The summer of 1974, when I was five, my parents had just finished putting the final touches on their dream house. They had hired an architect to design their house to their specifications, paid an urban planner to suggest where to build so that the family would get the most out of both suburban and rural life while maximizing the value of the house when it was time to retire, and basically sweated over the millions of details involved in making one’s dreams come true. And it was because of this that it took me almost thirty years to tell my mom the truth behind “The Sprinkler Story”.
I answered the phone one day and my mom informed me, a note of anger in her voice, that she had found my stash of empty beer cans. My parents, when building that house, had wisely set aside one room in the basement for my brothers and I to destroy. “You can write on the walls in here, throw toys at the walls, do whatever you want. But if you do it anywhere else inside the house, you’ll be grounded forever.” Smart move on their part. Anyway, since that room was not furnished, there was a gap at the top of the walls where you could see the support two by fours for the floor above. And if you were, say, 16 and had snuck a bunch of beers and needed to dispose of the empties, you simply tossed them over the wall so that they sat on top of the suspended ceiling in the adjacent room. Removing the ceiling years later, my mom was pelted with a very large amount of ancient empty beer cans my brother and I had stored up there during our pre-legal drinking days.
“Hahaha, that’s hilarious” I responded. My mom was less than happy with my reaction. “You and your brother thought you were so smart, but I knew what you were up to!” “Oh, yeah?” I countered, “Then how come the beer cans hit you on the head? You still have no idea what we did in that house when were kids,” and to prove it, I finally told her the truth about the sprinkler.
We had a very large back yard in the house I grew up in, one that relied on plain old rain water to nurture the grass. But since we were still subject to the occasional drought we, like all of our other neighbors, owned a sprinkler or two to offer the lawn some much needed moisture. I don’t know what this kind of sprinkler is called, but everyone I know recognizes it from my description: “It goes in a circle Ssssssh, ssssssh, sssssh, ssssssh, then stops and comes back real fast the other direction. TSH TSH TSH TSH TSH TSH TSH TSH TSH TSH.”
I was five and bored one day, since my parents had finally put away all the moving boxes and the delivery of new furniture had ceased, leaving me without any boxes at all to hurt myself with. (Seriously, I rode the refrigerator box down the stairs like a toboggan and nearly lost a toe in the process.) But I had a two year old brother and time on my hands, and that would have to do. “Hey, Eric! Do you want to play in the sprinkler?” I asked. “Prinkler! Prinkler! Prinkler!” he responded. “Ok, then go get it.” I should point out that we were in the TV room when I said this, the last room to be furnished in the house.
And so because two year olds always listen to their older brothers (a flaw evolution has yet to stamp out), he brought the sprinkler into the TV room through the patio door. “Ok, now go turn it on!” I instructed him. And as he marched off to turn the sprinkler on, I went out the patio door, went around to the front of the house, let myself in the front door and was sitting next to my mom with the perfect alibi when all hell broke loose.
Jumping up when she heard a very loud noise, she threw open the door that separated the kitchen from the TV room, and was blasted directly in the face with a stream of water. After taking a second or two to realize what was going on, she grabbed the sprinkler and threw it out on to the patio and looked over to see my brother, his hand still on the knob, asking “Is it on? Is it on?” Curiously, I don’t remember the aftermath that well. I know my brother was sent to his room, but how long can you ground a two year old for? It’s like telling off a dog for trashing something last week. It’s confusing, counterproductive, and two year olds can seriously fuck up a locked bedroom if they have been in there too long and really want out.
But I do know that I got away with that one hundred percent. Until I told my mom almost thirty years later what had actually happened. You could hear the frost forming on the phone lines between us. “I always knew you had something to do with that.” “Hahaha, bullshit, I had the perfect alibi.” And then she said the three words: “You. Just. Wait.”
I laughed it off then, but now I’ve got an eleven year old daughter, a five year old son, and a three year old son. And watching them interact today, it hit me: I am so fucked. I can hide the sprinklers all I want, that will just make this house’s ultimate destruction that much more devastating knowing that I tried to outsmart a bunch of kids, but failed. Failed to realize that, say, a walk-in closet could be filled to the top with honey as a way of attracting fire-ants. They’ve got all the time in the world to come up with a topper, and I fully expect them to do it. And I fully expect to torch the place when they’re done rather than clean it up because it’s going to be a hell of a task, and I know my mom will be no help whatsoever.
Ok, on to the week you missed while trying to drain all the water out of your TV’s vacuum tubes:
- On Monday, we learned that I don’t get along with lesbian hikers, and after 40 I shouldn’t even try.
- On Tuesday, I almost burnt Michigan to the fucking ground (which would’ve have been a felony, unless I also managed to take out the Red Wings, in which case I don’t even think that’s a misdemeanor any more).
- On Wednesday, my son made me cry with pride.
- And on Thursday, I realized that I knew way, way less about women’s private parts than I thought I knew. (Incidentally, if you or anyone else you know has consumed what I’ve taken to calling “twat-ka”, for the love of God, please let me know about it!.)
Go forth and multiply, my friends. But before you do, send me your weekly hypothetical questions so I can fail to answer them tomorrow on schedule.