Dispatch #16: Shit River
Just an update on my life
It’s Tuesday after 5 pm, and Patrick has just come upstairs from the office, and I realized only minutes ago that today is the last day of May. The last time I wrote a public post was the tail end of April. Somehow a month passed when I wasn’t looking.
(Terrible things happened in May. How many times did you cry for this country last week? My answer: three.)
At my house, a pipe backed up (yet again) causing a river of shit and soggy worms of soiled toilet paper to rush through the garage. We couldn’t use much water without another stink flood, and because we live in a canyon, our 1960s house is on septic, which meant we had to get the entire tank drained so the plumbers could even diagnose the problem. The amount of money we’ve spent on the plumbing in the last three years is staggering; there are bare wires hanging from the dining room ceiling, and our kitchen cabinets are chipped and don’t close properly, but, wow, all new pipes and septic system!
The problem began on a Thursday night. The septic couldn’t be drained until the following Wednesday.
After three days of the shit river and, eventually, a toxic cloud pervading every room, Patrick left for a prescheduled work trip. I decided to take the kids to my mom’s house across town, although she was traveling through England so we only saw my stepdad Mitchell and my brother Asher. By then, I was…frayed. I longed to take a bath and give my kids a bath. Do a dish. Wash my hands. I didn’t want to see lone turds hanging out on the floor of my garage. I didn’t want my kids to breath in any more hot poop steam. That had to affect their development!
My mom and Mitchell bought their house when I was in the sixth grade. They live east of the Hollywood Hills, above Sunset Plaza and the clubs on the Sunset Strip. They have a beautiful house with big windows and a beautiful view, but, wow, do I hate their neighborhood. People are always building heinous mansions up there. One house looks like a parking structure, all concrete and gates. One house has a gold-plated garage. Another has what looks like the Pi symbol sculpted into the exterior, with pillars (?!) on either side. There’s always construction, too: people redo a house to sell it, and then the new owner immediately guts it to redo what has just been redone. Rinse and repeat until the planet burns up.
In the last few years, there’s been a serious AirBnB problem, wherein more houses than not are rented short term to douches who like to go clubbing on Sunset and then wind their way into the hills to keep partying. They’re drunk and beyond loud. Let me just say, Justin Bieber and his crowd are not polite.
When I was there last week, the house across the street—inhabited, Mitchell says, not by AirBnBers but by long term renters—was loud at all hours. They weren’t partying. Instead, idling vehicles kept waking me. People were getting dropped off and picked up at midnight, three am, four am, and the cars would sit there, in the middle of the street, engines running. I only saw young men go in and out of the marbled mansion, and only young men chirp-chirped the alarm of the fancy car out front. Once I looked out the window and saw one of these young men take two, identical duffel bags out of one car trunk and move them to a different car trunk. I closed the curtain before I saw anything else damning. I don’t want to have to join the witness protection program in Oklahoma!
If that weren’t bad enough, my kids, who are used to the television murmuring as they fall asleep, needed me to sit outside their room with something on my laptop in order to lull them to dreamland. I don’t watch TV on this here little device, and I was tired, and so all I could think to put on were “What Not To Wear” clips and a “Behind the Music” episode about Sublime on YouTube. As my laptop played scenes of Clint and Stacy berating a woman for not being feminine enough, and, later, repeated snippets of that Sublime song, “If it wasn’t for date rape, I’d never get laid,” I thought, Wow, life sucks.
In the end, it was fine. We were fine. It cost $1500 to fix the pipe and over the weekend the noxious septic smell returned, for a little shit encore, but we were okay. We are alive. Unlike—
I got to see my family, and when Patrick returned, we were together at home. I don’t take it for granted. None of it.
(I feel bad my mom lives across the street from drug dealers but, hey, I guess that’s what happens when you’re rich! )
Since then, I’ve been writing my socks off to get my revision done in time. I’ve been writing so much that I began to stress about my overuse of the words “and” and “but” and “until.” I know I have to close the document when the very act of imagining new syntactical avenues is lost on me. How does one write a sentence, I wonder.
Here’s what I’ve decided about revising:
-The answer is almost always already in the text. Your book is smarter than you.
-Sometimes it pays to stick the dynamite into a paragraph and see what you might discover by writing more…and sometimes you can just cut the paragraph altogether.
-Landscape details, placeness—the view outside the car window, the way the hallway feels—really can tell you about a character. As Elizabeth Bowen says, “Nothing can happen nowhere.”
-Crows are creepy birds! Use them!
(Perhaps that last one is only relevant to Time’s Mouth?)
I’m reading and LOVING Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon, my former Oberlin professor and my first writing teacher. The new novel is dark (no surprise, all his work is) but it’s his first novel written in the first-person, and it’s funny. I have LOL-ed multiple times at the voice, which is delusional, bemused, tender hearted, with stunning pangs of longing. It’s about a guy who lives off the grid doing nefarious crime work in an alternate USA universe when he gets a call on one of his burner phones from a woman who claims she’s his daughter. It engages with questions of technology, identity, connection and disconnection, and it shows us the freeways and rest stops and lost souls of a whacked out America that is, let’s face it, a lot like our America. Read it!
I can’t stop listening to Kevin Morby’s album “This is a Photograph.” The line “This is what I’ll miss about being alive’’—gets me every time! Here’s the video.
Do yourself a favor: cut up some sugar snap peas into slivers, mix it with some mint and olive oil and lemon, and slap it on ricotta-slathered sourdough toast.
I bought these earrings. (I know, I know, I only wear Machete earrings.)
Before the plumbing surprise, I splurged on these heels, which are completely impractical but exactly what my frivolous heart wanted.
If you didn’t donate, please do.
Once I turn in this revision chunk, I hope to be back for more newsletter fun.
How was your May?