I don't really feel old until I try contorting myself into these unfamiliar positions. It was my wife's idea, like proving I've still got something left. At first I was nervous and found the whole thing about getting down on the floor and twisting around in that tight wet spot kind of intimidating. until I can put my tool in and start working that mother, but I thought "You;re a man. Grow a pair and get in there cowboy. It's just basic screwing. Put that little rubber ring on,slip it in that hole where it goes and do like your daddy would have done." But I've never been any good at this sort of thing.
Water drips in my face and I see a cockroach go skittering defiantly across the bathroom floor, probably sensing my helplessness and inability to reach over and just goosh him. I know where the leak in the toilet is coming from, the screws and the rubber seal should slip right to where the water tank fastens to the stool, but water is still dripping through. It drives me crazy. I'm an inferior human being. I'm not a man. I'm not good at this. I'm not good at a lot of things men are supposed to be good at by weight of evolution.
My kid sticks his head in the door. "Done?"
"No. Getting there."
"It's just a toilet."
There are things in life like fixing toilets, and fixing car engines and maybe brain surgery that require a sense of manly commitment. You can't just throw your tools down and say to everybody in the operating room "I don't want to do this anymore."
In our competitive culture mediocrity gets a bad rap. But the ugly truth is that most all of us are mediocre at most everything except whatever single brilliant gift we're not mediocre at. If you're very lucky, the thing you're not mediocre at may also be something you can earn a living with. But even that's a minority of us. If you're not so lucky, the thing you're good at might land you in jail. Most of us are working jobs or spending most of our day at tasks we're not so great at.
I know as a father I'm supposed to tell my kid and anyone who comes to me for encouragement "If you work hard and believe in yourself you can accomplish anything you put your mind to."
When you get older you realize what a load of happy horse puckery that can be. The odds of me being a rock and roll star with young women gathering like cats outside my dressing room I think I can say have faded away. I'm not likely going to be a football star or the hero who gets a high school named after him for saving the planet earth from a rogue asteroid. Like Popeye says "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam."
I do like yams.
I've been published fairly often by now for a short story writer of only the most basic education and talent. I love being published, but it hasn't changed my life or especially changed people's minds about me. I still yam what I yam. I can't imagine the financial or creative burden that must be born by someone who earns a living at writing fiction of any kind. Some people make it big after their first novel, maybe not even a very good novel, while others go slogging on all their lives barely getting anywhere.
What I like about myself is not only what small things I have accomplished so far, like helping my family survive, but also what I have thankfully failed to do. Back in my religious days we were told to be leaders, to get out there and win many new people to the religion we belonged to which in recent years has clearly failed and disintegrated into chaos. I'm so glad I was never leader material, only follower material, and mediocre material at that. Never a good missionary or winner of souls. Those in my old religion who were and stayed on as state leaders and church ministers are currently mired in poverty. Though I admire their outstanding faith, I'm grateful to have slipped their fate, so far at least.
I think one of the greatest gifts life can give you is to be very good at something you love doing and then go out and make a pile of money doing it. That's what I wish for my kid. You have to be where the random elements are. You have to prepare yourself to be lucky. When you study about people, especially creative people who have made it, you start to see the randomness, the sheer luck. The right combination of people converging in the right moment. Or else the sheer stubbornness of faith. Faith is scary. You read about the people who refused to give up in the face of failure and eventually succeeded by believing in themselves, but you never hear about the people who maybe should have given up and kept mindlessly beating the door after it was closed and locked against them. You can't tell which group you fall under. The line between genius and madness, failure and success is very often just luck. And obsession. Obsession helps.
Meanwhile the toilet is waiting. If I had a lick of sense I'd give up. But I think I'm way past that. Besides, toilets are one of those things.