I swear, I had no idea it was bad practice to stand on top of your toilet tank. But even Grant says he knew this, which is humbling because if you ask me he is always on top of something scary.
I remember that crack house he bought in Peoplestown -- the living room had actually been used as a toilet, with mummified curls of human crap right there on the carpet -- and Grant stood there in the middle of it all and handed the owner a check for less than what you'd spend on a used truck. He fixed it up very nice, too, but in all the work he did on that place, and especially in the bathroom, all the cleaning and scraping and painting and decontaminating, he never stood on the top of the toilet tank in order to reach places to get it done.
"Hell no," he says, "you could bust a bolt and be knee deep in sewage in no time."
Actually, it takes about a month. Today my house smells like a stadium urinal, and all because I thought I'd been clever painting our whole downstairs powder room without even needing to drag in a step stool, because to me, that toilet tank is begging to be stood upon. I have pretty much done it my whole life, starting when I was 5 and hit my cousin Kelly across the head with the sole of my shoe for pretending she was Jesus and torturing me.
She used to be trusted to look after me, but really all she did was wrap herself in her sister's white slip and pretend to be possessed by Christ, then strangle me until I was almost unconscious. Finally I'd had enough of that and thwacked her good one day while she was talking to her friend on the phone. Then I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in, only the lock was one of those flimsy kinds you can pop from the other side as easily as a push pin, so I ended up having to barricade the door with my own body -- bracing my feet against the toilet tank -- while my cousin shoved from the other side. I can't believe I kept her at bay until my mother intervened, at which point she was asked by my aunt never to bring me back.
"Kid," my mother said in the car on the way home after I told her why I had done what I did, "I'm glad you locked yourself in the bathroom."
From that experience, I always thought toilet tanks were as sturdy as tree trunks, and stood on them almost every chance I got, especially since my mother kept a coin bank on the top shelf of our bathroom towel rack, which was accessible to any adolescent by simple toilet-tank ascent.
The bank was in the shape of a little wooden beer keg, with a slot on top to receive the coins but no other opening to retrieve them once they were inside. My mother said that's what she liked about it, the inability to put out what she'd put in. But with tweezers and a light touch, I personally thought I'd become quite deft at putting out what my mother had put in.
I used to take the money to a liquor store that would later be nicknamed "Horny Pete's" owing to the proprietor's rumored habit of masturbating behind the counter when kids came in to buy penny sweets. I unfortunately can attest that the rumors were true, only it's not like I knew what he was doing back there, not at first anyway, I just thought he was just taking a really long time to tuck in his shirt or something. Anyway, one day he showed me a picture of two people copulating and tried to get me to agree that it was a good idea. It was a hot day, and I was wearing a bathing suit with a big buckle on the front, an adolescent version of Ursula Andress' famous Bond-girl get-up, and damn if he didn't reach out and grab a hold of that buckle and start pulling me back behind the counter with him! Jesus God, there I was about to be molested by the man who sold me my mother's menthol cigarettes, and I couldn't think of what to do except get to the bathroom and lock the door. I knew where it was because, junior klepto that I was, I used to steal candy from this very place by packing my pockets, walking into the restroom and pitching it through the window to the alley on the other side, where either a friend was waiting or I'd simply retrieve it later at my leisure.
So once I extricated this man's bony claw from my bathing suit buckle, that is exactly where I ran, straight to the bathroom, where I locked the door, climbed the toilet tank and this time pitched myself out the window.
Looking back I see I have my mother to thank for my escape, I think, because if she had not stood up for me at my cousin's house like she did, I don't know if I'd have had the mettle to do what I did at the liquor store. She put that grit in me, and over time I've started to feel better about things, even about taking the coins from my mother's bank, because no matter how hard some will try, for good or for bad, in the end no one -- I mean no one, not even you -- can put out what your mother has put in.
Hollis Gillespie's commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."
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