Tuesday, 13 May 2014

TOM - This is new for us Dick.  It's funny poetry.

DICK - It's a story, Tom.  A personal essay.

TOM - There's lots of words.

DICK - Did you count them?

TOM - I started to.  I got up to seven, then I thought about knitting a jumper out of noodles.

DICK - Yeah, I like the sound of that.  Knit us one.

TOM - I will, as soon as I learn how to knit, I'm on it.

DICK - Well, until then I'm gonna read this story.

Don't Mistake My Shit for Flowers 
Brooke McCarley

Sometimes it is good to hear an objective opinion. And sometimes the opinion is so strong that words are not even needed. Such as the silence that lingered as I explained the plumbing situation to my mother. That silence was telling me that my niceness might actually be a form of weakness.  Maybe what I thought made me easy going  really  made me weak enough to endure shitty situations.

Real shitty.

However, I just wanted the house to work. The two-bedroom cottage came with a spacious backyard, and the dogs begged us to take it. My boyfriend and me could hear the house calling to us even if the floor wasn’t mopped, some of the blinds were broken and that spacious back yard was covered in a foot of leaves and mud. We were also trying to ignore the fact that  the landlord reeked more like a slumlord. She must wake up every morning and bathe in lies, aggressive behavior and stinginess. It was easy to ignore that terrible personality because she kept it hidden right underneath the skin. We can mop. We can fix the broken blinds. We wanted that yard.

More importantly, we want to think highly of people. Yes, something was gnawing at our conscious not to  trust her. However, it was buried under the idea that everyone is a decent person, assumingly. We wanted to be nice, warm and god, should I say  compassionate. We didn't just want to deal with her as the landlord. We wanted to like her as a person.

However when I was talking to my mom, I was lost in that silence that made me question everything. I explained the plumbing in the house was clogged. This is the second clog in the three weeks we have lived there. The landlord got a plumber out the first time and snaked the drain. We assumed this was a untreated problem from the last tenants, and we were confident the plumber would clear  out the pipes completely.Yet there we were, two weeks later needing to clear the pipes again.

In true slumlord fashion, we had to wait for her to find the cheapest sketchiest plumber to snake the drain. The first time it took three days. This second time it took a week. During this week was when I tried to explain how the pipes were clogged and we were waiting for the plumber. The silence was heavy. Then my mom shattered that silence and screeched, “so you can’t use the bathroom!”

This is when it gets even more shitty.

Our landlord explained that she had a pipe put in a few years ago, and she could unscrew the lid so we can use the toilet like normal without flooding the bathroom. With that said, we showered, we ate, we drank and we used the bathroom. The pipe she was talking about was in the front yard, a foot from the wall of the house and in the middle of a flower bed. It didn't take long to understand the pile of shit and toilet paper was going down the pipe from the bathroom and lodging itself into our flower bed.  The first time we were lucky that the plumber came out and snaked the drain fast, but he left  the pile of shit sitting in the flower bed. I got some plastic gloves and shoveled it up. I still wanted the house to work to the point I became my own hazmat agency.

I told my flower bed of shit story to friends and co-workers and I was always met with that astounded look followed by three words, “oh my god”.   The more incredulous faces I was met with the more I realized I was living in an absurd, unsanitary shithole. I think the problem was so abnormal that it left me in a state of shock much like the seconds after you have been mugged or in a car wreck. However this went on for days because the only plumber she can use canceled several times. Some days it was the weather, and some days he was sick. One day it was because someone else borrowed his snake.

I was playing fair but persistent.I had called and texted the landlord to check on the status of the plumber daily, but I was never irate. However, shock wears off and sometimes you are being mugged and sometimes you have rolled your car into a ditch, and sometimes you are living in raw sewage.

The final straw happened when I carried sushi home for lunch. I walked up the sidewalk where  the flower bed of shit was expanding.  I could avoid all eye contact with  the sewage by closing my eyes or I could stare at it, and let it feed the rage that was growing in my chest. With food in hand I always try to avoid the sewage, but that day and precisely that minute, my boyfriend  flushed the toilet. Like any horrific situation, I couldn't help but look as a five to six inch turd wobbled out of the top of the pipe and then collapsed in the pile of his other fallen brothers and sisters.

“Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.”

I heard these exact words quoted twice right before the plumbing backed up for the second time. They left an imprint on me. When spoken correctly these words carry power with grace and they carry such gentle yet firm strength. I heard this quote in reference to bosses handling tough situations with employees. But couldn't these words be applied to everyone? Can't they be applied to me?

It doesn't come natural to me to deal with aggressive people that lie and take advantage of others. The landlord did have that vantage point. However, it doesn't mean I can’t jump into the ring and fight for what is a decent living space, which includes a turd-free flower bed. I think one of the most important things you can do when dealing with aggressive, sketchy people is to speak up, right into their face. I called the landlord and received no response like the last several days. I texted the landlord and she claimed the plumber will be able to do it tomorrow. I texted her again explaining that this isn't just gross. It was illegal. She and the plumber were at the house within an hour.

My tone had changed from patient to angry. I became more aggressive and firm. She talks over people, demanding the entire conversation, but now I battled her for the right to talk. I wasn't worried about being perceived as an annoying tenant. I was mad at this situation and the cheap way she handled it. I also knew she was lying about details of the situation, and I questioned her repeatedly about it. I still hold onto to the belief that I am a easy-going and nice person, but I also believe in open communication and standing up for myself. I don’t want my kindness to be mistaken for weakness, and I know that she understands that about me. And yes, am uncomfortable with aggressive confrontations, but in this situation, I learned  that I am strong enough to show up for battle. Even if the battle is regarding shit.

Brooke McCarley is a musician that lives in Birmingham, Al. She writes for the blog, http://www.iamthefbomb.com. When she is not working at a public library in the city you can find her playing shows, hiking, camping and trying to live. Her own blog is http://generalhoot.tumblr.com.