Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Lingering Smell of Death


I fear saying this, and I do so with much trepidation as I believe I could call down the wrath of the universe for speaking it. . . but yesterday didn't completely suck.  There.  I pulled my punch at the very last moment.  I won't say it "went well," but some weight was taken off me.  

So I'll tell you what I have been keeping ashamedly secret.  Remember the story of Job?  Sure you do.  

Job is a wealthy man living in a land called Uz with his large family and extensive flocks. He is “blameless” and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil (1:1). One day, Satan (“the Adversary”) appears before God in heaven. God boasts to Satan about Job’s goodness, but Satan argues that Job is only good because God has blessed him abundantly. Satan challenges God that, if given permission to punish the man, Job will turn and curse God. God allows Satan to torment Job to test this bold claim, but he forbids Satan to take Job’s life in the process (source).

 OK, OK, OK. . . I used Spark Notes.  But I remember the story well-ish, for it turned me when I read it in a freshman humanities course in college.  It just didn't seem like something I would do to someone I loved.  Not even to someone I didn't.  However, it did seem to reflect something of my life, I thought, the old "woe is me."  My life had been shitty for years and had only just begun getting better.  

The worst part of the story to me was that Job began to stink.  That is something hard to overcome.  As someone who likes to cuddle, I was horrified by the thought.  

To wit: remember the death smell I told you about weeks ago?  It hasn't gone away.  Truth.  And worse, my house had been invaded by bloat flies!  Yup.  It happened after the maids came, or left, I should say.  They leave my doors open when they clean though I've told them over and over to keep them closed.  They are horrible and I would get rid of them and find new ones if I weren't so terribly (a) loyal and (b) lazy.  When I woke Saturday morning, however, there were flies all over the kitchen.  It was like a miniature version of "The Birds."  I mean, it was terrifying.  

I sprayed them with bug spray.  They didn't like that much.  Later, however, when I opened the doors to the laundry, they were everywhere.  Again, I sprayed.  That afternoon, there were dead flies littering the house, on countertops, on the washer and dryer, on the stove, and covering the floor.  Well, I thought, at least that is that.  

Nope.  That night as I was speaking with my mother, I saw them all over the living room walls, on the lamp shades, on the furniture.  Motherfucker!  Gotta go, ma.  I hung up and sprayed.  In the morning, again, dead flies littered my house.  

We have to go back a bit in the story here, though, to explain.  When the odor hadn't gone away after over a week had passed, I began suspecting with a growing sense of impending doom that a drain line had rotted or broken under the house.  Read sewage line.  My house is one with a crawl space, but for some reason back in 1926, they made that space really small.  I tried going under the house once when I was much younger and not all broken up.  I squeezed myself through the tiny opening belly down and shined my flashlight into the total darkness.  It wasn't what I thought it would be.  At seemingly random places there were batches of bricks upon which sat small pillars under the floor joists holding up the house.  You couldn't just shine your flashlight from front to back.  You had to crawl around these stanchions on your belly to get anywhere.  It would be impossible to crawl on your knees.  I went a few yards and got a little claustrophobic and maybe even scared.  Fuck this, I said, and awkwardly backed out in a reverse crawling motion.  

Not many plumbers want to go under the house to work.  But there was one, years ago, when I had a waterline that was leaking.  Back then, the water line as well as the sewage line ran under the house.  I called a plumbing company and said, "You need to send out a skinny midget to work on this one.  The space is really small."  

"We don't have any midgets," the man on the phone said, "but we'll send out the skinniest fellow we've got."

What they sent was a young man who hadn't filled out yet.  He was a great kid, and when he looked at the space, he said, "Well, that was made for me."  He crawled to the farthest corner of the house where the leak was, and fixed it.  But it still leaked.  So he went under again.  And again.  And again.  Finally, he said, he realized that the glue he had been using on the pipes was no good.  The kid had spent all day crawling in there and back.  He was wiped out.  He was spent.  But in the end, he had fixed it.  When it came time to pay, I gave him a big tip.  

Skip ahead.  A couple years later when I had the house re-plumbed, and they opened up the walls, there was a smell coming from beneath the house.  The plumbing company sent out the same kid.  O.K.  Good, I thought.  I know he can get under there. 

But when he showed up, he had doubled in size.  

"Jesus Christ, kid, what did you do?  Get married?"

He looked kind of embarrassed.  "No," he said.  "I got a girlfriend, though.  I guess I filled out a little." 

Filled out, I guess.  He couldn't get through the opening to go under the house.  He didn't look like he wanted to, either.  He called the office and told them his problem.  It is a family business, and I heard his uncle tell him that he would need to enlarge the opening and get his ass under there and fix it.  And that is what he did.  Again, just a great kid. 

So when the smell didn't go away this time, I began to think with dread that it might be a drain pipe again. Maybe the kid hadn't done such a good job last time.  Maybe no one would go under there to work.  What if they said they couldn't?  Maybe they would trench?  My mother said that they might dig a hole and then tunnel under the house.  Maybe, I said, they would have to go through my hundred year old pine floors. 

After the last fiasco in the bathroom, I just wasn't emotionally prepared to go through this.  I waited, but the odor didn't go away.  Withe complete and total dread, I called the plumbing company on a Thursday.  They couldn't come out, they said, until Monday.  Dismayed, I had to agree.  It turned out, however, that that was the day I was to take my mother for her Moderna vaccine.  I called the plumbing company to see if we could change the time.  

I would have to wait another week.

There was a point where the odor began to fade, and at times, I didn't think I could smell it at all.  But the house was filled with candles and odor eaters and my olfactory memory associated those smells now with the other.  

Then came the flies.  

Yesterday was plumbing day.  I was a mess of nerves.  I had to take some nerve medicine the night before and still barely slept.  I waited until noon for the plumber to arrive.  My hands shook.  I was in deep depression.  I took more nerve pills.  

When the plumber showed up, it was the kid again, only he was less of a kid than he was before.  

"Hey bud," I said in greeting.  "How're you doing?"

He had the same great personality.  I asked him if he was married, and he said no.  It looked like he had lost weight since the last time I saw him.  He asked me if I was still with my girl, asked about my mother.  What a kid.  Really.  

And after a little chat, he said, "Well, let me get under there and see what's going on."  

I waited in nerve pill anticipation.  In a little while, he was back at the door.  

"I thought I remembered I'd fixed those pipes before. They are fine."

"So. . . I don't have a leaking pipe?"

"No.  It's a dead animal.  As soon as I got under there, I could smell it and see the flies.  It must be something big.  It dug a deep hole.  I pushed some dirt over it.  That should help some."

Who has ever been happier to hear that something very large has died under their house?  I can't imagine anyone.  Oh, brother.  It wasn't shit, just death.  I thought of a line from a Bukowski poem. 

"Shit and death are everywhere."  

But not today.  Nope.  It was only death. 

The kid stuck around and talked awhile.  He told me he worked a bunch and didn't have time for a girlfriend.  On the weekends he drove up to the next state where he has bought some property where he hunts.  Quail, I asked?  Oh, he'd shoot them if they were there, but usually deer and wild pigs.  When I paid him with cash, he said nobody had done that for a long time.  I told him I was trying to hide my money trail or something like that which got him going about the government and guns.  Of course, he would be a Trumper.  Right out of high school, he went to work for the plumbing company.  He didn't spend his time reading.  I told him about my scooter accident and we talked about opiates and he said that he had at least twenty friends from high school who had died from opioid overdoses.  They started with prescription drugs, he said, used oxycontin, then went on to heroin.  His uncle was an addict, he said.  He himself had stayed away from it all.  And so, here was one of the Oath Keepers or at least a sympathizer, a gun toting plumber.  He was a great kid, and I liked him fine.  Just another cowboy, the kind I always admire, polite, good natured, and the rest of it.  Ready to overthrow that imposter King Biden when the time is right.  

What can you do.  It is easy to hate people and hard to hate a person.  And that day, once again, he was my hero.  

When he left, I called my mother and told her with glee that I had a big, dead animal under the house.  The great weight had lifted.  All that was left was the wobbly feeling from the nerve pills.  Suddenly it seemed they were working.  I sat back and reflected on the fact that there would not be another huge construction project.  My floors would stay intact.  I was free, if I wished, to leave my home for awhile.  I could go somewhere, begin to travel.  

And just like that, the sun came out.  It had been cloudy and gloomy all day, then, just as in a story employing the pathetic fallacy (link), the sun began to shine.  The weather was changing.  It was turning into a lovely day.  

After the gym, and after a visit with my mother, and after a chat with one of her pretty dog-walking neighbors who seems to be attracted to me and to whom I have given thought of recent, I came home to shower up and make dinner.  But first, I poured a beer and sat on the deck to think about my good fortune and to do that silliest of things and send a picture of my beer to friends to convince them that I have a happy life.  

And then I started thinking about Ili.  Yea, I can try to shit you about that, but you know. . . I haven't gotten over that yet.  I had wondered if I would hear from her on my birthday now that she had unblocked me.  I then wondered if I would maybe hear from her on Valentine's Day.  Well, fine, but sitting out on the deck with a victory beer was the usual time when I would send some dead end message to her blocked number.  And so, after the scotch that followed, I wrote her a message.  

"Perhaps you should block me again.  I kind of like sending messages here."  

I guess for me it is sort of like a digital prayer flag, just sending things out into the universe.  

I needn't have made the request.  The message didn't go through.  I had been blocked again.  Why, I wondered?  For what reason would she do that?  I had not sent her another message.  

Maybe she had a boyfriend.  Maybe?  Well, maybe she had quit being mad at him.  Whatever.  My request was preceded by an answer.  Was I happy?  

What do you think?  

Another dreary morning.  It must have rained in the night.  The land is slick and grey.  

And, of course, there is still the slight smell of death that lingers.  But it will pass, right?  Surely, this will pass.  

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