A List To Starboard
By Web Ruble
Web Ruble writes: I am a retired newspaper reporter of some 40 years, and a couple of those years I was religion writer at The Oregonian, Oregon's largest daily. Now I am a novelist and short story writer. My wife Norma and I live in Fairview, OR but split our time between there and Tucson, AZ. We are lay leaders and deacons at Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Fairview, OR (near Portland). We also are volunteers on Thursdays about nine months out of the year in a soup kitchen in Gresham, OR.
First a gentle knock. Then a faint voice.
Now what for goodness sake?
I waddled my irritable self to the screen side door. There stood Trix, my elderly neighbor, twisting her hands. If she had been an immigrant at Ellis Island and had a hat, she would have been wringing it.
Had she been holding a potty seat for a life ring, she wouldn’t have been any more poignant.
“My toilet is tipping,” she said.
“It needs fixing,” she said.
At this point I was about to say, “I don’t care,” and was tempted to don a sea captain’s cap and say a sea-doggy smart quip like, “You going down for the last time? Burial at sea?”
But I didn’t.
You see, our neighbors Trix Trixrecca and Gladys Grundmeier are two ladies – one in her early 80s and the other close to 90 -- who save costs by living together in a mobile home adjacent ours. Every once in a while when things in the physical world go awry they’d ask me for help. When they do, it’s almost always an emergency – as this one.
So I couldn’t very well put the voiced ball back into their court with, “What do you want me to do about it?” Nevertheless, I was tempted to do so because I was darn angry. Not so much at them but at the omnipresent situation.
For weeks I had been trying desperately to find time to settle and do some writing. But these annoying matters – everything from replacing a loose shingle, moving a couch to my daughter’s house or minding my pre-school twin granddaughters, to receiving phone calls for help from the Meals On Wheels program -- kept interrupting.
It had gotten so bad that several days had passed since I had last put in some hard time on the PC rock pile. I hadn’t been able to manage two 15-minute time sessions of labor back to back.
Try as I did to avoid them, “things” kept demanding attention. I kept pushing aside my writing project until “things” got done. I didn’t want to start writing and then have to leap up and down from my chair like a yo-yo, making a hash both of my “task” and my writing project.
These increasing tasks were becoming more than annoying. They were becoming an excruciating outrage.
I now could fully understand why Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn often slammed the door on noses of visitors. The celebrated Russian author was ill and in a desperate race against time to finish his writing mission, detailing evils of the Soviet penal system and its Gulag Archipelago.
True. I’m not terminally ill. Nor have I survived any gulag. Yet I have been almost as desperate as the Russian master because contemporaries were dying almost daily. If I ever were to do significant writing it would have to be now.
My daughter, Marla, arrived unexpectedly. This was good news because she is hammer-nail-and-chop saw ready. And she’s handy.
We investigated the toilet’s starboard list. We saw the potty was leaning like Pisa’s tower because the floor was mushy and caving. It had been wet from a plumbing leak of several months and now the remaining floor and the crumbling particle board (wet sawdust) were about to let the potty slip into the waves.
I sighed, said a prayer, and retrieved my tools. Marla and I got down on all fours. We determined we could fix the problem by ripping up the spongy flooring, bracing some of the floor joists, replacing some of the flooring, getting a new wax ring for the base, and re-installing the porcelain bowl.
A good two hours of scrape-knuckle sawing and smash-thumb nailing followed. We discovered vintage 1965 plumbing wonders and electrical marvels, perhaps dating back to the Old Testament.
A wiring conduit bisected the area we were attacking. We spent even more time as we turned into mini-electricians.
The project went into a second day but we – daughter, her husband and myself -- eventually got it done.
The ship was righted. Starboard bow had stopped dipping below the floor-and-water line. It appeared that Gladys and Trix would stay afloat.
My writing project?
Now totally swamped, it almost sank to the bottom. Nearly a month passed before I got back to it. God will reward me for my sacrifice, I mused.
The telephone rang.
It was my church:
“We have a problem . . .”
I screamed, “Unless you’re God, I don’t care!”
But then again maybe I should . . .
(© 2010 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)