Friday, July 23, 2010


This is just one of those little things.

I was doing laundry today down in the cellar. As usual, I checked to make sure the drain hose was firmly in place in the little bathroom sink.

Now, I know this is not necessarily unusual in an old house, one that was built before washing machines were common; after all jackhammering up a section of cement to install a proper drain is a lot of work.

But this old house was so old the cellar actually still had a dirt floor when my father started restoring it in the early 60s. And, sure, he did install something for a washer to drain into; but what he thought was adequate for a drain wasn't. Cutting corners is not atypical of hoarders, I hear, especially the miserly types—someday perhaps we'll get into how my father thought one electrical outlet per room was good enough (or more than good enough, as the dining room, with its central hanging lamp, doesn't even have the one). So he left a pipe by the downstairs half-bath toilet which turned out to be not at all big enough for the volume of water a draining washing machine lets out. Which meant a soapy mess every time you did the laundry.

So he ran a hose into the sink.

Which more or less worked, though it would overflow if the sink was a little slow, and sometimes you needed to keep an eye on it. Still, on the scale of annoying plumbing problems in this house, it was always on the low end, far below the lack of oh I don't know, hot fucking water, or any water at all in the upstairs bathroom, since when the faucet dripped my father's solution was to just shut off the water to it. And then leave it.

Even now the washing machine still drains into that little sink, as it has for years, though my father no longer lives here. Since jackhammering the cellar floor up is just not a priority. Sure, it's a pain, but I'm used to it and don't really even think about it.

What got me today was this:

I was doing laundry, loading up the washer, pouring some detergent in there and then closing the lid as I've done countless times. And there it was, this sign.

It's not like I'd never seen it before. But today for some reason it infuriated and enraged me. So much about it was just so exactly, horribly typical of the fucked-up way my father did things. It's a sign my dad put up, probably something like fifteen years ago now. It says: NOTICE BE SURE DRAIN HOSE INSTALLED IN SINK BEFORE OPERATING WASHER

It may not seem, to an outsider, to be all that bad, beyond the somewhat passive-aggressive aspect of it. But it's so typical in so many ways. Even the little things about it point to the larger problems. It's written with a half-dead red marker, one that used to live in a coffee can full of half-dead and completely-dead markers and pens, broken pieces of chalk, and bits of crayon so old you couldn't even tell what color they were anymore, and it's written on the back of an old reused photocopied ad. All the usual miser stuff. But that's just the surface of it.

Because looking at it today I realized I can't recall a single time my father actually did his own goddamned laundry. My mother always did it for him. So really, then, this sign is about control. Control over what mom and we kids might possibly do wrong. Before we even did it.

Because he had his rules, and he was always right, and there was no questioning it. That was just what he assumed, and expected.

And we learned that, or I at least learned that. That sign, after all, was still up there some four years after he'd gone to that nursing home; and in fact that sign held so much power that when my mom repainted the wall she just painted around it.

They say that no one can take away your power unless you let them. But if you can't even see that it has been taken away? If it's all you've ever known and you can't even imagine that it's not simply normal? How can you do anything if you have been trained not to recognize it?

Today for the first time it occurred to me that I was free to rip the fucking thing off the wall.

I did.


Kevin said...

Oh, I hate to derail a good rant... and it sounds like you're well justified here... but when I was a kid, we had a washer that *used* the sink as part of its wash cycle -- it would drain itself into the sink, then suck as much of that water back in as was left, for a second wash cycle, then drain again... it was designed that way!

Thalia said...

That's not derailing my rant far as I can see. That's weird, though--I've never heard of that kind of washer!

Anonymous said...

BLESS YOU. I was hoping when I read that that the end would be you destroying it.
Such a poignant description, with the half-dead red marker. I can SEE the coffee can full of uselessness. Oh god, and your mom painting AROUND it.
bless you bless you bless you.

Our family washer was rigged with a hose laying near a floor drain. Essential rules (never posted, just memorized) included moving everything in a 10' diameter and checking to make sure the old pantyhose "filter" was in good condition before starting the washer.