Moses Lake to Spokane: Becky’s Walmart birthday, Max’s toilet terror

We just got back from the Gig Harbor Y. Most days, going to the YMCA is about the only productive thing we accomplish. And Max gets an hour or so in babysitting to play with kids his age.
After we work out, Max always insists on playing on the stretching cage, which is a torture rack for adults that doubles as a jungle gym for kids. I’m sure kids aren’t supposed to go all monkey on it, but we make a practice of indulging our kid at all costs. I just keep an eye out for Y staffers and rip Max off the cage if I see one coming.
We’d get him one of his own, if they didn’t retail for more than 2 grand.
After I got him off the cage, he had to go to the bathroom. He wanted company. He often asks one of us to “keep him comfort” while he goes to the potty.
Especially, he still retains a vestigial fear of automatic-flush potties that are standard in most newer buildings.

That brings to mind this story from our aborted trip to Yellowstone Park, an early trial run in the Petroleum Monster. Which goes as follows:

Sept. 3, 2011, Riverfront Park, Spokane
We’re sitting at hem of a grass amphitheatre, waiting to hear Marcy Playground. It’s Pigout In The Park,  the annual Labor Day weekend festival.
The handsome, 155-foot-tall clocktower, which once was part of the Great Northern Railroad depot, rises stage left.
To the right, the Chase bank building bathes in the glow of a quarter moon. JPMorgan Goddamn Chase. Everywhere we go, Chase stalks us and plagues my mind. I remember watching a labor protest in El Paso’s Alligator Plaza in 2010 and looking up to note the local Chase outpost commandeering the skyline. It’s like we’re being followed.
JPMorgan Chase is a fucking leviathan, the biggest fish in the soiled sea of international finance. It is, the largest bank in the country, and according to Forbes, the world’s largest public company.
Nearly five years after the great financial collapse of the 21st century, the economy still hovers above the abyss. And Chase is still smelling like a trillion-dollar rose.
Bastards can piss away $2 billion on a shady trading scheme and nobody gives a shit. We owe Chase roughly $179,000, which is an infinitesimally insignificant percentage of $2 billion. I’d need a mathematician to tell me exactly how small the percentage is.  If you divide $179,000 by $2 billion,  you get this: 0.000895. That’s a small fucking number, is all I know. How would they possible miss it? Wish I had Jamie Dimon’s cell number.
Anyway, back to Riverfront Park. It’s Becky’s birthday. This was the site of Expo ’74, the first environmentally sensitive world’s fair. They came up with a doozy of a slogan: “Celebrating Tomorrow’s Fresh New Environment.” That was 37 years ago, so I guess the Safeway bags and other assorted garbage hugging the banks of the Spokane River qualify as the fresh new environment. So let’s celebrate, before it’s too late.
Max got to ride a lackluster bumper boat, the Red Baron biplane, and a choo-choo train.  So he’s OK for now. We’re just hoping parking the petrol-devouring steel box astride the homeless mission was not a bad idea.

Max rides the bumper boat during our visit to Spokane’s Labor Day festival, Pigout in the Park.

We’re drinking the $3 Gewurtztraminer we tasted yesterday at the Moses Lake Grocery Outlet. We are drinking to unrealized dreams. We have suspended our Yellowstone dreams and their attendant grizzly nightmares for the time being.
It cost roughly $100 in fuel to get from Tacoma to Spokane, and we’re not even halfway to the Montana gates of “America’s Oldest National Park.” I am having a hard time adjusting to the high cost of driving a metal box that gets 11-12 miles to the gallon.
I mean, 13-14 would be preferable.
At this rate, JPMorgan Chase will buy Yellowstone and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast theme park by the time we get there.
We stopped early yesterday in Moses Lake, first to visit Grocery Outlet, which forced me to wonder if the increasing profile of our favorite supermarket is slowly sucking the sweetness out of what once were impossibly good deals.
Thirty miles out of Moses Lake, a mass of tumbleweed came dancing  on the wings of the wind, high above the potato fields of Grant County. It wheeled in a downward arc and struck us head-on at 56.5 mph. It stuck in the grill like some tawny holiday garland, desiccated holiday deckage of our carbon-burning halls.
Today is Sept. 3, after all, and Max and I awoke to the horrible realization that we’d neglected to plan ahead for Rhoda Morgenstern’s birthday celebration. Here we were in Moses Lake, camped at the rear of the Walmart lot. And I thought to myself, what would my pal Jefferson Pepper do?
I mean, it was sitting right there, staring at us in all its boxy, price-rolling-back glory.
I know it’s wrong, but what would you do, your sweet wife and all, and nothing to show?
And so, the awful truth: We ran in and cobbled together a $36 dollar package, themed in purple. She got a pair of earrings, a scarf, a bra and a pretty purple shirt, from what I remember. I’m sure most of it was made by child slaves in Bangladesh. They’ve probably starved to death by now.
Thirty-six dollars. That’s $30 less than the grand total we paid to fill up on 92 octane gas the night before. Troy, our beloved mobile mechanic, insists we use high-octane gas. I know I will cheat soon. I hate this fucking car.
It’s turning me into a supporter of international child labor.
Happy Walmart birthday to you, Rhoda Morgenstern!
Forgive me Jeff Lebo, forgive me world.

******
We spent the morning lingering in Walmartville.
I didn’t care. The only time we’re not hemorrhaging cash is when we’re sitting still.
Driving down the highway, instead of looking at the world through my windshield, in the classic 20th century style, I’m unable to take my eye off the gas-gauge needle. This calculating diminishing returns while driving across the eastern Washington desert is taking the paint right off me.

Greetings from Toiletville, USA. You might notice they had manual-flush toilets at this K-Mart somewhere in northern California.

************

Back to last night in Moses Lake. Max needs to go potty.
Walmart, say what you will about its rapacious need to corner the market on the world’s wealth, boasts clean, pristine potties. They gots the latest in public potties. Which means, for this tale of woe, automatic-flush potties.
Up until this time I had not paid sufficient attention to the magnitude with which the automatic-flush toilets strike fear terror into the heart of my 4-year-old son.
I do now. Comes now a visceral lesson in parenting foibles.
All the sturm and drang of parenthood, right here. The good, the bad and the goddamn ugly.
Let’s start with the latter.
As we approach the men’s room, he recoiled in horror and stomped down on my sandal-exposed big toe with his 1970s vintage cowboy boots. I react, shall we say, in a less than ideal manner.
So I try the disciplinarian routine. I consider spanking, but that seem too draconian.
Empty threats, that’s my style.
“You’ll never watch TV again if you poop in your pants!”
I’m a screaming mess of failed parent now. Pulling my hair out, would be the trite description. Losing my shit, would be another.
No savvy, no guile. Just 190-something pounds of puffed-up bluster and vacuous bravado.
(We got a working potty out in the parking lot in our steel box. But we’re almost as terrified to use that for No. 2 purposes as Max is of the automatic flushers. I once read a great book about the NASCAR culture wherein the writer sprayed shit all over himself while attempting to dump his waste. Enough said.)
Well, that didn’t go well at all. He’s screaming wildly, crying involuntarily, descending headlong into a spectacular freak-out of spastic proportions.
I am silent, coming to grips with my stupidity and powerlessness.
We exit the stall and sit on the bench outside the restroom to collect our collective breath before giving it another go.
We’re going to do this goddamn thing, I insist.
Take II: Cajolery, sweetness, worthless bribes.
“I’ll buy you M&Ms if you go in the potty. A mountain of M&Ms, buddy. As many as you can eat!”
Nothing doing. Except more wailing, sobbing and ineffectual parenting. They say parenting can be quite stressful, but I don’t think I understand what they were saying until now.
Time for another temporary retreat.
We’re back on the Group W bench, outside the customer service hall. They got everything here, everything except what we need: a goddamn manual flush potty.
Third trip: Whatever it takes.
I sat my fat ass on the potty. I show him it never flushes whilst you’re on it. It only goes off after you get off. Several seconds after you get off. In fact, if you set a bomb set to detonate on the same schedule, you’d have a decent chance of getting out of there alive.
I don’t say all that.
I’m sitting there, and watching desperately as Max slides down into a pathetic lump at the far corner of the stall. Tears covering his little face. Limbs quaking.
You’d think he just got a load of Jack Nicholson in The Shining or something.
I surrender.
I’m with you, Max. To hell with automatic-flush potties.
There’s got to be another way. The worst is past. I can show him that resilience is a worthy trait. We’ll do to this is we have to walk from here to Wenatchee.
We plunge into the warm Moses Lake night in search of a manual-flush toilet.
There, in the near-distance across the yawning concrete plain, I see the goddamn golden arches glowing. Seems a mile off, but probably closer.
Let’s go!
Max, for all his trouble, is rewarded with the primo spot atop my shoulders. I have acclimated to the absurdity of the quest. I am happy to be here, to be his dad, even if I’m not a very good one.
McDonald’s has a cheeseburger meal, 2 for $4.99. But it doesn’t have a fucking manual-flush toilet.
Undaunted, we keep moving. We’ve come this far. No time to stop now. A little farther up the road, Burger King beckons. We can have it our way there, I tell Max.
Oh, benevolent monarch of Fastfood Kingdom, here we come. We come not for your $1 icees. We come for your potty.
Please do not disappoint us.
We make our way past the madding crowd, into the empty men’s room. We file past the sink, the urinals, into the stall, and …
Manual-fucking-flush toilet!
It is a score!
Max pulls down his shorts, sits and I wait, triumphant.
And wait.
That’s OK, though, because we did it.
He pees.
And I wait some more.
“Daddy, the poop isn’t coming.”
That’s OK, buddy. Give it time. We got all the time in the world.
So we wait some more.
“Daddy, I was just kidding.”
Huh?
“Daddy, It was just a joke. I don’t need to poop.”
As Bill Cosby once said: Right!
It’s just a joke.
And so we smile and wash our hands in preparation for the long trek back. And while they got a manual-flush toilet, they don’t have paper towels.
What else terrifies Max?
You guessed it. The air dryer.
So he dries his hands on the back of my shorts.
We leave.
End of story.

***

Postscript: It’s not really the end of the story. A couple nights later, we were in another eastern Washington Walmart. Spokane, I think.
It was late at night, around midnight, and Max said he felt the urge coming on.
Round 2 of Max vs. the automatic-flush potty, coming up.
Becky took him in this time, while I got in line and purchased some M&Ms for the expected celebration. We were gonna get it right this time. We were going to be competent parents.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m standing there with the candy when they emerge, crestfallen.
No such luck.
I figure I’m gonna redeem myself for the Moses Lake fiasco. In we march.
He’s shaking.
Now he’s screaming.
Blood-curdling screams.
I’m sure everyone out by the registers is thinking, “What in the name of Thomas Crapper is going on in there? Sounds like some poor kid’s being abused.” Everyone except Becky.
I hope she explains.
What we have going on now essentially is a replay of the night in Moses Lake, only much louder and shriller.
Never fear. I’ve got a brilliant idea. Can’t possibly fail.
I sit on the toilet, inching back as far as possible so Max has enough room to do his business. Then I invite him on.
The two of us on one potty.
It’s not working, however.
He’s still making a fearful racket, and nothing’s coming out.
I figure it’s time to give up the ghost. And then I make a fatal blunder.
I throw up my hands and stand up, leaving Max alone on the throne.
When I stood up, I unwittingly trigger the automatic-flush sensor.
Before I know it, there it is, a big, horrifying industrial-sized flush.
Goddamn I’m a poor excuse for a parent.
I didn’t think it possible for Max’s terror to reach a more frenzied pitch. But now it has.
I can’t begin to describe the fiendish caterwauling he’s unleashing now.
So I lift him off the toilet, and then notice something funny.
His pee is falling into the toilet.
Where’d that come from?
Since I am really dumb, what’s going on doesn’t register yet.
And now here comes the poop, hard on the trail of the pee.
Up to this moment, I had never considered the literal origins of the phrase.
That scared the shit out of me.
I really hadn’t.

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