As promised, though late, here's a small excerpt from my novel. For those who haven't seen anything about it, the novel revolves around Ted Brown, who earlier this morning attempted suicide and failed. Since then, his day has only gotten stranger and stranger.
This book is a black comedy with a dash of satire.
Ted has a couple of jobs, one of which is handling maintenance for a small apartment building. He's not particularly good at the job and resents most of the tenants. Please excuse the variety of errors. This is the raw, unedited edition.
The pounding continues. They, whoever, is not going to give up. I lumber over to the door.
"Yeah," I say.
"Mr. Brown," the muffled voice says. "This is Fred. Fred Wallace? I live up on the second floor? I hate to bother you on a Saturday night, but our garbage disposal has gone out? Can you take a look at it?"
I lean against the door as he explains in monotonous detail his concerns.
"Normally, I wouldn't ask, but tomorrow is Sunday and I wasn't sure what your religious affiliation was and if maybe you did no work on the Sabbath? We have guests coming over tomorrow night for dinner and want to straighten up the place. You can understand that, can't you?"
"Sure," I say. I step back and open the door. "Let me get my tools."
It takes a few more tools to deal with a clogged garbage disposal than it does to force cat shit down a sewage pipe. The root problem, however, is often similar -something has been forced through that shouldn't.
Garbage disposals are kind of like blenders. A tiny motor inside them spins blades which chop and grind up the day-to-day crap that pass over them. Last night's dinner gets turned into a slimy puree that with a little water should pass harmlessly and effortlessly out of the household. It sounds simple, but garbage disposals come with a lengthy list of rules for what should never be dropped through it.
Most people don't follow any of them, but almost everyone figures it out by trial and error.
Most of the time when a disposal unit gets jammed, it's accidental. A fragment from a broken juice glass gets through or maybe a cap from a soda bottle. Sometimes it's the seal from a gallon jug of milk, a broken spoon or plate. These are things that usually end up in the sink anyway, but just got past the stopper.
Glass, metal, wood, plastic and ceramic material should never be dropped through the garbage disposal, but they're the most likely culprit when the machine stalls.
What is less easy to grasp is how much actual garbage isn't supposed to go down the disposal. The leftover from a t-bone steak or a pork chop or a tres combo from McClucky's Chicken should be thrown away, not dropped down the sink. The chicken bones might make it through, of course. Poultry bones are hollow and less substantial than say the bones from an ox's tail or spare ribs, but they're as likely to splinter and gum up the machinery as much as block it entirely.
The boxes, wrappers and containers from the food prepared in the kitchen shouldn't be disposed of via the sink either. Some things just plain won't go. Rubber gloves, double "a" batteries and deceased pets like hamsters or guinea pigs will usually stop the machine from working -though not goldfish. Goldfish you can grind up by the dozen, if you want. Nylon stockings, toothpaste tubes and wedding bands don't belong there either.
Basically, it's easier to list the things you can feed the disposal. The machines like soft foods and liquids. It's like they were born ninety years old and toothless.
They are the most pointless machines ever invented and are the thing most likely to require my attention on a given night. I have "fixed" almost every garbage disposal in this building a dozen times.
Repairs are easy. Most of the effort is walking up the stairs to someone's apartment. Half of the time I'm called, all I have to do is reach under the sink and press the reset button. Anyone can do this. Every tenant can do this and has been shown this time-saving problem solver many times. No one bothers with it. They just come get me.
If you run the garbage disposal for too long, make it work too hard, it will usually just quit on you, trip the breaker and stop, rather than catch fire. Occasionally, this will also trip the breaker in the kitchen. If the light above the sink is out, that usually confirms that I need to hit the breaker box in the closet.
When that fails, I use a weird little bent screw driver that fits into an octagonal slot. With the tool, I can force the grinding blades to move. If whatever is choking the machine is something minor, like a wad of cat hair or a copy of a pocket-sized danish porno magazine featuring women dressed as insects, a couple of tugs will pull it loose.
The rest of the time, I have to dig whatever has been crammed into that little hole, muck it out in front of whoever has dragged me to their apartment, while they bitch about how inconvenient this is. Whatever the offending item is, they will have no idea how it got there, why such a thing could stop up the disposal and will want the machine replaced.
"No," I will tell them, rinse off my grime filled hand and repeat the list of things that do not belong in the garbage disposal. With each visit, with each new experience, that list grows.
"And no barbie doll heads," I will say. "And no eyebrow pencils. And no rubber tubing, no soft drink rings and no electrical cords. And no glass figurines, no mardi gras beads and no fishing lures."
It is never ending.
Fred Wallace lives with his cousin Amy-Lynn in apartment 2C. The two of them look enough alike they could pass as brother and sister without a blood test. They're both from somewhere in Florida. He has a job as a bookkeeper for the fruit pie factory in Justin forty-five minutes away. She works at one of the grocery stores. They're devoutly religious, though I can't say to which cult they belong to. Both dress like models from a mid-seventies Sears catalog. Amy-Lynn wears only long skirts and drab, long sleeved shirts. She never cuts her hair.
They have a television, but still use an old VCR to play a wide variety of straight to video religious movies starring former child stars of the 70s and 80s. They get the daily paper and both weekly papers. Fred reads them all cover to cover and frequently writes thought-provoking, if clearly disturbed letters to the editor.
I've typed at least three personally. Jesus, evidently, does not want you to drive an economy car, but wants all of his children to transport themselves in Ford Explorers. Jesus, also wants people to stop paying attention to the political rants of Barbara Streisand and Bette Midler. While both are multi-talented women with amazing stage presences, both are Jews. Jewish women, while blessed with many talents, are a bit on the dumb side. Fred cites their most recent film careers as an example, as well as passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
The Wallaces hold bible study meetings in their apartment three nights a week. They can get pretty rowdy. The group hammers on drums, sing off-key and speak loudly in tongues. On a particularly good show, five or six people will do some kind of spiritual break dancing. Fred and the other "menfolk" will flail around on the carpet while the "womenfolk" chant some nonsense about the Holy Ghost.
It's an awful ruckus. Their neighbors complain, but everyone complains about something. Short of hiring a Satanic priest to stop by and perform an exorcism, the best I can do is knock on the door when the "Jesersize" stuff gets out of hand. Calling the cops doesn't do any good. Mostly, it just irritates them and I don't need the headache.
Fred leads me into his apartment. I haven't been here in a while, but it's mostly the same. They've added a few more pictures of the boy from Nazareth to the walls. They're huge fans. They have him in his early, pre-hippy days with a smart, sensible haircut, a nice tan and that friendly smile. They also have the Allman Brother years where he had the beard, the mullet and a gang of swarthy looking beatniks behind him. There are also plenty of latter day pictures, where he looks depressed, heart-broken and pretty upset about having railroad spikes driven through his hands and feet.
Amy-Lynn sits on the couch reading a book on interpreting a book about The Bible. Her thick hair is brushed back and held in place by a crust of glistening hairspray. Even in mid-autumn, when the southern heat gives way to at least a mild temperature, the air conditioning is turned on and up. There is little choice. The layers of clothing she must wear would make all but sub-arctic temperatures sweltering.
She ignores my presence here and will not speak to me directly, as this is against her beliefs.
"Right this way," Fred says.
He leads me to his kitchen, as if this is the first time, as if the layout of his apartment was somehow mysterious and ever changing.
I look in the sink. Brackish water fills it until the oily water is level with the Formica counter top. I turn on the overhead light over the sink, then reach under and press the reset button. I switch on the disposal. The machine belches, sending a bubble up from its strangled throat, but then quits with a rattle.
"It looks pretty bad," Fred says. "This seems to happen a lot. Perhaps, you should invest in a new one?"
I ignore him then slip the driver into the slot in the bottom of the disposal. I tug and push, trying to get the grinding blades to give up whatever they've latched onto it. I turn on the machine and work with it. The motor fights, but quits when it realizes it can not win.
"What did you put in here?"
Fred looks over at Amy-Lynn. She doesn't look up from her book.
"Nothing really. The usual."
"Get me a cup with a handle," I say. "A coffee pot or a pitcher would be better. I need something to bail this crap out to get a look at what I'm dealing with here."
"It seems clearly broken to me," he says. "I know we've talked about replacing it before."
"It's not broken. It's just stuck. Now would you get me something to bail this out with?"
He frowns and huffs at my entire lack of accommodation, but brings over an old coffee mug. Without his permission, I move his dirty dishes from the other half of the sink, deposit them on the counter and start pouring the cruddy water down the drain. I dip the mug into the sludge. It's thick and smelly. They let this one sit for a while or that could be my fault. I haven't checked the messages left for me on my door.
I've been a little preoccupied.
He watches me while I carefully remove the bilge. I'm careful because the shirt is already stained. I don't need to add to it. It's a good shirt. I might try to have it cleaned.
When the sink has been as cleared as I can make it, I put the cup to the side. I roll my sleeves up past my elbow and reach down into the open mouth of the garbage disposal. While I'm hunched over the sink with one hand under it and one hand swallowed up by it, I try to fish around and get the gears to move.
My fingers brush something smooth and thin wrapped under the blades. I tug at it until it comes loose, then the gears are free. I pull a handful of garbage out of the mouth of the disposal, drop it on the bottom of the sink and turn the machine on at the wall.
It falters for only a moment before it breaks free and sucks down the last of the crud blocking the pipe. I look down and see what's caused the problem. Fred is staring over my shoulder, looking down.
A dead gray condom lies limply among the coffee grinds and onion peels.
Fred looks at me. He wants to say something.
"Well, It's not mine," I tell him.