Thursday, August 18, 2005


When I was a girl, an indoor bathroom would have been a luxury. We used an outhouse, with the path from the house skirting the edge of a cornfield. That outhouse was not only a necessary commodity, but it was highly educational. We couldn't afford toilet paper, so we used pieces of newspaper. I can remember sitting there reading articles, most of the pages torn into strips, so finishing a story was impossible, but it was enlightening, just the same. And, if I didn't feel like reading, I could study the cobwebs on the ceiling, with the spiders busily spinning bigger and bigger webs. The carcasses of trapped, dead flies littered the hanging nets and sometimes the spiders dangled down floorward like bungee jumpers hanging onto silken threads.

We had a bantam rooster named Saucy, which he certainly was. A tiny fellow, his feathers gleamed with a fleurescent, neon glow, purple, green and black. He was a beauty, no bigger than a loaf of my mother's bread. But Saucy was irretrievably mean, the Ted Bundy of chickens, a dedicated serial killer, intent upon inflicting as much harm to all humans as he possibly could.

He lurked in the weeds along the path and in the hidden reaches of the cornfield, waiting, always waiting. I would walk along the path, terrified, knowing he was there somewhere, but unable to locate him. Inevitably, the attack would come. With a squawk of rage, that little devil would bounce out the cornstalks and attack your legs with vicious biting and clawing. You couldn't force him off with blows, or by shaking your legs, or by screaming. He was intent upon his goal, which was to make mincemeat of any part of your body he could reach.

I always screamed for my mother, who would rush out of the house with her broom. The broom was the weapon of choice for my mother. She killed snakes with it. She subdued Saucy with it. If wolves had howled at our door, my mother would have dissuaded them with her broom, which she could use to parry and thrust like a seasoned swordfighter. Her determination usually dissuaded Saucy for the time being and he would return to the cornstalks to await his next victim, while my mother guarded my way to the outhouse and back.

I was remembering all this the other night, as I tried, for the first time in my life, to replace a toilet seat. Previously, I had left all of these tasks to the man of the house, but widowhood places one in strange circumstances, so I was faced with a stained toilet seat and no one but myself to change it.

The instructions said brusquely..."Remove old toilet seat". ..before going on and relaying just how to install the new one. Simple enough, I thought. I can do that.

An hour later, fingertips bleeding from the pressure of trying to unscrew a mildewed, grimy, yucky screw adhered to a plastic bolt, I was still lying on my bathroom floor, peering up into the nether regions of the toilet bowl, regions none too clean, either, I must say, filled with little nooks and crannies too revolting to mention.

With my head lodged between the toilet bowl and the cabinet, I tried desperately to loosen this screw, which was just as determined to stay put. I would pull myself up from this position only to travel to the toolchest, employing hammers, pliers, screwdrivers and a pumpkin knife in my attempt to complete this job.

No go! That screw had the obstinacy of George Bush in his refusal to admit a mistake. It wouldn't budge. I finally decided to saw the damn thing off, so using a small saw, I began working. This didn't complete the task, either.

I decided to sleep on the problem and left my assortment of tools and disarray and went to bed. The next morning, I faced this daunting task once again, and once again the screw refused to move. Then I had a creative and adventurous idea, a bit like Eli Whitney getting tired of picking cotton by hand and inventing the gin. I would BURN that bolt into two pieces, thus releasing it. By bypassing the screw altogether, I could do as the instructions said..."Remove the old toilet seat".

The trouble is, I couldn't figure out a way to burn the plastic bolt without setting fire to the bathroom. But, with American ingenuity, I solved the problem. I lit a cigarette lighter, held the blade of my saw to the flame, then sawed like hell. Over and over, I repeated this procedure until finally, with a shriek of delight, the plastic bolt was burnt through and the seat was loosened.

However, there was one more screw to remove, and it proved as stubborn as the first one. My burning technique was fine, but every time I tried to wield my saw, the seat came crashing down from the upright position I had propped it into and smashed my fingers. Finally, I solved the problem by holding it up with my foot, as I lay peering up into the seat. I was like a contortionist, doubled into a knot, lighting my lighter, holding the blade of the saw to the flame without searing my leg or setting fire to my hair, then sawing like a madwoman before the heat dissipated.

I am very proud of my new toilet seat. It will stay there forever, because I will never go through that ordeal again. Indeed, I would rather return to the darkened recesses of an outhouse than repeat that task. True, an outhouse can be a frigid misery in the wintertime and then, too, there was that merciless little rooster. But it never had to be cleaned with an acidic cleanser, never needed a plunger, and never required a fancy toilet seat to do its duty.