5.08.2009

It All Comes Down to the Bathroom Beast


I used to work out a lot and eat right and be very disciplined and listen to myself. You could tell just by looking at me. You can tell if you look at me now that I don't care as much. I'm not fat and lazy, but I take days off and eat Ben and Jerry's a little too often. I wish I could remember what I was telling myself back then. It must have been convincing. The only thing I remember at all is that when I was doing something particularly painful, I'd tell myself, "Nothing lasts forever." That's all I needed to hear to do another ten thousand lunges or whatever I told myself to do. What happened to make me stop listening?

Charlie and I sold our condo, moved the last few pieces of furniture he hasn't Craigslisted to my Dad's apartments and spent nine whole days and nights cleaning, painting and fixing the four rooms in which I current live. Alone. Charlie flew back to Oregon to work and he has to keep working until we either stop spending any money at all or we pay off the credit cards we had to cash advance to "sell" the condo.

I know we're lucky we sold our condo in this market, but after owning it less than a year and a half, losing a hundred thousand on the place we sold previously, it sucks to give someone everything we have left and then some so they can sleep in our old bedroom. It's a nice bedroom. There are no bugs and the windows closed completely and aren't rotted, which is more than I can say for the bedroom where I currently sleep. The bus didn't stop directly under my bedroom window all night, either. The garbage trucks didn't screetch at five in the morning, and . . . stop! It's not all that bad.

I live across from the freaking Golden Gate Park. I live in the same building as my son and his girlfriend, who makes me dinner when I feel like sitting around lazily eating popcorn, and their happy little daughter. It's the same building my great-grandfather Alfred built in 1930 with his brothers, for him and his wife Jennie, to retire in, which they did. The same building where my sister lived when she was first married, and where we'd stay overnight while doing races, using the porta-potties at the park when there were too many people sleeping in her one bathroom place.

It's this same building where I learned how to paint over hardware and whatever else got in the way with Navajo White paint, the only color my Dad ever used for everything, everywhere, every time. I'm painting over that Navajo right now. It's painted so badly, so completely ruining the 79 year-old gorgeous doorknobs and latches and things that I suspect I was the one who originally painted it. I was thirteen years old, probably. I did what I was told. I've gotten better.

Right away Charlie noticed the way all the hinges and doorknob plates and anything metal was covered in lumps and stripes of very old, crusty Navajo White. How could he not? My sister visited the apartment building right before we moved here. As she left, she called me. "Are you sure you want to live here?" she said. "This place brings back horrible memories of painting over things that should never have been painted over. Remember Dad told us to paint over everything, telling us, 'that's good enough: tenants don't notice?' Even Ray Charles would notice paint on the fire alarm box. Are you sure?"

Now Charlie's joining the choir. "Who paints like this?" he says. "It's not difficult to remove a few screws and do it right." He makes a few grunting noises, removes the hardware and runs down to the workroom where he drops the offending Navajo White-covered hinges into a bowlful of paint remover.

I kept silent the first six times this happens. The seventh time (yes it takes me seven times to listen to myself and admit this sin), I say, "It was me, okay? It was probably me."

By this time Charlie didn't expect an answer to his rhetorical frustration. He didn't really care about assigning blame so I got away with it. My bad painting sins were absolved and he was already downstairs soaking the crap off some knobs, excited by the improvement he was making. I feel good too, like I gave him an opportunity to make the world a better place one hinge at a time. Things look so much better when they look really bad in the before picture, right?

The apartment isn't done, of course. Once Charlie got on the plane, I put away his tools and hid my brush. The paint's in the closet where I won't hear it calling to me. But the beast in the bathroom, the 79 years of old urine and cat pee saved for posterity in the black fuming grout of the art deco tile floor, screams at me every time I use that room. I can't hear anything else.

I already used up a whole can of Comet, the biggest can, dumping it indiscriminately on the floor along with pitchers of water, scrubbing with the brush reserved for the garage until I couldn't talk myself into believing this wouldn't last forever. Lunges and squats can be convincingly completed through a little self-talk. Breathing urine and Comet fumes while ineffectually scrubbing gobby black grout? I don't have the words to tell myself to continue.

Right now nobody comes in here but me. If I hold out for as long as possible, I don't have to enter the beast more than a couple of times a day. I can ignore it from morning until at least after lunch and then hold out until night. If I don't drink a lot of liquids, I can ignore it for even longer.

Besides, the park still has porta-potties. Even their worst contents aren't 79 years old.