So here I am again and still suffering from my water troubles. I’ve decided that I should consider plumbing as my next career. Reading law? Forget it. Medicine? Too many late nights. Plumbing. Now there’s your ticket. You will be a contented millionaire who is able to take early retirement at age 35. People will come from afar and worship at your altar of mysterious, netherworldly knowledge. You will be loved and revered. And best of all, you will understand and be able to fix your own plumbing.
When I last left you, dear readers, I had been informed that I would have to pay $1000 to fix the weird-ass pipes that the plumber wanted to take pictures of. That was back when I had nerves. Now I don’t have any left. They are distant memory, smothered in the vague notion that once upon a time, I didn’t have water troubles and life was good.
Anyway, God came the plumber came. He worked for six hours. He charged me $1000.00. He told me the shower was fixed. Then he told me that he needed to do another six hours of work. That a lot of it is temporary, like the temporary filling that the dentist gives you. I’ve always wondered about that. Why is it that they just can’t give you the permanent filling right from the start? Why do you have to go through this temporary bit? Anyway, I’m digressing, but I asked him the same question – why the temp job? So he gave me a lot of explanations that I didn’t understand about angles and corners and how he wanted everything to work, at least temporarily.
So the next morning, I took a shower. As I was towelling off I was startled by a loud bang. Then there was another. I soon came to believe that the Battle of the Bulge was being re-enacted in my basement. Shaking, I grabbed at the phone to call the plumber. “Expansion in the new pipes,” I was told. “Calm down and have a drink. ”
“It’s eight o’clock in the morning,” I shouted, “I’ve got to go to work!”
“Have one when you get back, then, ” he said, chuckling. Those plumbers and their off-beat humour. Imagine, laughing at me and my plumbing while in the background, the pipes are expanding at a rate that would put a machine gun to shame.
As you might have guessed, all that banging did nothing for my nerves. I’m convinced the pipes have entered into an alliance of terror and have ganged up on me to reduce me to a quivering pulp. I knew this because whenever anyone else was around, they would lapse into a sullen silence.
Then a couple of days ago I knew I was in for it. There was a loud burp, followed by the sound of a fair-sized river running around the perimeter of the house. Then the heavy shelling started. I didn’t know if I should call the plumber or the armed forces. Then there was a gurgle followed by a loud hiss and then the machine guns and loud bangs went off together in a big flourish reminiscent of the 1812 Overture.
I grabbed a broom for defense and ran down into the basement. Water was pouring over the floor underneath the fixed shower stall.
I told the plumber about this new development and he has told me that my shower has to come out, that it’s leaking into the walls or something. I’m convinced that I don’t need a plumber, that an exorcist would work just fine. But calmer heads attached to functioning nerves have prevailed.
The plumber comes again tomorrow and I’ve stocked up. I have tranquilizers, earplugs and lots of whiskey. If you don’t hear from me again, send the army, or better yet, the navy. I’m sure they could use the live-fire practise.
I have water troubles. No, not that kind, the other kind. The kind that you find dripping in the basement. A lot of my troubles seem to start there. If you remember, dear readers, I once found rats down there. If you don’t remember, you can read about them in a post I did called, curiously enough, A Rat’s Tale.
Let me admit right from the start that I am a complete infant when it comes to the management of domestic machinery. Even the operation of the sink is a bit of a mystery.
However, ever since I moved in here it seems that there has been a conspiracy between two of the scariest bits of the house: the pipes and the furnace. I’m sure that they’re colluding to turn me into a sweating, quivering mass and get me wheeled out of here a la Amityville Horror, if a little less grandly.
The first fall I was here and still in the honeymoon stage of new homeowner’s bliss, I turned on the heat but didn’t get a wink of sleep. Every time I started to drift off there were these loud bangs and the sounds of water running. Now, you might say to yourself, it couldn’t have been that bad, but believe me, it was. Close-range artillery had nothing on it. And then there was the fear that I might have to build an ark.
So I got a plumber, a guy who grew up with Moses and knew more about pipes than the oil industry. He poked, prodded, stared and blinked. Then he stood by the back door and spat. “Old system,” he said. “Air in the pipes. Need to take the pressure off. One hour. $100.00.”
It turns out that I’ve got something called “radiant heat” which circulates hot water around the house. During the Roman days it was a good system but mine dates to the 1960s, a time when engineers felt they had to tinker with perfectly good stuff and screw it up. That’s what I have. Not the old-fashioned, really good, reliable version. The screwed up version. Air gets into it and it makes a lot of noise and a river runs through it.
The situation I’ve got going on now is a lot worse, though. Everything has sprung a leak. I keep wondering if there’s some sort of message that I’m not getting. There’s one from the kitchen sink. One from the dishwasher. One from the bathtub. One from the shower. There’s also some sort of problem with the venting. If you didn’t know already, as I did not (big surprise), improper venting will cause all kinds of water to back up, particularly all over the floor.
The plumber who came in to take a look initially tried to be polite and keep a straight face but later I could see him choking back gales of laughter. He was red-faced and almost suffocating. He was holding it in so hard that if he had let it slip, he would have blown his teeth out. I thought that I might have to get the portable defibrillator.
He wanted to take pictures. I kid you not. There’s probably some secret website or other where they share plumbing stories. There are probably gasps of awe and wonder as they gaze in astonishment and exclaim, “What the hell is THAT?”
I apparently bought a house with not only a weird furnace but also with the worst plumbing on the planet. He estimated that at least four different people had had a go at it, and not one of them had read “Plumbing for Dummies.” My ex-narcissist, supposedly an expert on pipes, was one of the four. Why am I not surprised? Then I heard him muttering to himself something about it being a “handyman’s nightmare.”
The next thing he said was that if Mike Holmes saw my plumbing, he would have a heart attack. For those of you who don’t know, Mike Holmes is a renovation god who goes all over Canada fixing shoddy workmanship. His motto is “make it right.” Usually, he takes your house apart to do it. Now for me, hearing the words “Mike Holmes” and “heart attack” in the same sentence brought up one word: money.
“How much is this going to cost?” I wailed.
The plumber, a friendly young guy who was earnestly trying to be professional, starting shifting from one foot to the other. As we stood there, another leak sprouted. I skipped nimbly back and in the process mashed several toes on a storage box. He swished through the water and started listing out all the stuff that had to be done. I started hyperventilating, whether from the mashed toes or the cost or both. In the end, after several big drinks of whiskey, I was able to recover, if a little unsteadily and still trying to stave off visions of bankruptcy.
He’s either replacing, moving or repairing six pipes. Then there’s the vent. It’s going to cost $1000.00. Since it’s such a strange get-up, I temporarily had thoughts of throwing it open to the general public for a small admission fee, but he’s actually coming back in only a couple of days. Shot down again.
I’ll let you know how it goes and how the whiskey holds out.
I’ve to some extent discussed before how narcissists fly red flags signalling who and what they are. The problem is that most of us can see that the wind is blowing something around but we don’t know what it is. If you’re like me, and raised on a sound diet of Hollywood movies, you’re going to set caution firmly aside, walk right up to this thing that’s blowing around and, sighing in relief, say, “It’s okay, it’s a pair of underwear!” Now, if you’re a lot like me, after a moment you’re also going to say, “Actually, it doesn’t really look like a pair of underwear, it might be a flag.” And then you’ll promptly talk yourself out of it because you can’t believe that there would be a flag blowing around, unattended, in the middle of the bald-ass desert. Which is where you’re going to be if you don’t start recognizing that it’s a flag, and that really, there’s lots more than just one of them. And anyway, why would it be more logical for a pair of underwear to be blowing around?
I knew you’d want to know. It’s because we want it to be a pair of underwear. Underwear blowing around? That’s funny. You can speculate endlessly on who owned them and how they got out there, all with humourous intent and lots of giggles and baa ha ha -ing.
But a flag? Everyone knows about flags. Alert: this is mine, all mine. You don’t belong here. Danger: if you don’t leave, I’ll throw a rock at you. Or something worse. Aggression: I’m bigger and better than you. I’m going to mess you up and take your stuff.
Flags carry an incredibly heavy emotional load and all of it is personal. I recently watched an Anthony Bourdain show about Madrid where the status of the Spanish flag was discussed. Until Spain won the World Cup of Soccer in 2010 and started to view their flag as a positive symbol, they were careful with it. They had viewed it as the flag of Francisco Franco, the dictator they were stuck with for 40 years until 1975 and therefore did not see it as a symbol of national pride.
Essentially, what the Spanish did for 35 years was either ignore or minimize the importance of their flag. It set off alarm bells, caused bad memories to re-surface and drove them into an uncomfortable place. That’s what red flags do, too.
So, even though our biology is telling us to be cautious, to be aware, we are just as capable of ignoring or minimizing those warnings. When it comes to narcissistic red flags, how far will we go to subvert our own better judgement?
Pretty far, if my own experience is anything to go by. For example, very early on I saw Harry’s ability to flip-flop, and that’s how I saw it, too. What I was ignoring were the first signs of his instability. These signs got lost in how brilliant he was at courting me – showering me with compliments and small presents. This was me: “Was that a red flag? No, it can’t be! Let me look at all these compliments instead …” I saw the flag but chose to turn it into a pair of underwear instead.
I also saw his sense of superiority and arrogance, too, but I chose to see them as indicative of a sort of bohemian intelligence a la Jack Kerouac. I came to realize how narrow his interests were – despite his protestations that he is a great reader, he reads only one author who writes mystery/suspense novels. I later saw that Harry likes to envision himself as this author’s central character – he is much more Walter Mitty than Jack Kerouac.
The fact that he owned very little while at the same time carrying an enormous debt load should have been another red flag and in fact was a red flag. I just got busy and rationalized it. He had explanations for everything, explanations that seemed logical at the time: I live in a travel trailer because my work takes me all over the place. I have a lot of debt because of the lawsuit (some of you may recall that there were actually several lawsuits including one against him) – this followed by a diversionary discussion of how the two women he sued had ruined his life and how I was making it better. I certainly was! I had started paying out money for him, including paying one of his huge debts.
He claimed to be a great cook and in fact often was in the kitchen, but his abilities in that area were very narrow and adolescent. He kept making and eating the same things, most of it junk food. He was obsessed with fruit pies and kept making pastry over and over again and throwing out the results. He threw out lots of other things, too. My grocery bill kept rising and he made no attempt to contribute. I put it down to his culinary perfectionism and chose to listen instead to the siren song of his compliments.
Almost everything that he owned was in poor condition, although saying that he “owned” these items is fanciful, at best. The bank and various credit card companies owned them, and that’s part of the reason why they weren’t well maintained. He didn’t really have any investment in them. He soon started treating my possessions with the same degree of disrespect and also for the same reason. To off-set any concerns I might have he kept saying that he would “soon” start contributing financially, but that never did happen.
There didn’t seem to be anyone in his life except me. There were no phone calls back and forth between him and his “friends” and his daughter didn’t generate any contact either. He kept telling me that I was the only person who understood him and I chose to start believing that.
During the first year of our relationship we were rather isolated. He had no interest in meeting my friends or family and in fact tried to avoid them. I thought it very affirming that he seemed so focussed on me.
He had no interest whatsoever in my family or family background except as it suited him – he chose to take my surname when we married. I thought that was a lovely tribute! He was just trying to re-invent himself while at the same time escaping some of his creditors.
He wanted to get married as quickly as possible.
With respect to our relationship he at one point told me that I “should be careful what [I] wish for.” He later soothed me by saying that he had just been in a “down mood.”
Before we started living together I seriously considered breaking it off with him, but I had never been much of a “no” person – I lacked personal boundaries – and I was also afraid of being the “bad guy.” Like many women, I wanted to maintain a friendly relationship with him, not cause a bitter split and treat him like the women of his past had treated him. Great, huh? He had so convinced me that I was different and special that even as I was thinking of getting out, I was still buying into his idealization of me. If that’s not master manipulation, I don’t know what is.
Do you see yourself here? Is there a pattern for you? Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t delude yourself. Don’t be afraid to look. Because if you see yourself here, then you’re flagging, and you really will be flagging unless you chose to see the flags and not the underwear.
Get out. It won’t be easy and it won’t be pretty, and he (or she) will try everything, and I mean everything, to stay in your life. There will be crying, howling, cajoling, bribery, lying, threatening, shouting, sobbing and screaming. There might even be “suicide attempts” or “suicidal ideation.” None of this is real. It’s just a stage show designed to get you back so that he (or she) can continue to use you. So you have to get out, either now or later. Don’t wind up regretting that you ignored the flags.
I’m really not sure why this didn’t come up as one of the ten plagues of Egypt. I mean, it would have been a really good one to have. These people look perfectly normal but are harbouring some of the worst characteristics there are. They could have been a sort of fifth column or Typhoid Mary. Good use could have been made of their natural talents.
They love drama and could have been fomenting plots.
Since everyone wishes they were them, they could have exercised some tenacious mind-control.
They seriously hate themselves and then they project it. So, there could have been a lot of tooth-nashing, mind-controlled followers who were constantly looking over their shoulders for back-stabbers, and therefore completely distracted.
Their constant re-invention would have made them difficult to track down.
Even if they were tracked down, their sense of superiority and ability to fly into a rage would have been very intimidating, crushing any attempts at bringing them under control.
They could have charmed all the kings, pharaohs, despots, crackpots, and so on into giving themselves bankrupt.
Since they’re mostly a bunch of misogynists, they certainly would have had those women where they belong.
Their natural gift for instability would have had them organizing newer and better wars.
Their lack of gratitude, respect or humility for anyone but themselves would have made them impervious to tampering, tinkering or cajoling.
The shame they feel would have lead the populace to feel sorry for them instead of taking them down.
A plague of narcissists? Yikes! Forget the frogs and flies and meteorites and boils and sores. Those Old Testament guys would have been in real trouble. Or maybe that is what they had to contend with. The pharaohs weren’t exactly a bunch of diffident, self-effacing humanists.
Maybe that’s what a lot of us have to contend with on a basis that’s much more frequent than we realize.
The person in the cubicle next to you who is jealous and envious.
The “friend” who likes to complain about your other friends.
The neighbour who sets two other neighbours against each other.
The boss who smiles at you one second and rips you apart the next.
I don’t know how much narcissism most of us have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but it seems to be awfully widespread and at the root of a lot of the crap that goes on in the world.
So, if I wish anything for this new year, it’s that we start to realize how much egoism and self-absorption there is and that we all start to work on it in our own little ways and maybe start a cultural shift away from the selfishness that causes so much pain.
Well, it could have been worse, I suppose. I could have been lying on a cold, rock-strewn slope, the victim of an avalanche with two broken legs, gangrene setting in, wolves gathering in the closing twilight and no coffee left. On the other hand, it could have been a lot better. I could have been lying on a beach in the Dominican Republic, gin and tonic in hand, with nothing to do but crisp in the sun. Or I could have been sitting in a little Montreal bistro with a nice glass of wine while waiting for some beautifully prepared boeuf bourguignon. But nooo.
I think it’s probably apropos for me to spare some of you the gruesome details, but if only one person is saved by what I have to say here then it will have been worthwhile for me to have re-lived this horrific experience.
I was not lacking in gear, preparation or organization. I had plenty of re-usable, environmentally friendly cloth bags. I had a list. I even remembered to bring the list along. I arrived early, budget firmly in place. I was well-rested and fed. I had comfortable shoes, a water bottle and a thermos of coffee. I was ready!
Yes, dear reader. I was tackling the – cue the theme from Jaws – Christmas shopping list. I finally gave in. It had to be done. There was no way around it.
I entered the mall at nine thirty in the morning and noted that at that hour, the place was quiet and almost deserted. A lone security guard strolled nonchalantly, occasionally glancing in the windows, yawning and taking sips from his coffee cup. It was the perfect time to get the dreaded operation done. Yes!! I congratulated myself and patted myself on the back and grinning and chuckling to myself I started poking about, mentally comparing the wares on display with the requirements of my list. I hummed some old tunes and loafed along, secure in the knowledge that soon I would be safely back home, mission accomplished and feeling a certain degree of superiority over the lesser types who wait too long or are too late or both. I was, of course, tempting fate, Murphy’s Law and all manner of biblical imprecations about pride going before a fall and all that.
I arrived at “Santa’s Workshop,” famous in song and story as the scene of many family breakdowns while parents force their bawling and terrified offspring to sit on the Bearded One’s lap and have a photo taken. I don’t blame them. Who wants to sit on some weird-looking stranger’s lap while he booms ho ho ho at you in a thunderous voice that could scare the crap out of you and often does? What makes parents think that this is cute? The poor kid may as well be sitting on Darth Vader’s lap. Afraid that I might start having flashbacks, I nipped past as quickly as I could, even though all was quiet and Santa and the elves were hiding somewhere and sleeping it off.
As I turned a corner, I ran into an old friend who invited me to join her and her husband in a cup of Christmas cheer. They were so gracious and kind that I couldn’t refuse. We wound up sharing the cheer much later than I had anticipated, but I declined their kind offers of a lift home. If one is going shopping then one is going shopping, and no joking about it. I assured them that I would take a taxi home and wandered out of the restaurant and into the now crowded and noisy mall. Since I was all mellow, this ceased to bother me and I fished my trusty list out of my pocket for further perusal.
I was meandering down a perfume aisle, lost in the contentment of my mellow mood when I both heard and smelled a small boy who was bawling and roaring for his mother. He was either so scared that he had pooped his pants or he had been forced to sit on Santa’s lap. I tried looking around for his mom but couldn’t spot anyone nearby except for a rather large security guard one aisle over who was energetically chastising two adolescent boys for slinging hockey pucks at each other.
I tried to get the guard’s attention while hanging on to the small child so that he wouldn’t wander any farther, but this was proving to be difficult as he screamed even louder and tried to squirm out of my grasp. I was becoming less mellow by the second. Suddenly the guard turned toward me and impaled me with a look that would freeze mercury. He came striding over and demanded to know what I was doing. I was somewhat mesmerized and distracted by his unibrow which hung over his face like a kind of awning. What Period is this guy supposed to be, anyway? Triassic? Jurassic? He had lots of stuff all over his uniform – about four different kinds of radios, mace, handcuffs – have you noticed lately how the police and security types have about 50 pieces of crap dangling from their persons? It must take two hours to get ready to go to work, and especially this guy, who would also have to spray-paint his eyebrow into place.
He had a mean look about him. A frustrated look. The kind of look that says, “I may have flunked out of police school but this mall is mine and I’m going to get you whether you did anything or not.”
I tried to organize my thoughts enough to explain that the little boy had lost his mom but I was cut off in mid-babble with, “Have you been drinking?” Visions of spending a night in a concrete room with alien roommates danced through my head, but didn’t impart any sense of caution, or sugar plums, either.
I didn’t know that the Temperance League was out and about and chasing down malefactors. In fact, I didn’t even know that they still existed. I was about to make a sophisticated and sarcastic retort along the lines of “fuck off”, but was interrupted by the return of the boy’s mother, who when she saw him also started bawling. The two of them kicked up a racket that could be heard on Easter Island. I backed slowly and carefully away – I saw my chance to escape and took it. Stumbling out to the main entrance I flagged down the first taxi I could find and headed home.
I count myself as lucky. Like people who escape a cult consider themselves lucky. I got the message, and it’s one I’m happy to receive. Avoiding Christmas shopping is like avoiding narcissists – may the force be with you and protect you from yourself.
I had been troubled for some time with rats. Not those cuddly, disease-free, pink-eyed ones with the delicate whiskers and digits that you find in the pet store.
Mine were some sort of mutant beings, probably from the planet Xenon and likely an advance team come to reconnoitre our planet’s value as a source of fuel.
Let me tell you, dear reader, how it all started, which was with a garbage strike. Now, given the amount of legislated recycling that takes place around here, I wouldn’t have thought this possible, especially the speed with which it happened, but it did. However, the people thusly employed knew that it would, and had decided that the entire populace would exert tremendous pressure on city hall after only a few days of exposure to the most eye-watering, pungent odour the second you stepped out your front door and tried to negotiate your way down the public thoroughfares. The shimmer from the mounds of refuse lead to such mirages that the citizenry had to double-check with each other just to make sure that they were going in the right direction.
Drastic it was, and gag-inducing, but highly effective.
The mayor had to hire an armoured car just to go for groceries and in order to protect himself from the angry crowds encamped in front of his office. He eventually succumbed and dragged his weakened carcass in front of the press cameras and announced his defeat. He may have expended a lot of hot air getting into office, but it was the methane that finally did him in.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Did I mention that this occurred during the height of summer? There was a run on gas masks from the military surplus stores. Birds were keeling over, well, songbirds were, but not the crows and gulls, who in huge numbers and voice announced their immediate ownership of this nirvana, although that didn’t stop the infighting. And flies! Bluebottles that I’m sure escaped from Jurassic Park and should have been asking for clearance to land.
Trying to cook a steak at the old back yard barbecue meant suiting up in a hazmat outfit to avoid all manner of airborne assaults, especially from those aforementioned crows and gulls, but if the heat in there didn’t get you, the raccoons surely would. Brazen, and in great crowds and mobs, they engaged in hand-to-hand combat with any living thing that dared to enter their domain. The neighbours’ rottweiler entered a state of anxious fear and needed therapy just to go outside for a pee and a poo after the whole ordeal was over. Some people see raccoons as cute, with their little bandit faces and ringed tails. I do not. I have a lot of respect for raccoons. Bandits?? That’s like saying that George Clooney has nice features. They’re smarter than the average politician and with a little more training, could tell Tony Soprano exactly where to go and what to do with himself when he got there.
Just when I thought that the whole thing couldn’t get any worse, it did. As the old saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. I had my feet up after a long day at work and an even longer day of battling to get home through the corvids, raccoons, flies, surly populace and olfactory assaults. I was done in. I was getting all mellow from a nice glass of wine when I heard it – a distinctive rustling sound emanating from the basement.
Now, having been raised on Hollywood movies, I decided that instead of immediately calling the constabulary and leaving the premises, I should grab a kitchen knife and decend slowly into the basement, with blade raised and lights off. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, there it was again – that rustling sound! Actually, it was very much like the crinkling sound a garbage bag makes when it’s being moved around. Hah! I clicked on the light, hoping to surprise the intruder, and was startled to see the equivalent of a small beaver nonchalantly poking his head out of one of the garbage bags that I’d stored in the basement for safe-keeping. Rats!
Now, at this point I should probably explain why my garbage was in the basement. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time – keep it inside in the cool basement instead of letting it percolate in the hot garage. Do my bit to keep down the raccoons, gulls, crows and flies, and all that. What I didn’t count on was the wily prowess of the rodent squad, which up until that moment hadn’t even crossed my mind.
Now what was I going to do? I stared at the rat and the rat stared back. Then he was joined by his buddy – his much larger buddy, and it dawned on me that these two were probably father and son. Another sound, like air leaking from a tire, and I realized that the daddy rat was hissing at me through his big yellow teeth. Hissing? Rats hiss? And then I thought, what do you know about rats other than that you might get the bubonic plague?
That was enough. In a state of panic and revulsion, I leapt at the bag and quickly turned it upsidedown so that pa and son were trapped inside and I ran that bag up the stairs and dumped it on the back lawn. Let them fight it out with the raccoons, I thought; they’re certainly big enough to stand up for themselves. Then I stuck the rest of the garbage in the garage, went to a hardware store and got a couple of the biggest humane traps that I could find – I think the guy behind the counter thought I was on crack when I tried, through my shuddering and quaking, to explain how big these rats were – and set them up in the basement in case some family members were left behind.
Then there was the clean-up – bleach was my best friend. Those rats had been down there for a while and I hadn’t realized it, and I’d had a nasty experience, but I was on the mend.
Like narcissists, wild rats belong outside with the crows and raccoons, not in your home. Too bad the narcissists are not as recognizable.