Johnny America


The Show­er Fixture


There was a man once who died and was rein­car­nat­ed as a show­er fix­ture in a small, over­priced apart­ment off King Street in Old Town, Alexan­dria, Virginia.

The apart­ment was rent­ed by a man who’d re­cent­ly grown dis­sat­is­fied with pur­su­ing his Mas­ter’s de­gree and left grad­u­ate school to work at a tu­tor­ing cen­ter with kids who weren’t so much men­tal­ly chal­lenged as over­ly en­ter­tained, and there­fore in­ca­pable of tak­ing in­ter­est in the mun­dane. And tu­tor­ing was mun­dane. He rent­ed the apart­ment be­cause it was the sixth one he’d seen and it was no bet­ter or worse than any of the oth­ers. He’d picked it, more than any­thing, be­cause it was near a video store he no­ticed on the way to look­ing at the apart­ment, and that ap­pealed to his sense of ease.

The show­er fix­ture who had once been a man had once al­so played ac­cor­dion. It was some­thing his fa­ther had forced him in­to, and as he’d grown in­to adult­hood, he found it was a good way to pick up a lit­tle cash on hol­i­days by play­ing in pa­rades. Af­ter many years, long af­ter his ear­ly promise had fad­ed, he grew nos­tal­gic and be­gan to ac­tu­al­ly en­joy play­ing. He was a hack, a failed prodi­gy, don­ning his kilt and red wig (he was blond day to day) and march­ing down the street while Irish on­look­ers pelt­ed him and the oth­er pa­rade mem­bers with green beer on St. Patrick­’s day, or while he played a bag­pipes ver­sions of pop­u­lar songs in the pub, af­ter­wards. Peo­ple called out songs and he played pass­able ver­sions of the ones he could. They did­n’t care, as long as it was close. He did­n’t care, ei­ther; he was hap­py to please them. It was his one re­al joy.

The show­er fix­ture no­ticed pret­ty quick­ly that when the wa­ter was first turned on in the apart­ment, the pipes whined and rat­tled. He found that by ex­ert­ing tremen­dous will, he could ma­nip­u­late cer­tain wash­ers and joints to twist in cer­tain ways to in­flu­ence the pitch and tim­ber of the whine.

But this was on­ly some­thing the show­er fix­ture could do when the wa­ter was on, and then, on­ly for the first few mo­ments, pos­si­bly as much as a minute, af­ter which the force of the wa­ter it­self would push the pipes back in­to align­ment and the whin­ing would cease. So the wa­ter fix­ture came to trea­sure these first few mo­ments and wast­ed not a sec­ond of them. He start­ed sim­ply, learn­ing to change the pitch of the whine to make rec­og­niz­able notes, and try­ing to speed up these changes so that he be­gan to shape not just notes but suc­ces­sions of them.

Un­for­tu­nate­ly for the wa­ter fix­ture, the man who lived in the apart­ment bathed rarely, so it took many weeks be­fore the wa­ter fix­ture was able to pro­duce a rec­og­niz­able progression.

The man in the show­er re­spond­ed to the sound by groan­ing. He of­ten groaned at how much noise his show­er made. He had thought that he would get used to the noise as the weeks pro­gressed, but if any­thing, it seemed to be get­ting loud­er. This was one rea­son why he bathed so in­fre­quent­ly, but if any­thing that was just an excuse.

The man groaned a lot be­cause he was dis­sat­is­fied with many things, in­clud­ing him­self. He had grown to re­al­ize that it had been a mis­take to leave grad­u­ate school, but more than that, it had been a mis­take to be­gin in the first place, at least with the de­gree in teach­ing he had been pur­su­ing. All the man re­al­ly want­ed from life was to sit on his couch, eat take out from the In­di­an restau­rant down the street, and watch Asian films. Not the Kung-Fu scenes, per se, but the epic scope of Asian cin­e­ma made him for­get whol­ly about him­self and his own cul­ture. The alien-ness of it made him feel ca­pa­ble of re­demp­tion. He had very se­ri­ous­ly been con­sid­er­ing start­ing a blog for sev­er­al weeks de­vot­ed to just this idea, but he’d been un­able to come up with a suit­able ti­tle. This fail­ing, among his many per­ceived oth­er fail­ings, led the man in­to a state of com­plete ap­a­thy, though it was hard to tell the dif­fer­ence un­less you were some­one af­fect­ed by the small changes, like the in­fre­quen­cy in showering.

The show­er fix­ture did­n’t look at his sit­u­a­tion as be­ing some sort of pun­ish­ment. This was just not the way he ap­proached things. The show­er fix­ture who had been a man knew that he was dead; he re­mem­bered dy­ing, and much of his pre­vi­ous life. The fact of his rein­car­na­tion he took to be a sort of sec­ond chance. It was ex­cit­ing, hav­ing a whole new body, such that it was. And he’d al­ways prid­ed him­self on not be­ing a grum­bler. Nonethe­less, he was grow­ing impatient.

His on­ly way of gaug­ing the pas­sage of time was the fre­quen­cy of drips leak­ing from him. But he still felt a broad sort of move­ment he came to think of as the change from day to night. It was sev­er­al months be­fore he re­al­ized that what he was feel­ing was the shift­ing of tides. He’d heard some­where that there is a con­nec­tion be­tween our blood and sea­wa­ter, read it on a bumper stick­er, maybe, that we are con­nect­ed to the sea. Now, his blood was water.

This thought was swirling around when he felt the long-await­ed tug of the knob be­ing turned, which sig­naled the be­gin­ning of a show­er. He im­pro­vised, quick­ly, the open­ing of “Rain­drops Keep Falling on My Head,” and made a pass­able bar or so. The man groaned again but the show­er fix­ture, hav­ing no ears, heard noth­ing. He did­n’t even know it was a man ma­nip­u­lat­ing him. He sensed the notes through their vi­bra­tions, not their sounds.

The show­er fix­ture was pleased with his ac­com­plish­ment, but he wished he could do more. He tried ex­tend­ing his realm of in­flu­ence and man­aged to get the open­ing cou­ple of notes from “Chop­sticks” out of the sink while the man was shav­ing. The prob­lem was that the show­er was the on­ly thing that ran long enough to uti­lize. The toi­let would’ve been a de­cent run­ner up, ex­cept that it was too loud.

It did­n’t oc­cur to the show­er fix­ture for sev­er­al months that he could use this di­ver­sion as a form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It was a break­through. He was run­ning out of ideas for songs to play, and it would be nice to get a re­quest every now and again. Of course, he did­n’t know if that would be pos­si­ble, but it was worth a shot.

The next few times the man show­ered, the show­er fix­ture tried play­ing the open­ing to cer­tain pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion shows. He tried pop­u­lar mu­sic, but he could dis­cern no response.

The man who lived in the apart­ment had put on weight. He was­n’t sleep­ing. Peo­ple on the metro shift­ed away from him when he sat down. This was be­cause he had­n’t been bathing. He was be­gin­ning to think that his show­er was haunt­ed, or that he was go­ing crazy, or both. He thought that it was prob­a­bly the gov­ern­ment, some­how. They’d caught up to him, fi­nal­ly, for things he’d done when he was an un­der­grad­u­ate and part of a stu­dent po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion. He thought back of­ten on those days. He had­n’t fit in very well. The oth­er an­ar­chists made fun of him be­cause he had a job. He did­n’t know what else to do, though. He had to eat. He did­n’t know how they sur­vived, un­til it fi­nal­ly oc­curred to him that most of these kids lived with their parents.

They al­so nev­er got any­thing done, the an­ar­chists. They spent the bulk of their meet­ings ar­gu­ing. He’d left the group feel­ing dis­sat­is­fied. They had plant­ed a seed in him that would ger­mi­nate in­to the dis­con­tent he was now facing.

He had gone to ral­lies, though, and so this must be the rea­son the gov­ern­ment was now tor­tur­ing him, he thought. He re­al­ized this was un­like­ly. The re­al­i­ty was that they were prob­a­bly old pipes and there was no par­tic­u­lar­ly in­ter­est­ing ex­pla­na­tion. It was prob­a­bly just noise and he was the one mak­ing it sound like mu­sic, in his imag­i­na­tion. But he did­n’t want to face up to this. It was the on­ly thing of any re­al in­ter­est that had hap­pened to him in his en­tire life, ex­cept for var­i­ous sex­u­al en­coun­ters which had most­ly end­ed em­bar­rass­ing­ly. The pipes, and a hand job or two, that was it for him.

The man who lived in the apart­ment de­cid­ed one morn­ing that he was go­ing to bathe, and be­gin do­ing it reg­u­lar­ly. This was be­cause the day be­fore one of his stu­dents had made fun of how he smelled. The man de­cid­ed that the on­ly way to get any­thing done in life was to be a straight line. It was mov­ing around ob­sta­cles in­stead of go­ing through them that had caused him to end up where he was. This is why he nev­er got any­thing done.

He turned the show­er on and im­me­di­ate­ly winced. It was play­ing a Sur­vivor song. He let it run. Sev­er­al times he had con­sid­ered invit­ing peo­ple over to hear his show­er, but he did­n’t have a lot of friends, and this was not the sort of thing one asked an acquaintance.

He hummed along with it be­fore he re­al­ized what it was. “Eye of the Tiger.” He turned the wa­ter off and stared at the wa­ter drain­ing out. Then he turned the wa­ter back on. It was play­ing an­oth­er song, one he did­n’t rec­og­nize. He turned it off. He turned it back on. It played the call riff from “Shave and a Hair­cut.” He turned it off and back on twice rapid­ly to em­u­late the re­sponse. He turned it on again. It was play­ing the riff from Jeop­ardy where the con­tes­tants were sup­posed to write their an­swers down.

He went in­to his bed­room and called the tu­tor­ing cen­ter and told them he would­n’t be com­ing in. He thought for a long time about ask­ing his land­lord to re­place the pipes. Then he turned on his com­put­er and start­ed de­sign­ing his blog. He was go­ing to call it “Eye of the Tiger.” He hoped Sur­vivor did­n’t sue. Then again, he thought maybe it would be in­ter­est­ing if they did.

Filed under Fiction on October 6th, 2007

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Reader Comments

spilane wrote:

you could­n’t fuck your way out of a wet pa­per bag.… congrats.

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