Coyote Toilet

guy in a boat“Quiet!” she hushed, raising an index finger to her lips and cocking her head. She meant it, so I shut up.

Seconds passed. “What is it?” I asked softly.

“Like something outside, a wild animal, coyotes howling or something,” she replied, still searching for a match.

Personally, I didn’t wonder. It’s hard to hear through thick adobe walls, or masonry ones either, like in the small bathroom where we stood. Coyotes come by all the time, too, and their yelps are quite distinctive. I couldn’t make out anything, which wasn’t a surprise, but all at once, she nailed it:

“It was the toilet!”

Oh yeah. The ancient mechanism never quite shuts off sometimes, and then it “sings,” a quiet, humming, high-pitched whine that falls and rises. With a little luck, you can make it go away by slapping the side of the tank. I could see how the sound might be mistaken for a howling beast some miles away, rattled down arroyos and carried by the wind. But this was just a 40-year-old calcified convenience, our own coyote toilet of the numbered days.

I have permission from the landlady in Pennsylvania to replace it whenever Gilbert the Magic Plumber thinks we should, which is pretty much right now. But Gilbert’s ministrations are something to be savored. I can do nothing else when he’s on the scene, nor would I wish to. So the timing must be right: the job will take all afternoon.

I should be used to this by now. There’s a rightness to living this way that I appreciate most deeply. If only I weren’t so impatient to make up for lost time.

on the Chester River

In Arizona recently, my sister sorted through hundreds of photographs she’d stashed at our mother’s old doublewide in the desert. Some of them were of my wife and me, taken on visits to Tucson I can’t even remember, back in the early days when we’d drive all the way from Maryland. I looked impossibly young. Utterly, impossibly, very handsomely young. As is usual with me, I spoke the first thought that came into my head:

“Oh, squandered youth!”

Which was revealing, I thought. Too much so, in fact, so I immediately dissembled and moved on. Can’t have any of that.

Besides, it was in fact not squandered but magnificent! Even if I wasn’t rich or famous, even though I ricocheted from adventure to crisis all the time, and despite my lack of focus, understanding, or respect, I did nearly everything I wanted. We’d go skinny-dipping on a pristine beach and had sex almost every day. I sailed up and down the river. She practiced on her baby grand on warm, humid nights with the windows open. Someone had a party every couple of weeks. There was lust like mildew over everything. We ate corn, crabs, strawberries, and tomatoes. I played loud guitar, built boats and sculptures, cast bronze cat skulls, painted, went exploring, and occasionally worked.

We took all kinds of trips. Early on, we drove her old VW to Mexico and back. While our friends picked out new furniture, we hocked everything to go to Europe on sabbatical. Sometimes we jumped in the car after her last class to drive 90 miles across the bay to go to D.C. for a movie or just to visit Bloomingdale’s for kicks. I’d have tequila from a flask, get high, and drive back listening to the stereo in the wee hours of the morning while she sat there with the map light on, finishing her lesson plans—over the Bay Bridge in the moonlight, hardly any traffic once we reached the Eastern Shore.

Squandered??? HELL, NO!

Just easy to forget in the rarefied imprisonment of approaching doom. I have focus now but look like hell. I feel all right but think I know the score, and so I hurry—rush about inside—leaving no damn room for glory or the magic plumber, much less the wilderness that beckons just outside the door, and all the ships lined up, waiting to come in…

The old porcelain howls of fur and footprints in the night. I will have to trust in magic and go home.

  • Oldfool January 30, 2012, 8:53 AM

    I reflected yesterday on my “squandered youth” and I decided that if I could do it over I would squander it again.
    I can’t count the number of times that singing toilets have freaked me out.

    • JHF January 30, 2012, 10:06 AM

      Damn straight—what else is there to do with youth?!? I’m just getting revved up on this topic, too.

      As for the toilet, I mostly don’t hear it anymore. Hah!

  • Sherry January 30, 2012, 9:30 AM

    I laughed and laughed over the mental image of you both standing at the bathroom window looking for a coyote sneaking into your yard and low and behold, the whole time – it was the toilet!! Thanks for the laugh. I really needed it. As to squandered youth – I agree with Oldfool in his reply – or hers. I think I would to it all again and this time add a tatoo of a lovely blue dragonfly. The next time you go for a walk in the loveliness that surrounds you, say hello to the beauty for me.

    • JHF January 30, 2012, 10:10 AM

      It’s a he. 🙂 Click on the name and go visit his blog, he’s awesome.

      The tattoo sounds cool. Would have been something pretty special in my time when no one had them. I was tempted once a few years ago, but now I see them all over Walmart. Kinda confusing for tribal branding!

  • ken webb January 30, 2012, 2:11 PM

    Youth is wasted on the young, someone said. We old farts would know what to do with it.

    • JHF January 30, 2012, 7:53 PM

      A lot of things are wasted on the young, like fast cars and good drugs. I don’t know why more things like those are reserved for senior citizens. I mean, if anybody needs to go flying off the road at a hundred and ten, it’s me, not some young jerk with a hoodie and a rocket in his pocket. Those should be reserved for old farts, too. I don’t know what’s wrong with this world.

  • chris January 30, 2012, 3:22 PM

    it’s human nature to look back and think “oh, i should’ve done it differently” or “if i could i would do THIS instead of the THAT i did at the time.” it’s easy to look back and realize the “bad” decisions & missed opportunities from the perspective of Now, but you were who you were back then when you made whatever choices you did, and you could go around a million more times on the Parallel Universe Merry-Go-Round and would STILL make exactly the same choices you did, because that’s who you were back then. squandered shmandered! regret is total bullshit and a waste of time and energy (and it only took me until my 40s to figure that out, so i think i’m actually ahead of the game! 😉 )

    • JHF January 30, 2012, 8:03 PM

      To be clear, I’m not wishing I’d done anything differently. Far from it. My use of “squandered” is ironically intended.

      Yet I have also negatively tricked myself to some extent, as per my training. So I think I didn’t get my fair share and have to hustle now, but that agitation just gets in the way of what I really want.

      • chris January 30, 2012, 8:29 PM

        tell me about it! it’s obvious that regret is a waste of time, but in spite of that awareness it’s still so easy to fall into the trap. like i said, human nature! “why didn’t i take more advantage of that great job opportunity?”, “why didn’t i work harder on my music?”, “why didn’t i fuck that totally cute girl who was practically throwing herself at me?” (that last one is always a bummer no matter what 😉 ) the only thing is to keep going and hopefully learn from the past. 🙂

  • Teresa Evangeline January 31, 2012, 9:54 AM

    This is a wonderfully written post. I love your descriptive paragraphs of “youth squandered.” And your last sentence is magic in and of itself. Hopping in the car and driving many miles, often late at night, just to feel even more alive…. I remember those days with joy. I’m still hoping to do some youth-squandering even now.

    “Je non regrette rien.”

    • JHF February 1, 2012, 12:11 AM

      Hey, thanks!

  • Cage Free Family August 18, 2012, 9:14 PM

    Aye! I absolutely love this line: “Besides, it was in fact not squandered but magnificent! Even if I wasn’t rich or famous, even though I ricocheted from adventure to crisis all the time, and despite my lack of focus, understanding, or respect, I did nearly everything I wanted.”

    Perfect! Thank you!

    • JHF August 18, 2012, 10:21 PM

      You’re welcome, and huge thanks for reminding me I said that! Came at just the right time…

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