Does a person ever feel the age they are? Rooted, precisely and comfortably, in their actual age instead of scrabbling against it like a key in a lock that won’t turn? I wonder. I’m 42 now and I make lots of jokes about feeling old when I give in to the siren-call of the bed linens at 8:47 PM or blink confusedly when one of my children announces that someone was REKT, BRO, but I don’t really feel 42. I have to say I do because we’re supposed to embrace the natural process of aging and revel in our increased wisdom and decrease of fucks given, but the truth is I feel like I’m forever stuck somewhere on the road in the rearview — my late twenties, maybe. Still awkward, still trying to figure it all out, still wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up.
My giant children are proof positive that I’m officially middle-aged, of course. One of them has the audacity to be eleven, can you believe that shit? Eleven. I look at his beetled brow and still see that suspicious baby sometimes, clever editing that offers glimpses of what I remember amongst the long-limbed tangle of sweetness and all-out Bershon he is now. They’re undeniably big kids, but I suppose they also ricochet from one internal age to the next — impossibly, heartbreakingly mature one minute, stomping like a toddler the next.
There are times when I’m truly startled by my aging, and even a little frightened. The other day my arm was pressed against something and the light was shining in and I noticed I was basically one big crinkle. When did that start happening, the crinkling? My skin doesn’t plump up any more, it just gives way. That’s disturbing. It feels like a loss, I don’t care how many Dove ads you make me watch.
The alternative is no good (“Wot, so my choice is or death?”) so I suppose I should be at peace with the fluctuating disconnect between reality and my secret belief that every “Your Birthdate Must Be On or Before This Date to Purchase Alcohol” grocery store sign contains a comical typo. Maybe the forties are a decade of denial, and I’ll feel more settled when I have half a century under my belt. Or maybe not. More and more, it seems to me that it’s important to allow myself to feel weird and a little lost and a lot uncertain, because there’s so much peace when I stop resisting and fretting and questioning and just be who I am, not old or young or good or bad but a human work in progress. A jumbled drawer of shit that has never fit quite right and the occasional glorious pair of perfectly broken-in jeans, crinkled and worn in places and comfortable as hell.
The worst home improvement decision we’ve made to date was to replace the toilet in our main bathroom. When it comes to crappers, there are only two in this house: one in the hall bathroom where we all shower and bathe and so on, and one in the tiny bathroom connected to our bedroom which I can never call a “master” bath because it’s about as roomy as stepping into a box of Saltines. Now, I know better than to complain about a lack of luxurious bathrooms because yes yes, privilege, some people have only one-sixth of a bathroom and it’s always filled with angry hornets, I’m just clarifying that there aren’t a lot of options so you can better understand the situation here.
We had to get a new toilet because the old one was truly old and was causing some sort of water leakage issue that was making the floor sort of distressingly spongy. In retrospect, I would have stuck with the squishy sounds and eventual sinkhole, because at least rotted floorboards can be dealt with when they happen, as opposed to the ongoing hate crime committed by the new toilet.
Who decided how new toilets should work, anyway? Listen, I don’t wake up in the morning and immediately begin plotting the number of ways I can personally contribute to the destruction of our planet before going outside and spending my day plunging a fork into the soil while shouting “How you like THAT, Cascadia Subduction Zone?” but my toilet appears to have been designed as punishment for some dastardly environmental sin. Its water conservation features are obvious, and yet the stingy, reluctant way it functions must surely be a burden on shared resources since multiple flushes are now required when one used to do the job.
You know what I’m talking about, right? There’s less bowl water than the Old, Earth-Killing, Yet Vastly Superior toilets and the flush action is a condiment-sized jar of pure weaksauce. Push the handle and I guess something technically happens but it’s a halfhearted namby-pamby gurgle that takes care of business as long as your business was limited to the first order of business and not the second, if you know what I mean and I think you do. Anything more robust than a slightly moistened solo-square of single-ply and your business hangs around, it endures, it’s the Shackleton Expedition of Business and it’s by god going to live to see another day unless you channel Liam Neeson and start issuing pointed threats about how you have a very particular set of skills, Business Remnants, and they involve a cabinet full of disposable wand sponges and the ability to stick your hands in disgusting places because you’ve been a parent for over a decade.
What I’m talking about is a scenario where all deposits sink through a way-too-shallow water layer and are essentially captured and prominently displayed upon a porcelain shelf — “Cigarette? Cigarillo?” — before being gently bathed with about a teaspoon’s worth of flush. Now, if you’re a caring citizen like myself, you then embark on an unpleasant and time-consuming effort to achieve the elusive Leave-No-Trace status, but if you’re one of my children, you just walk away completely oblivious to the fact that it appears as though someone has attempted to bake a Texas sheet cake in the bowl.
The worst part is that I’m the one who’s constantly dealing with everyone else’s leave-behinds, which means I’m like Winston Wolf from Pulp Fiction except way less cool, armed only with poop-specific problem-solving abilities, and lacking anyone to order around to do the dirty work. You’d think I would learn to take care of the cleanup with as little visual assessment as possible, and yet it happens so often I find myself mentally categorizing each scenario: Ah yes, my old friend, the Hershey Mudslide … an arduous job in terms of quantity and cling factor, yet still preferable to the Dexter Spatter Pattern Sneak Placement Howdy-Do-Doo.
We could replace it, but I’m not confident we’d be able to swap in anything more robust, since the bathroom aisle in every home improvement store seems to be in a competition for environmental bragging rights. While I know I should value going green over seeing brown, the truth is if there were an illegal market of toilets that operate via a steady fuel of spotted owls and polar ice caps, I’d one-click any sumbitch that also provided a pre-1999 flush.
There’s no question where my vote is going this November — when it’s down to a flawed but capable and intelligent human being or an angry animated wad of hairy circus peanut residue clinging to the nation’s collective publish button, I personally feel the choice is clear — but it’s true I might be swayed if only a candidate would address the real issue: when will we make America’s toilets great again?