Thursday, December 17, 2009

When Life Hands You a Meta, Make Metaphors

This past Sunday evening, EFU returned home from college with thirty pages of take-home finals and a hedgehog named Houdini. He's extraordinarily cute, with white quills that will stick up through your shirt if you happen to unbutton your shirt and let him burrow -- he lives to burrow -- in while you're playing with him, which you would probably not want to do, but I managed to extract him with no harm to hedgehog, shirt, or self. The quills are not especially sharp. He's a year old, but he was apparently a runt and is never likely to get much larger than his current size, at which, when curled up, he bears a dangerous resemblance to a tennis ball.

EFU is extremely attached to Houdini; consequently, she is very sad about the idea of having to give him up, though she's not the sort to grieve dramatically. But it appears that Houdini is so troubled by automobile travel (this alone would make him part of the family) that EFU can less easily bear the notion of causing him more trouble because of the frequent relocations inherent in her near future than she can bear the notion of saying goodbye to him. She has already located a local person whom she describes as a "crazy pet lady." In YFU's words, "She's nobody I would ever want to hang out with, but she's very excited about owning a hedgehog, and she'll give him a good home." That's my daughter: practical, responsible, and reluctant to let anyone see her pain. It brings a metaphorical tear to the parental eye.

I looked up at my phone earlier today, read the time and date display, and thought, "Wow. Only a week until Christmas. I probably have things to do," and then I went back to reading Treasury Regulation §1.752-2, which is more interesting than you would expect, not that that's saying very much, I suppose. It is easier to burrow into Treasury Regulations than to deal with the impending holiday, though it is easier still to burrow into the Internal Revenue Code (the ground is less dense, less rocky, and more familiar). And there are plenty of other distractions, plenty of other holes to burrow into.

I have long been an it's-the-most-wonderful-time-of-the-year sort of person, and it's pretty much unheard of for me not to be caught up in the spirit of the season by now. People have started to notice, too. EFU mentioned the other night that I'd been sighing a lot. I told her, "I'm really upset about the contractor. And it's been a tough year." I've already written way too much about the tough year, so let's talk about my upstairs shower, pictured here:

Last Saturday, I went downstairs to check on YFU, and I heard plop, plop, plop, and I thought, oh please god no, I think I know that sound, but maybe it isn't what I think it is, but it was what I thought it was, and I looked up, and there was a bubble in the ceiling, with water dripping down onto the corner of EFU's bed. A leak from the shower. Leak #3, in fact.

I'm sure you can imagine what came to mind:
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.

I know what you're thinking, but I absolutely do eschew evil, and this is how I'm repaid.

I have not, quite, the patience of Job, so I fired off a terse email to my contractor. Later that day, when I was out with some friends, the contractor left a message saying that he was sorry about the leak and that I should call him to arrange a time for him to come look at it. He came Wednesday, and first he said that maybe the leak was due to humidity, but when I said that I'd caught at least a quart of water, he decided to open the ceiling. I relocated Houdini to YFU's room while the contractor and his helper put down plastic sheeting and cut a hole. Eventually, he explained to me that pressure from above the drain had caused a gap to open and that water had seeped through. He proposed bracing the drain from underneath to keep the gap from opening it. I went to work. He called me to say that he had also had to take up a few tiles in the bathroom to check the drain area and that he could come back Thursday to replace them. I told him I wouldn't be available until Friday. He said he'd come then.

When I got home, I took a closer look at the drain. I am not a plumber, but I couldn't help thinking that my being able to see the lights on in the downstairs bedroom was a problem.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the drain pipe opens a gap when there is no subflooring under the tile, but who am I to say? I also could not find any evidence of the liner that the contractor assures me is between the subflooring and the tile, but perhaps if there's no subflooring there's no need for a liner to protect it.

I can't say that I was overly impressed with the bracing system he came up with for the drainpipe.

It seems equally unimpressive (the word "kluge" comes to mind) from other angles.

I was depressed about all of this, but I realized it was a metaphorical depression. Clearly, one is never worried about what one thinks one is worried about. Worry is always badly referred, like some kinds of pain. You think your left toe is broken, but really it's your gall bladder. Had I not known better, I might have thought that I was depressed, or even angry, about a shower with no visible means of support, but clearly I was upset about something entirely different. And there is no shortage of possible choices, but the big problem about living a through-the-glass-darkly sort of existence (as we all must needs live) is that exactly what I was upset about remained veiled to me.

It was about this time that I started to wonder about what happens after through-a-glass-darkly. There's the assumption that you move onto a higher plane of existence where you see clearly. But what if it's only more clearly, like when I put on my glasses in the morning. I can get around without my glasses, but they're sure nice to have. What if there's an afterlife, and you see more clearly, but not entirely clearly? Will we then hypothesize a post-afterlife in which you see more clearly still? Is there then an infinite series of afterlives stretching off into infinity like my reflection in the barber shop mirrors of my youth? Isn't it easier to accept the idea that we just die and rot?

Speaking of decay, even though all worry is metaphorical and/or displaced, I'm pretty sure that there's one thing that would appear to be troubling me greatly that would turn out to be the thing actually troubling me.

After this opened Job his mouth, and cursed his day.
And Job spake, and said,
Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.
Let that day be darkness; let not God regard it from above, neither let the light shine upon it.
Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.
As for that night, let darkness seize upon it; let it not be joined unto the days of the year, let it not come into the number of the months.
Lo, let that night be solitary, let no joyful voice come therein.
Let them curse it that curse the day, who are ready to raise up their mourning.
Let the stars of the twilight thereof be dark; let it look for light, but have none; neither let it see the dawning of the day:
Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from mine eyes.
Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?
Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?
For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest,
With kings and counsellors of the earth, which build desolate places for themselves;
Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver:
Or as an hidden untimely birth I had not been; as infants which never saw light.
There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.
There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.
The small and great are there; and the servant is free from his master.
Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul;
Which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures;
Which rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?
For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters.
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.

The contractor is coming back tomorrow morning. It is impossible to express how very much I dread conflict with service workers, but it's conceivable that there will be harsh words.

I haven't entirely given up on Christmas, of course. Given the smallness and lack of organization in my new kitchen, I haven't done any baking, but there have been choir practices, and I did manage to retrieve my tree from b&c's basement and set it up. Real trees are too much trouble for a single gentleman (or at least for a single gentleman like me), but I dislike artificial things that try too hard to look real, so seven or eight years ago, when I found this somewhat, um, schematic tree, I was immediately infatuated. It was also very reasonably priced, so I brought it home.

Charlie Brown has nothing on me.

It looks a lot better when it's lit up and the wires are fanned out to slightly more accurately represent branches.

We're expecting a snowstorm this weekend, so perhaps I'll abandon my usual pattern of weekend socializing and finally get around to decorating the tree. Since the tree itself is uberartificial, I've decided to decorate it only with natural ornaments. I have some cranberries to string on thread, and I've thinly sliced and dried some oranges and lemons. I still have to come up with the ornament hooks. Sadly, I keep forgetting to look for them in any place other than the local dollar store, which didn't have any. I may end up having to string those on thread, too. I did find a number of garlands at the dollar store. I used them to make a Christmas version of hanging door beads for the doorway to the upstairs, but I had to gather them to the side so that the contractor wouldn't have to walk through them while taking tools upstairs.

They look better without flash. Really. Anyway, Christmas is a week away, and I keep reminding myself that I'm an optimist. And I am. If I have faith in anything, it's the ability of the Christmas season to make me grateful for all of the things that are going well, even in the middle of a tough year. The downstairs shower still works just fine, for example. I'm still singing Christmas Eve. The girls will still be over Christmas Day, and there will still be a feast. I may not have made my usual dozens and dozens of cookies. I may, in fact, end up buying desserts, which, by my standards, represents a burrowing of epic proportions. But if the solstice reminds us of anything, it's that things bounce back.


  1. There are two ways to build a shower stall: using a pre-fab vinyl pan, or using a subfloor-rubber membrane-mortar bed-tile system. The latter is more expensive, but the former is available in only a few standard sizes. Your only solution here, as I suspect you know, is to rip what you have out, walls and all, and start over. The walls have to come out because the substrate for the tile (which should be a cement board like Hardibacker) must overlap the edge of the pan or membrane, extending into the interior of the basin formed by the pan or membrane. Any other approach to this fix will result in more leaks, more mold, and more Job-like torments. Furthermore, a plumber who has the cement smeared all over the pipes like that is incompetent. And reinforcing the drain means he is trying to use the plumbing to support the floor, which is completely insane: the pipe will break, probably soon.

  2. That's what I feared, anon. I reckon the sooner I accept that, the better.

  3. Very sorry to see those photos. Luckily the house has a second shower so you have an alternative. Gotta love that tree. I hope you show us later what it looks like with its Christmas fruit.