And How’s the Plumbing Here?

He was a seasoned veteran in the art of apartment hunting by now. And yet, for all his moves, both planned and impromptu, he always seemed to be bamboozled into believing that he had finally found the toilette that would work for his particular brand of, shall we say, excreting abilities. Though it seemed, to him, more like a curse than an “ability.” An overactive bowel that not only left every bathroom he ever dealt with absolutely destroyed but also infected it with long-lasting malodorousness after the fact. It was, undoubtedly, the imprecation from some unseen witch that prevented him from ever sustaining a relationship for more than a few weeks, after a woman had spent but only a few nights over at his place, quickly realizing there was something very wrong with his backside operations. Inevitably, whoever the girl was, she would always come up with some polite excuse, some sudden remembrance about why she wasn’t ready to be involved in any form of commitment at the moment. Of course, that her timing consistently seemed to coincide with returning from the bathroom within even a thirty-minute timeframe of when Herschel had last “dropped a deuce,” as some try to diplomatically say, did not convince him of her half-hearted lies. 

Had he known that the nature of his intestines would end up dooming him to a life of loneliness, he would have worked harder in high school to become a more successful (read: rich) person. Money always seemed to get people to stick around. Yet he was hopelessly middle class. Lower middle class, really. At best. At worst, he was but another broke ass trying to delude himself that the bourgeois dream was just within reach. Which is why he vowed to himself that this time–no, really–this was going to be the time he found an apartment that wouldn’t do him wrong. That would come equipped with U.S.-style plumbing (for Herschel had been marooned in Paris ever since he went to the American University, and had ended up staying when Mr. Erickson, his comparative literature teacher, suggested he take over his position upon his own inevitable return to California, from whence he had originally came)–equipped, in short, to absorb an atomic bomb. 

Sometimes, Herschel got the sense that his own father, Mordecai, wanted to talk to him about the plague that was the colon conundrum, as though he knew exactly what his son was going through, but then, all at once, would seem to get too ashamed to broach the subject. Or the real reason Herschel’s mother left them pretty much immediately upon his birth. Herschel reckoned Isabel couldn’t withstand the notion of two shit asses constantly wafting their toxic waste odeur in her general direction. So she fled before they could kill her with their fetid feces. Herschel should have known that if his own mother couldn’t stand to be with him because of this, then why would any ordinary woman? At the bare minimum, at least he wasn’t gay, because taking it up the arse would have resulted in the kind of deluge that might kill a man. 

This thought he pushed aside as the latest realtor showed up outside of Rue Gobert in the eleventh arrondissement. It was a largely residential area, with little in the way of restaurants or bars to offer amusement–at least not at what might be his doorstep. But then, there was always the Carrefour nearby to keep him distracted with capitalistic endeavors. Marianne was, of all the agents he had met with, the most attractive. She seemed to be doing the job as a side gig, rather than being a conventional corporate-looking drone. Instead, she was dressed in a flowing paisley dress that complemented her cascading brunette locks. In many ways, she appeared as though she had just stepped out of seeing a show at Woodstock. Her manner was in direct contrast. She was not demure or shy, or a wispy space cadet, but brusquely cut right to the chase as she discussed that the owner expected two months’ rent upfront in addition to Herschel’s last six months of pay stubs. Herschel said these demands would be no problem as he followed her up five flights of stairs, wooden and rickety just as all stairs in Paris seemed to be when you were within a certain budget. 

Marianne took about two minutes to jimmy the lock open with the key, explaining that the door could be very temperamental but that it was all part of the inherent charm of authentic Parisian living. “Sure, if you could pay something like five hundred euros more, you might be able to get marble somewhere in the aesthetic, but that would not be true to a genuine representation of the “bâtiment du peuple.” Herschel didn’t care about all that. He had just one question. The same question he had tiptoeingly asked as a means to politely wield a euphemism during all of his appointments: “And how’s the plumbing here?” Any agent with half a brain would understand what Herschel was referring to. Yet some of them would blink at him quizzically before assuring that, yes, the plumbing was very…resilient. Clearly, they didn’t fathom just how kamikaze-like Herschel’s shits were. Not “could be.” Were. As in all day, every day–practically every hour. And no matter what he ate or how little of it, the result was forever, without fail, an explosion. An explosion, in effect, that also blew up any potential for his love life. 

Thus, when he made the inquiry, once again, his shame evermore mitigated from the repetition of having to probe “subtly” for the response he was seeking, Marianne arched her brow, cocking her head slightly to ascertain if she had understood him correctly–if he could actually be talking about what she surmised. “Euh, monsieur, might I ask if you are referring to your… shit?”

Merde, he thought to himself. Exposed in a completely new light of humiliation. “I, uh–”

She cut him off to assure, “I promise you this toilette will make you never want to leave. The last person who lived here only left because he died.” 

“That so? And did he have notorious shits or something?” 

“Well, to be honest, the building would prefer a tenant with shit that does not stink (as would all of Paris, for us French can be rather snooty in spite of our own “naturalness”), but they’ve grown used to it by now. Monsieur Adolphe lived here for fifty years. What’s another fifty, eh?” 

Herschel felt sick to his stomach. It was churning and burning with the anxiety of the thought of inhabiting this apartment by himself for the rest of his life, perpetually flashing back to this moment when the real estate agent was so desperate to get the commission that she openly spoke to him about the welcoming atmosphere for odoriferous assholes like his. 

In the end, he couldn’t oblige Marianne. Could not give her the thrill of knowing she had clinched the deal with her assurance about the plumbing. Hence, to bite off his own foot (or, in this case, sphincter) in order to prove a point, he ended up in a basement apartment where he alone was trapped inside with the smell, living in an underworld populated by the only “bouquet” he would ever be able to give to anyone: excrement.

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