found in outdoor concert venues, should merit more action than simply passing blame. I know better than that. I went back upstairs and let the situation pass, playfully ignoring her pleas of innocence.

My mother, after running downstairs to grab her suitcase for an upcoming trip, came back upstairs from the basement with an ashen look on her face.”The subpump blew again,” she said solemnly. Recent ghost viewer, best describes her appearance and tone.

For those of you unfamiliar with a subpump, allow me to explain.  Our home has a septic tank to handle our waste instead of city sewage. This works perfectly fine for the first and second floor of our home because the water flows from the toilets and down to the septic tank which is positioned in the back yard.  The basement bathroom, however, is below our septic tank and therefore the water needs to be pumped up from the bathroom; the water runs from the toilet, shower, and sink into a cement hole, and then is pumped up to the main tank.  When working properly, it is a marvel of modern plumbing allowing us to have a full bathroom in the basement of our home and a perfect spot for a covert bowel movement.

In our home, however, this system has been known to fail.  In The Great Subpump Disaster of 2013 Pt. 1, my girlfriend was coming home to meet my parents for the first time.  Being the young, smart, beautiful woman that she is, she was determined to keep her bathroom visits a mystery to my family; she therefore decided, in order to maintain her privacy and the secrecy of her bathroom habits, to use the basement john.  On day two of her visit when I was looking for my old gameboy (for no particular reason at all) in the back-room of our basement, I saw water, and a lot of it.  The subpump had failed allowing sewage to seep from the ditch and spread across the cement floor of our basement. It was no mystery to whom this excrement belonged, it was my girlfriends. We spent the day cleaning and after only a few tears and her ability to laugh about the predicament later I knew she was a keeper; She was going to stick around when the shit hit the fan, figuratively speaking of course.

Now back to our current predicament.

My mother’s shocked look, her defeated body language, and her yellow gloved hands led us to one disappointing conclusion, The Great Subpump Disaster of 2013 Pt. 2 had just begun.

With goggles covering our eyes, bandanas shielding our faces, and rain boots protecting our feet, we walked into the basement looking more like meth lab technicians than disaster clean up specialists.  We armed ourselves with cleaning supplies and once again stepped into the filth.  Part two’s victims were more welcomed than the previous ones; the incidences of my mother letting out a sigh of “such a shame” as she tossed some soiled heirloom into the garbage were far more seldom than the previous clean-up. Party cups were thrown away instead of paintings, thanksgiving turkey shaped serving bowls instead of middle school diplomas, and an old miniature felt horse was sacrificed rather than our luggage.  The entire clean up only lasted a few hours and we celebrated (after cleaning ourselves up) with ham and cheese paninis, an odd tradition carried over from the first disaster.

When we were finished I looked to my girlfriend standing in the kitchen and said jokingly, “I know that was your poo-poo.” She gave me a quick jab in the arm and scrunched her face up while letting out a cute growl.  We have never been shy when it comes to our bodily functions.

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Manual Labor

Manual labor is a complicated issue in my life.

When our family installed a pool in our home, I was 14 years old and was fascinated by the whole process.  Following around members of the pool team, the cement pourers, and the landscapers, I felt as though I was part of an efficient machine, focused on building something tangible.  I was the overzealous kid running to get shovels, or water, or smooth out some freshly poured cement.  The workers didn’t mind, I was more of less free labor after all. Thinking back on that time, more than anything, I was eager to be a part of something.

Those same feelings of belonging and purposeful work moved me to apply for a job working for the landscaping company that completed our pool installation two summers later.  I felt as though I would find satisfaction in the work and would feel the same accomplished feeling I had felt before. Things, however, were very different.

Digging drainage ditches, building boulder walls, and mulching strip mall garden beds was not quite what I had remembered two years prior.  I was the low man on the totem pole, frequently asked to do some of the heavier lifting despite my low muscle tone and poor coordination. Perhaps it was entertaining for the guy sitting in the tractor asking me to “load a few more boulders” into the shovel of the machine.  I think it probably was of the slapstick comedy genre with a  touch or suspense.

Although the work was strenuous, every morning I arrived at a site eager to start work and every night I left feeling satisfied at what we had accomplished.  Some sort of perpetual amnesia caused me to continue waking up and feeling excited for the day, like a dog in the car on the way to the vet.  However, this all wore off after three weeks. The shovel got heavier, my work socks felt itchy, my skin was burnt and blistered.  The nostalgia I had for manual labor had vanished and I decided to throw in the metaphorical towel.

It has been seven years since my time working as a landscaper.  When my father asked me this weekend to come home and help do some mulching and digging in the backyard I jumped at the opportunity.  I once again recalled the satisfaction in a job well done, the physical benefits of doing heavy lifting, and even the fleeting possibility of  getting some sort of a tan (this is a stretch). “I love this kind of work, always have,” I said to my father as I picked up the pitch fork and walked towards the five foot-high pile of mulch.

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Fourth of July

I have come a long way in my appreciation of the Fourth of July.

Growing up in Barrington, Rhode Island, Independence Day celebrations were what Janis Joplin would describe as “of great social and political import.” Rhode Island, after all, was the first of the thirteen colonies to declare Independence on May 4, 1776. Therefore in the independence department, we always considered ourselves fairly avant garde.  I have pictures of myself waving a miniature flag at the Bristol Fourth of July Parade, the Nation’s oldest where road lane markers are painted red, white, and blue for the entire year; we knew Independence Day. I always felt as though I was a part of something truly historic.

Then I moved in Michigan.

Michigan is a little bit different. The state joined the Union in 1837 (61 years after Rhode Island), there are no roads paved red, white, and blue, and the state was first settled (not colonized) by the French instead of the British. But that should not be held against Michigan. Standing on the parade route some 20 years and 800 miles away from Bristol, Rhode Island in Port Austin, Michigan, farm equipment, not military vehicles drive down main street; cartons of milk, not salt water taffy are thrown from the floats; and the Sugar Beet Queen, not Miss Rhode Island close the parade procession. It is not better or worse, it is just different.

That, however, does not make the experience any less patriotic.  Sitting in a foldable chair in Port Austin I realize that our Independence Day celebration does not have to be traditional to carry the same “social and political import.”  Being American is about feeling the thunder produced by a 10 ton piece of farming equipment, catching a small carton of chocolate milk in your eye, and trying to catch a glimpse of the Sugar Beet Queen with the other good one. I have come a long way.

Happy Fourth of July.

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Waking Up

Waking up, I have come to learn, is hard.

I am reminded of this each morning when I wake up to my girlfriends alarm, the “Bell Tower” sound on the iPhone, and  squint my right eye to check the time on my own. Sometimes she wakes up at 6:30 in the morning, but she does not have a choice in this regard.

She has become somewhat of a morning person due to a summer internship, much to my dismay. I prefer the late night T.V. watching, bourbon drinking, music listening shenanigans as an alternative to rising faster than the sun. However, like her, I do not have much of a choice. What choice I do have, is how I manage my new morning time.  I usually lie in bed for 20 minutes as she prepares for work, trying to gain my seemingly forgotten bearings. I kiss her before she leaves, wish her a great day, and think about getting out of bed.

Before you start to think I am a bad boyfriend, abandoning my love in a time of great emotional and physical upheaval remain in a bedridden semi-conscious state, hear me out.

My morning 20 minute bed-rest has two important purposes.  The first is to benefit my girlfriend. I feel as though every person is entitled to a few moments alone in the bathroom.  Brushing your teeth, peeing, showering, whatever it may be, those few minutes are a sacred time to prepare your body physically for the coming day. Just like stage performers have time in their dressing rooms, us commoners should be entitled to the same period in the john.

Second, the first twenty minutes of my day need to be relatively silent.  Waking up from sleep, for me, is like waking up from a coma. I sleep heavily; I sleep passionately; I sleep deeper than your favorite cliché regarding deep sleep. As a result, waking up is like being born.  I cry, cough, and normally have to be hit in the back upside down a few times to remember how to breath. If I were to foolishly rise from this deep slumber and place two feet on the floor immediately after hearing an alarm, there would be no telling what horrors may ensue. These 20 minutes are for everyone’s safety.

So I wait, patiently, for my mind and body to become one again.  After 20 minutes, I elevate my partially coordinated form and drag myself to the bathroom. Waking up is hard, I think to myself.

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Welcome

Dear Reader,

Let’s start with one thing: welcome blog posts are boring. It is an obligatory, long, painful performance put on by the author to court a suitable audience; I imagine myself dancing around center-stage, laptop in one hand, furiously typing with the other in a large auditorium filled with hipsters, grandmas and kids from my old high school. My imagination precedes me. What is often lost, however, is the idea that this post is not about me creating an audience, it’s about connecting with an already existing one. I highly doubt that my own aspirations, interests, dreams, and opinions are uniquely my own, they are a  collective. My hope is that through this blog I may connect us like-minded people together.

Of course, there is an ulterior motive. I started this blog because I want to get in the habit of writing everyday, not so much in order to share my life, but instead to become a habitual writer.  I have found that writing has provided an escape from the scientific, pre-medical community I find myself trapped in and allows me to effectively explore aspects of my own life I find mysterious. In doing this explorative writing, I hope to become a better writer.

How will I accomplish this? By writing through three (to start) mediums.

One, a daily blog.  If something interesting is happening during the day, you will hear about it.  If I find my mind fixated on a current event, you will hear about it.  If a bird poops on my arm during lunch with a friend (which happened today), you will hear about it.  See what I mean? This daily blog will be the main bulk of my writing.

Two, selected essays.  Some topics are far too complex to be covered in a single blog.  They require research, outside opinions, and numerous drafts. These may involve personal narratives, opinion pieces, medical research, historical findings, anything.  However, they should all fall into the broad genre of Creative Nonfiction.

Third, short stories.  This is where I move outside my comfort zone.  I have never written short stories before, nor have I written a work of fiction of any length for that matter.  I think the closest I have come to calling myself a writer of fiction was in the third grade when I wrote 3-pages of dialogue between myself and Jim Carrey, set in a submarine (I got a bad grade and the teacher said the conversation lacked content). My ambitious goal is to move beyond this early failure and write one short story a week.  This goal is inspired by Ray Bradbury’s advice to “write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.”  Well, we will keep our fingers crossed.  

I want to thank you for embarking on this journey with me.  I am truly excited about the opportunity to connect with you.

Faithfully yours,

Jer

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