So let’s say your 80-year-old dad makes a snap decision one morning to jump in the car and make a beeline to the local Home Depot to purchase a new bathtub, intent on beginning a process of replacing the stand-up shower — and only bathing facility — in the house you’re currently residing in as a homeless, 46-year-old degenerate wanderer.
Let’s also say his health isn’t the greatest — his physical strength and mobility are similar to that of a crippled new-born giraffe, and his mental faculties are on par with an electroshock patient who just received a 400-volt hit of “therapy.”
And let’s say he’s going to the hospital in the next two days for knee surgery, leaving you and your mother — people sorely lacking in plumbing, tiling, and renovation skills — to sort out the mess.
What do you do, hotshot?
What do you do?
You fucking roll with it. You put your goofy projects and agendas on hold, and you dive headfirst into helping the people who brought you into this world, giving back with gratitude every supportive moment the’ve provided you in the past.
But before you take the project over with your mother, who is a far more able-bodied and energetic workmate, you spend two days with your dad to improvise fitting a bathtub into a corner he likely never took a tape measure to, while cutting holes into the floor and ceiling kitchen to build a Frankenstein of plastic piping to reach the impossibly located drainage pit.
Let’s say your dad is a bit of an “expert” on everything — with the mindset of a perpetually insecure child, incapable of admitting mistakes, and constantly gung-ho to do things like pick up a sawzall to cut shit without considering what elements may lie on the opposing side of a barrier.
What do you do, hotshot?
What do you do?
You fucking roll with it. You learn to ask basic questions as the process unfolds — the “subtle” kind that need to be asked before jigsaw blades start bouncing off copper pipes, or tearing through the drainage system of the sink and toilet married into the hidden underbelly of a water-closet structure.
You ask these questions to your dad not with an “are you out of your fucking mind?” tone, but with the humility of a respectful layperson, eager to solve any plumbing Rubik’s cubes that an old building, or human, might challenge you with.
Each moment you spend with him teaches you new methods to practice patience, empathy, and diminishment of your own superiority complex — the one you probably inherited from him unconsciously as he bullshitted his way through life, much like you’re doing now.
Despite your dad’s choice to ignore the use of sealant or rubber washers, despite his bizarre decisions to do things like tear away strapping with a putty knife and screwdriver (oblivious to the debris being rained down on the uncovered kitchen counters and shelves of your mother’s immaculately kept kitchen below), and despite his creation of a Niagara Falls-like episode by hosing down the unsealed bathroom walls with an ignored and untamed shower-head, you learn to reserve verbalized judgement — the kind of “know-it-all” diatribe he would shred you with in a heartbeat, given the chance.
Now let’s say the day of your dad’s knee surgery has arrived — he’s out of commission, and it’s up to you and your mommy to get shit back together.
What do you do, hotshot?
Keep fucking rolling.
Though your new tutor has a much more pleasant and co-operative demeanour than your last boss — with practical skills and experience to guide your way through the process — neither of you would ever make the short list to participate as apprentice helpers to Mike Holmes, unless he got shit-faced on Tequila one night while looking through resumes sitting on his desk in the “gloriously unqualified” pile.
You wanna know my favourite thing about working with ceramic tile?
ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NOTHING!!
I broke more glazed stone than a glazed stoner wandering through a pottery outlet. I “score” about as well as Tie Fucking Domi sitting in the penalty box. I measure angles slightly worse than an astigmatic Stephen Hawking using a protractor bought in the 50-percent-off bin at the local Dollar Store.
But let’s say life throws these lessons at you not to inspire jumping off the highest structure in town every time the phrase “that piece doesn’t really fit, Mick,” gets uttered, only to teach you that, with a bit of practice, and acceptance that you won’t be perfect at everything you do the first time, you can fumble your way through just about anything.
So fumble we did.
And you know what?
We fucking rock.
Despite a week of mortar covered feet, and the constant consideration to slit my wrists with the the broken shards of the ceramic tiling littering the garage, we plugged away with dedicated effort until the area resembled something akin to a room people would be happy to bathe their stanky body parts in.
Stanky we were.
And even as one last round of water poured its way to the basement to soak my mother’s prized collection of Christmas ornaments, we revelled in the 20-minute showers we each had before realizing the game wasn’t quite over.
But a little silicone, a new o-ring, and a final round of desperate prayers to Jesus were the only missing components to make Project: “Tear Up the Bathroom Unnecessarily,” a smashing success.
Smashing, as in I think I may go slam my head against the new tiles to see which physical element breaks first. I think a lack of blood pooling in the basement should be the final test of a job well done.
One more lesson sticks in my brain as I type these words.
When I went to re-install the water-control-thingee — the technical name for the whatchamacallit that facilitates the temperature adjustment and flow of the chlorine-saturated liquid that runs from the spouty-dealy — and realized I had no idea how the pieces went together, instead of acting like my dad, and losing patience when my mother offered advice, I chose to listen. And she was correct when describing which doohickey should properly surmount which thingamabob. My apologies for inundating you with professional jargon.
I’m far from being a bodhisattva, but I realize that the more time one practices simple awareness, reinforced with a little empathy gleaned from the Golden Rule of the Cosmos, the sooner one might effect some change in a world gone topsy-turvy because of mentalities programmed by “me-first” agendas.
So let’s say you just spent a week or more engaged in activities that entirely detracted from time planned to invest in self-oriented projects.
Do you walk away from the experience as a bitter, miserable whiner for not having spent your days absorbed in self, or do you thank the Universe for a lot of stupid, frustrating, and memorable fun that ultimately helped put a smile on someone else’s face?
You know the answer, hotshot.
Excuse me while I grab a mop…