Of teenagers and toilets

It’s a miracle of life’s incongruities that a single day could be both wonderful and horrific. But that’s the correct description for the last 24 hours.

Four of us — two old fogies and two teenagers — arrived on Nantucket yesterday to find the one toilet in our cottage so plugged up that, not only was it declared user-free, it was potentially going to be that way for a very long time. Since this house has only one loo, having that one out of service left us all wondering if we should just turn around and go home. Which, in July, is much easier said than done. In fact, we were stuck. For at least the night. Peeing in the woods has such primitive charm . . . until you have no alternative but to do just that.

What I learned is this:  there’s no better way to take casual relationships, especially those separated by generations, on to an entirely new footing than having to discuss the intimacies of who needs to do what when and how we are going to do it. The teens were predictably uncomfortable but, being well brought up, pretended otherwise. Especially when it was time to go to bed, and it was declared that we would all climb into the car and drive down to the Steamship Authority’s public toilets for a group tinkle. ‘Group’ as in, we all went together, after which we ungrouped to head for our gender designated restrooms.

Is this the stuff memories are made of or what? By the time we got home, we were all laughing about it and figuring out how we were going to handle the morning call of nature. But of course! We would go to breakfast at the Downy Flake, that iconic island diner famous for its cake donuts, not this time for their succulent baked goods but for their clean and available restrooms. Suddenly, talk of leaving the island had vanished and the unspoken but unanimous decision to stick it out was made. The Toilet Dilemma had morphed into our personal bond in under 12 hours.

Today, after the Downy Flake, the kids went to Dionis Beach (where they have toilets and we all partook of the opportunity) while the cottage was invaded first by two plumbers (candidates for sainthood since it is a well known fact that plumbers on Nantucket are more elusive than God himself and yet here they were!) and then by a sewer specialist, the toilet problem having escalated from a simple blockage to a monumental nightmare. They plunged and they reemed; they brought in coils and compressors; they spoke in hushed tones of excavation. It was too worrisome to watch, so we assuaged our sorrows with a sandwich order from Something Natural, picked up the kids and took them out to Cisco for a surfing lesson.

It was, by all accounts, the finest summer day yet on the island this year. Sunny, dry and hot but not hot-hot. Both kids got up on their boards on their very first tries; Cajun played in her first real surf; Pete and I dozed in the shade of our LLBean beach cabana. Life was good. Especially if you didn’t have to pee and you didn’t think too very far into the future of one fragile toilet.

By the time we got home, we had a working john. If only just. And on the porch was a bag left by the sewer guy labeled “Gunk.” I won’t go into details of the contents of that bag, though I will say Pete could not resist, as he put it, getting his hands dirty, to have a look. In fact, he was disappointed. Nothing there. But on my phone, an ominous text from my caretaker: “You have a working toilet. But there are other issues. Call me.”

We are far from out of the woods on this toilet issue. In fact, the woods are the problem itself. What the plumbers extracted was loads and loads of  . . .  vegetation! . . .a sampling of which they left for us to examine. Roots. And tendrils. Somewhere underground, the pipes are compromised, allowing an invasion of living matter. But this is to-be-continued. For now, there is nothing more to do until the next diagnostics are run.

Never mind. We  are just back from the Juice Bar, following a lobster dinner. The four of us, two old fogies and two teens, will never forget this week, in which we bonded over a busted commode.

Good things have grown out of this shared adventure. Even if good things are not growing inside our sewer pipes.


— Belle Songer




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