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. (There’s always a need to preserve one’s loose change for eight-dollar sausages and arbitrary purchases at batty street vendor stands.) Enter the 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 7 p.m. 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 mouth; and the weather was a pleasing companion to my girlfriend’s new digital camera, which made its click on every corner.
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. Alas, it was a little more than usual, but 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 wasn’t even a friendly plunger to call on, either.
By this time, my partner was 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 wasn't quite sure whether the coast was clear.
“Should I flush it?” I asked with a nervous crackle in my voice.
"Um … sure,” said Kathleen.
It was like one of those slow motion climactic action 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 … water slowly gets higher and higher, and higher and higher, and higher and higher … it’s at the top now ... water starts rapidly flowing over the toilet bowl and onto the floor. Wooosh.
“Oh no. It won’t stop,” she screams.
“Holy crap,” I scream back. We grab the nearest bath towels and drop them on the floor, making frantic attempts to soak up the never-ending flow of shit water.
“Just get the goddamn towels, will ya,” I yell.
Several minutes pass and the overflowing toilet catastrophe is only in its infancy. Neither of us could stop the pain. Now in a complete state of panic, we reach for even more towels and throw them down on the floor.
“Where’s the plunger?” There wasn’t one. I quickly reach for the water valve shut-off at the back of the toilet and turn it clockwise as hard and fast as I can. This provides some relief, but the water is still running, and the pipe starts shooting off water in multiple directions. I straddle the toilet bowl, my feet making a big splash in the virtual cesspool on the floor. Like a crack head anxiously awaiting the touch of his crack pipe, I clasp the toilet head and remove its top. Then I reach inside and pull the flushing device forward.
“Here, hold this up,” I say to Kathleen. She comes in for the rescue with her left hand while simultaneously pushing the pile of drenched towels back and forth on the floor with her right. Phew.
“Alright. I’m gonna go get some help now,” I say to her. I dash out of the apartment and down the hall to the nearest neighbor. I give a fierce knock at the door. No answer. Same thing at the next door. No answer. And down the line I go. No one answers. It was nine-thirty on a Saturday morning for cripes sake. Apparently nobody answers their door for a panic-stricken, fowl smelling stranger in desperate need of help due to an untimely toilet bowl rebellion.
Next, I practically jump down a flight of stairs and land on the heels of my feet while shouting “h-e-l-l-o.” I run over to an apparent maintenance room located directly next to the lobby elevator and start pounding on it with my fist. No answer. I stumble upon a young woman with surgical gloves who ia 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 says. The woman runs around the corner into a dental office and comes back with a set of keys.
“I think we have one in here. Did you try Larry the maintenance guy?” she asks.
“Uhh … no,” I say. She then opens a nearby closet door and within a minute turns around and hands me the happiest plunger I have ever seen.
“Thanks, I’ll bring it right back,” I say.
Things finally start to calm down after I plunge the toilet to its death. And even though we still have the disgusting water on the floor situation, we don'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 informed my girlfriend. This time, I scoured up and down all eight floors and then continued 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.
I dashed back to the apartment and lent some aid to my girlfriend, 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 could only watch in amazement. After delegating for a few minutes, I left again for one last attempt to locate Larry. And just as I was approaching 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 anyway—despite the fact that he continued to grill me with questions after I gave him every last detail of the fiasco—because next to the young lady with the surgical gloves and the sacred plunger, Larry was a damn hero. He saved the day by making the toilet work just as horribly as it had in the first place. My girlfriend 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. But we were not 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 girlfriend’s colleague and her boyfriend for brunch at a French bakery in the Time Warner Center. She asked us how we slept and if everything was okay for us in her apartment. We played it cool and told her everything was great. But then, right about the time the check arrived, my girlfriend 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 everything was fine and that we only dirtied a few bath towels. Ironically, she wasn’t at all impaired by our little mishap. In fact, she even invited us back to her apartment for a future stay. (Had she been drinking whiskey before breakfast?)
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.