A few years ago, I ran into a work-related problem.  It was a problem that happened at work but was not actually anything to do with my job.  It was of a decidedly personal nature.

I was, at that time, still getting to work earlier than everybody else on virtually a daily basis (this has changed somewhat in the intervening years.  I’m usually still there in a timely fashion but for the first year or so I was there first nearly every day.  It was kind of awkward the first month because I didn’t yet have a key to the office so I would be sitting on the steps out front.  Such an eager young man) and part of my morning routine was to take a bathroom break.  Normally this did not present a problem.  On this day, however, fate (or at least that part of fate that controls the bowels) had a different plan.

If you’ve ever stopped up a toilet, you are familiar with the feeling of seeing the water fail to leave the bowl in an expedient fashion.  I think either George Carlin or Jerry Seinfeld has a bit about the icy hand that clutches your heart when you see the water advancing up the sides of the commode like an onrushing army and there’s no way to stop it.  This was me at about 8:50 on that dismal morning.

Possibly the only thing worse than causing a plumbing ‘incident’ is having to ask one’s 50-year-old, female, Ukrainian boss if there is a plunger in the office and, if so, where it is located.  This request leads directly to five minutes of searching the basement and other rooms of the office for the implement in question and, when the search proves fruitless, the instruction from said boss to ‘go out and buy one, here is some money.’

At the time, the nearest store to my office was Giant Tiger.  It is not exactly known for its broad selection of plumbing implements but I thought surely it would have such a simple thing as a plunger.  Perhaps somewhere in housewares (no).  Maybe in tools/hardware (no).  Cleaning supplies, even (no).  They were nowhere to be found and I was not really enjoying the thoughts of having to go back to the office, get my car and drive around looking for one.  I decided to brace myself and ask one of the employees for help.

This is not a typical ‘guys don’t like to ask for directions’ sort of pride thing.  In this situation, what I was effectively saying was this:  “Hello.  You don’t know me but I have stoppered a toilet and I need your help to make it right.”  There is really only one reason to buy a single plunger (buying a dozen plungers or more is a much easier thing to do.  I’ve done that without even blinking) and both you and the person helping you know it but there is a tacit societal agreement that we won’t talk about it or make eye contact.  This continues with the cashier but is less pronounced.

The walk from Giant Tiger to my office was only perhaps five minutes.  It is absolutely amazing how many people happened to be walking down Court Street that day.  I don’t know if there was a parade or a rally or a march or something but it seemed like half the population of the city was gathered on those two blocks to watch me walk along.  A plunger is not an easily concealed shape to carry whilst walking.  Even if one takes it apart and carries it in a shopping bag, it is still a very distinct outline.  I decided not even to try.  I carried it with no bag.  I looked every person I saw straight in the eyes and my posture and carriage said “Yes, I have caused a plumbing disaster and I bear the tools to make it right.  Look on my confidence and take heart in whatever embarrassing task confronts you because you know it’s probably not as bad as mine.”

That is my inspirational message to you for the week ahead.  If something goes wrong this week, chances are it’s probably not as embarrassing as including about 40 people in your washroom difficulties.

it’s late in the evening