Alone in Toilets

I just want a little help at Home Depot. No worries. I’ll just load it myself.

This wolf — this demi-dog — has moved into the spare bedroom on her own, just decided like some headstrong Anne Hathaway character that this should be her personal space.

Till that point, I’d been using the bedroom as my office. She and Smartacus would roll around on the floor rubbing noses and giggling while I worked, which was kind of cute/kind of annoying.

It now seems that I was invading her territory, not the other way around. One morning last week, White Fang mussed the bed and moved all her squeaker toys in, plus her tug-of-war rope toy. To her mind, if Smartacus and I get bedrooms, so should she. That’s how huskies think (if they think at all; scientifically, this has never been confirmed).

I took her out for coffee the other morning, to the local Panera Bread, where I had a gift card. I’ve never taken a dog inside a restaurant before, mostly so that I could — in good conscience —  judge those who do.

The whole dogs-in-restaurants thing has gotten a little crazy, don’t you think? Then one day I realized: “Hey, I’m the only person here without a dog. I feel kind of naked.”

She was well-behaved while we waited in line at the Panera counter as customers and employees struggled to communicate through their face masks:

“How did you want your eggs?” 



“I said ‘huh.’”


“Cooked. Not soft…wait, what’d you say?”

“Did you want your eggs SCRAMBLED?”

Eventually, we got our coffee, and I sat at a nearby park bench, so White Fang could cool her belly on the cold concrete. Wolves’ internal organs are, like, a thousand degrees – that’s how they survive wicked Arctic winters. As a husky owner, I pause once in a while to let her cool her inner fireplace.

Then off to the Home Depot I race, before it gets too crazy, with a list that says “flour, coffee, sprouts,” having grabbed the wrong slip of paper as I hurried out of the house.

The consensus among family and friends is that I rush through everything, then am unhappy with the outcome. True, I suppose. I once visited Manhattan and was disappointed at the snoozy pace of things.

I suspect my nervous energy stems from the awareness of how quickly life rushes by, or the capricious nature of major illness…or maybe just my innate Irish jiggyness. I’ve pretty much rushed through everything my entire life. I mean, puberty lasted 3 hours (but it returned repeatedly; once last week).

Now I’ve made a life in LA, which is supposed to be laid back yet is not. In LA, people treat each other like passing trains, and the traffic will, at some point, fracture you.

If you’re alive at all, you’ll eventually just lose it one day at rush hour, pound the wheel and think: “Damn-damn-damn, where are all these idiots going?” Then someone will rear-end you. Sorry.

At other times, the speed limit is 110 mph. I was almost blown off the freeway the other morning by some fighter pilot in a Ford Focus, juking this way and that…vroooom, across three lanes he goes, then back two, over one…you’ve seen those buttheads.

Beware. You’ll see him in your rearview mirror for half a second, then like a Russian MiG, he’ll dart around you.

Note that it was an oddly colored Ford Focus, the shade of rotting fruit. I mean, doesn’t really matter the car. There’s a million out there just like him, and yeah, they are usually men. When I see a woman driving like that, I just assume it’s a dude in drag.

Anyway, so I’m at The Depot with this useless grocery list — coffee, flour, sprouts — in the sweatshirt I wore to smoke ribs the other day. My deepest, most-sincere dream is to one day be waited on in a Home Depot, to have a human being come up and ask, “Can I help you find anything?” the way I’ve seen them do in other stores.

I’m 64, and have spent half my life in gigantic Home Depots, and I have yet to be helped. But I’m a hopeful guy by nature, and I don’t see why, in the 20 years I may have left, that I won’t one day be helped at a Home Depot, even if it happens accidentally.

In reality, there’s a better chance of Lana Turner returning from the dead and kissing me all fishy on the mouth.

This day, I wore the smoke-flavored sweatshirt to sort of bait them. I mean, when I wear it outdoors, coyotes come running. Honestly, I have never been more alluring in my life than when I wear this smoked-ribs sweatshirt. And that’s saying something (when I was 19, I still had freckles and the mothers would not leave me alone).

Despite the sweatshirt, no one stops to help. I see the Home Depot employees, driving their fork lifts or racing by talking into their Secret Service ear pieces, like there is some pressing need in Lumber, or the Paint aisle, which always draws a herd.

“Customer needs assistance in Paint,” the PA says, and off they go like cops to a pancake breakfast. Yabba-dabba-doo…

And here I am, all alone in Toilets. At Home Depot, there are only about 750 toilets to pick from, all in white, because I guess the green avocado I used to prefer has fallen out of fashion.

These white toilets are a gleaming row of perfect teeth, almost identical, except for some internal dimensions.

That’s surprisingly important. If I understand one critical spec about toilets, it’s that you want a tank with a large aperture, so that when you hit the handle, it’s like the Bellagio in there. Bada-bada-whoooooooosh, the stuff goes all the way to Guam.

I finally pick one, “the Cadet 3,” a sleek little model, but surprisingly hefty in the box. I wiggle it aboard the giant orange cart…oooooooooof.

See how fun it is being me? Sometimes it’s an existence more than a life.

Back home, the new toilet almost installs itself. I message some pals about my prowess with home repair, which they scoff at, since most LA guys are too cool for home repairs.

To be honest, a monkey could swap out a toilet, it’s that easy…one of the easiest home repair projects you could ever tackle.

At that point, my hubris triggers — as hubris often does — some circuit breaker in the universe that crushes human pridefulness – goes back to the Greeks. Generally, I admire that circuit breaker, though I wish it worked a little better on superstar shortstops and wide receivers.

Anyway, while re-hooking the water line — the last task before a cold beer — the supply pipe snaps off.

Throughout history there have been some great floods, and this was the grandest yet, great gobs of water flowed at 20,000 acre-feet per second, into the bathroom.

I immediately did what any clear-thinking individual would do, I cursed (you might have heard it). Throughout history, there have been some major profane outbursts, and this one was magnificent, almost a sonic boom. Perhaps my very best curse.

That done, I race outside to turn off the main water line, then race back inside with the mop, where I find Smaratcus giving birth to laughter.


“Shut up,” I say.

“Ha-ha-ha…What happened?”

Want the God’s-honest truth? Your Mom got sick. The toxic stew of cancer chemicals the poor thing took ruined the loo, and now I’m finally replacing the darned thing.

I was nearly done when an old galvanized supply line crumbled like a cracker, and I don’t know what’s going to happen inside that tiled wall when I try to twist out the remaining shard of pipe.

Will it crumble too? Will it be a chain reaction of agony, the way old pipes often are?

That’s the question of the moment. And the hardware store closes in about 15 minutes.

Bottom line: The water is off. Dinner might be a little late. In fact, the whole next week might be canceled. February might be canceled. You can just forget the Super Bowl.

That’s what I want to tell Smartacus.

Instead I give him the answer dutiful dads have been giving for centuries, the one that says crises are no big deal. They happen. So you blow open the wall. You fix the bad pipe. You move on with your so-called life.

“No worries, pal,” I say. “Hand me that wrench, would ya?”

Thanks to everyone who responded to the pre-Super Bowl Bash invite. I’ll be sending out Zoom links to the first 100 households by Thursday. Hiking Club RSVPs will be sent next week. Meanwhile, below is the recipe for the gumbo I’ll be making. It won’t fix everything that’s wrong with your life, though it does cure the blues and activate endorphins like no other soup before or since. It’s not so much a soup as a Valentine’s kiss. Results vary.



1 pound smoked sausage (turkey or pork)

1 pound chunked chicken (supermarket rotisserie chickens work well)

1 quart chicken stock

1 large onion chopped

1 large bell pepper chopped

3 cloves minced garlic

1 dozen okra pods chopped (optional)

1 cup of flour

Want h1 cup canola oil

Cayenne pepper


2 bay leaves.


Sautee meats and set aside.

Sautee veggies and set aside

Make a roux (the gravy that gives the dish its smoky, river-bottom flavor): In cast iron pan, heat up a half-cup of canola oil to high. Gradually and carefully stir in flour in an equal amount. Keep stirring frantically over high heat. It will start out blond and slowly darken to the color and consistency of chocolate sauce. Do not let it burn (if it scorches, toss it and start over). Add more oil or flower as needed, to keep it from getting lumpy. Usual cook time: 15-20 minutes.

Turn roux to simmer and stir in veggies, coating evenly. Add a tablespoon of cayenne (or Cajun spices) and a tablespoon of salt and the 2 bay leaves. Let simmer about 10 minutes.

In a big pot, combine veggies, roux, meats and chicken broth. Simmer for about two hours.

Serve over white rice, with cornbread or biscuits.

Makes about 8 servings.

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12 thoughts on “Alone in Toilets

  1. This is a typical “quick” project for me. Replacing the toilet becomes a bathroom remodel. Gaak.

  2. OH thank goodness it was only a water explosion! I thought something had happened to White Fang! I scrolled down your article and saw her photo and imagined she was sick again or perished…….every girl needs her own space at some point. Pipes, toilets, and walls can be replaced. White Fang cannot.

  3. OMG what a great laugh I had at your expense….so well written I felt like I was there…only a home owner would understand… thanks for sharing!

  4. I can always get someone to come to my aid at Home Depot by climbing up a couple of steps on those ladders they like to leave in the aisles. I imagine the security cameras put out a high alert to subvert the possible liability issue.

  5. Oh, boohoo ,a water leak in a bathroom! Try dealing with hundreds of gallons of water and the detritus of a garbage disposal bursting under a kitchen sink while I’m in an 18th century Marie Antoinette costume, complete with mile high white powdered wig and tightly laced corset/bustier! It was a couple of years ago after one of my Halloween parties(always a theme,that year it was Historical) at two am when the deluge was unleashed. As I was trying to hoist my six foot wide petticoats and skirts up to avoid the flood and extricate myself from the corset , I was screaming to everyone to grab all towels to stem the tide and shut the water off outside. Five am , the kitchen,hallway,living room, laundry room were wiped out. My wood floors , buckling. Ah, the joys of home ownership!

  6. P.S.You’re right about Home Depot.The only time I ever received unsolicited help was a few weeks after my husband passed away I had to go to the uncharted territory to get something. I stood in the aisle,not knowing where to look for the stupid thing the You Tube video told me to get , and burst into tears. Someone helped me.

  7. I was thinking about you last week Chris, while our downstairs was being painted and our toilet was being replaced. Being 63, I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that someone could do this better than I could, while I enjoyed a glass of wine on the patio

  8. Plumbers are the saints of the trades–the philosopher kings.The younger newly anointed butt crack variety are heady with the glow of their conferred halos, but fearless and fast. The oldsters are sober realists with a wry sense of humor, take the time to carefully assess the latest confronted gurgle of time, and shake their heads in awe when something new spurts out of the zeitgeist, smiling in the face of yet another apocalyptic flood. Disaster becomes them. They sweat elegant joints in the hottest, most cramped, difficult spaces, sliding in and out with artful ease. They cost a mint and are worth every sou. Once you have one sympatico with the flow of your life, it’s a guaranteed love affair. And oh! The lady plumbers; there are a few, and their delightful approach to fluid frenetics just floats your problems away. As Bones on Star Trek once claimed of himself, they can cure a rainy day…

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