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That Girl’s Got a Set of Pipes!

When my bathroom sink clogged, I approached it as I do most life crises. I doused the thing in Drano and hoped for the best.  When the now-fluorescent waters remained several hours later, I knew I was in for a ride.

I’ve never had much luck with water pressure. (Or men.) (And wouldn’t that be a great first line to a novel?) I grew up on a farm. We were fed our water from a spring across the road. I spent many a summer day padding barefoot through the dark, musty springhouse and feeling girlishly apprehensive about the silt settled at the bottom of our water tanks. I spent many a summer night standing impatiently under a dribbling shower waiting for enough precipitation to clean my dusty feet.

My nervousness about country water was only furthered by what happened many years ago, while I was away at summer camp. I was told all this later, but it’s never left my consciousness and serves both to prove our family’s rurality and my father’s age.  One year — I imagine in early June, when the grass was still cool in the mornings and the snakes hadn’t yet come down the mountains — my mother noticed that our water tasted funny. She mentioned it to my father, who flagrantly brushed aside this comment, along with others like ‘We should get a lock for the front door’ and ‘I’m not sure spinach quiche is supposed to have mandarin oranges in it.’

A few weeks later, she found the water tasted more strongly. Not bad, exactly, just off. Maybe a little metallic? Maybe it was cloudier than usual? Again, a pooh-pooh from the peanut gallery. A few weeks more, and my father comes into the living room and asks my mother if the water seems funny. They investigated and found a large (dead, bloated, rotting) salamander stuck in the water pipe. My parents had been drinking dead-amphibian water for nearly two months. They had, literally, lizard in their gizzards.

This is what runs through my head as I stand over my white sink in Queens, willing the drain to suck. I pray for the underwater tornado to appear. I fret, I wring my hands, I read the back of the Drano bottle obsessively.

Eventually, I call my mother.

“Hey, sugar, how are things in the big city?”


“Don’t worry. You’re a tough country girl, you can fight off whatever’s bothering you.”

“It’s more of an unseen enemy.”

“Well there’s always MeeMaw’s old cure-all.”

“Which is?”

“Give it a good slug of bleach. That’ll fix anything.”

And that’s exactly what I did. I poured half a bottle of bleach into the bright green ooze in my porcelain sink and closed the door so the cat couldn’t get anywhere near the muck. Two hours later, I donned goggles (to help my eyes with the burn) and a swim cap (can’t hurt to put another layer around my brain, I figured) and entered the chlorine sauna.

Lo and behold, the water was gone.  I’d eliminated yet another problem and filled in the gap with a small sense of loneliness. I found myself quieted again —  just a city girl, standing in a bathroom.

New York at Night (Part One)

In London, Roald Dahl called it the witching hour. The dark pitch of night around 3 a.m., when evening animals fall asleep and morning ones haven’t begun to rise. It was when the Big Friendly Giant went roaming the streets and ultimately met Sophie, a small English girl with grit and curiosity. It was the type of meeting that could only happen during that special time.

New York has its own witching hour, and it’s between 11:30 and midnight, when I’m riding the subway home from Manhattan. I’m tired, but I don’t close my eyes. There’s too much to see; the train is packed. After all, Astoria is both a neighborhood destination and a going-out location. Some people will soon be flirting with a bartender while others are lancing towards bed.

There must be a reason why some of my most memorable New York moments happen at this hour. I’m usually exhausted, after being social for some time before. It’s a relief to not have to speak to anyone and allow myself to look around the subway car and introspect until I’m satisfied. There’s the sleepiness of having a full meal of a day. I often listen to this song Raised by Swans’ “Violet Light”. (Editor’s note: the song will open in this window. I’ve written this post with the idea that you’ll play the song while reading, so you may have to disable pop-ups and pull up two pages to get the full effect. It’s worth it. Promise.)

A year ago, the train car was full. I was standing, looking out the dark window and trying to scope the people sitting below me without being seen. I was too tired to truly disguise my curiosity at the two women there. Each was wearing heavy makeup and glittery lipstick. One had a black satin shirt and the other silver sparkles. I knew immediately something was different about them. After a few stops, I decided they were likely transvestites, or at least cross-dressers. (Not like the bearded man in a dress I saw at Penn Station last week. This pair was aiming for similarity, if not authenticity.) As I continued to consider their imagined lives, the one in silver looked up at me and smiled. It was a dinner-party smile. The kind you give when you’ve met someone you immediately like and something funny happens. You create an unearned intimacy, but it makes you both feel good. That’s what she gave me.

The ride continued. Every so often, I would look down and she would roll her face up to mine and smile that smile. I returned it, but tentatively. It was late, and I didn’t want to encourage unwanted attention or send the wrong signal. (Sometimes New York is like being in a foreign country, where I can’t automatically figure out the cultural implications of my acts.) As our interaction continued, I became more curious. Her smile never changed. There was nothing sexual, no come-hither. It never got any more or less intimate or involved. I felt safe and content in her friendliness, which surprised me. When I got off the train I stood outside the window as it revved and then rumbled past. The other passengers streamed around me like water, but I waited silently until she looked my way.

I waved, and then I walked home.