Potty Humor

We have had indoor plumbing in our country for about 150 years. Suffice it to say, the plumbing we have today should work pretty darned well, don’t you think? For the most part, it actually does. The plumbing in my house works just like it’s supposed to. Turn the handle, out comes water. Easy. Peazy.

So why, then, does the plumbing system at work have to be so complicated? Keep in mind, our building was built in the 60’s (the 1960’s), and we still have pull chain lights. But the plumbing fixtures in the men’s room are all relatively new. What got me in this goofy mood was Sink #2. It doesn’t drain, so someone put a trash bag into the sink (The universal sign for a broken sink. . . kind of like hanging a t-shirt from your car window to signal your car is broken, and not that you just decided to park on the shoulder at Mile Marker 27 and try to find a Royal Farm Store at Exit 12 fifteen miles down the road. But I digress.) The bag isn’t that funny. It was the sign fastened to the faucet that read:

“Do Not Use. Sink Broken.”

You see, I figured this out without the sign. Then I thought about the sign. Like the warning label on the hair dryer. . . a device used to dry hair. . . cautioning me to NOT use it in the shower, where my sole purpose is to get wet, never mind the fact that I know—even without trying—that electricity is no substitute for shampoo. Someone, somewhere, must have plugged that hair dryer in and walked into their shower, so now. . .WARNING!  I pictured someone standing at the broken sink, filled with an empty plastic garbage bag in the bowl and wrapped around the faucet, trying to wash his hands, getting frustrated. . . then pissed. (Sorry. . . you can use ‘agitated’ if you like)

WASHER: “So if it’s broken, I should NOT use it, right?”

OBSERVER: “Well, it isn’t that you’re not allowed to use it. It’s broken, so you CAN’T use it.”

WASHER: “Wait, I thought you said I could?”

And so it goes. . . It made me laugh. Sadly, it’s not the only thing in there that ever makes me laugh, so I’ve decided that it is socially acceptable to laugh in the men’s room. Also related to plumbing, Sink #3 only started working when Sink #2 stopped. I can’t explain that. But then there’s Sink #4. It has the sensor so the water starts when you place your soapy hands under the faucet. Once there’s a stream of water (coming from the faucet), the water itself is now triggering the sensor, so it runs on and on. Sink #5, as we all know, provides water hot enough to make tea, while #6 will turn your fingers blue.

But the other plumbing phenomenon is the waterless urinal. I know, it sounds gross. But there’s a sign over it that touts its water saving superpower. Something like, “This waterless urinal saves the environment 64,000 gallons of water every year.” That would be great, except the toilets flush three times before you can get out of the stall. It’s like they’re telling ol’ waterless, “Don’t worry, buddy! We got ya covered!”

This multi-flush tendency is well-known by the regulars, and we all know to avoid Stall #1. Stall #1, you see, flushes at random times. It seems to sense that precise moment when you’re distracted, and then suddenly, WHOOSH! It’s like Russian Roulette. Probably the best part is when a newbie is in Stall #1 and you’re in Stall #2. You hear the WHOOSH! And see the other guy’s feet come up off the floor. Now that’s funny right there, and I don’t care who you are. . .


I Visited My Shop This Morning…

My wood shop calls out to me like a haunting voice across the moors. “Mi-ike. . . Miiii-iiike.” It’s three in the morning, and I wake up in a cold sweat, shaking. I throw of my CPAP mask, unrestrained air barges from the flexible tubing. I whip off the covers and fold them back neatly against my pillow.

“What’s wrong?” She’s not really awake. I could say anything here, and she won’t remember. Oh wait, strike that. There was that time I woke up and told her I imagined a spider was hanging over the bed. We flipped on the lights and had to strips the sheets off the bed until we were sure there was no spider. I learned from that.

“Nothing, honey. Go back to sleep. I’ll be fine.” I grab the flashlight that magnetically clings to the bottom of my bed rail. My wife has already fallen back to sleep. I ease the door closed behind me, inch down the stairs, and creep through the kitchen.

I twist the knob on the basement door, and hear the hum of a distant table saw echoing up the stairs. At the bottom, a beam of light oozes from beneath the door. “Mi-ike.”

Cobwebs cover the doorknob, and cling to the door frame, stretching in front of me as the door swings wide. Foolishly, I walk through them anyway, and then claw at my face to get the cobwebs out of my eyebrows and off my lips. The faint image of an old man laughs at me from behind the ShopSmith.

“Have I always looked that clueless?” he says to me. “Ha ha HA! Ha huh huh huh HAAA!” Then, he disappears, leaving a twinkling outline of his body—sawdust, that falls to the floor a second later.

For a moment, I’m excited. Did he finish the blanket chest? You know, like those elves made all those shoes while the shoemaker slept? Nope. I sift through the pile of incomplete projects resting on the sawhorses and pull off the boards I glued up a few months ago. Warped. Damn you, evil, incompetent, eerie, dusty shadow of myself! Now I’ll have to cut it apart, re-joint the edges, re-glue, and re-sand it! I’ll get you!

That’s when my wife smacks me on the CPAP mask. “That thing’s making that stupid noise again!”

“What?” Oh. I’m still in bed. I readjust the mask so it doesn’t make that fart sound, and seat it against my face in such a way that it doesn’t force cold air under my eyelids. “That better?” My voice is muffled under the mask.

“Yeah.” Then she rolls over and goes back to sleep. I spend the next hour awake, wondering if that board really is warped.

It is, by the way. And I still have a blanket chest to make.

Revising – The Hardest Part of Writing

It has taken me close to two weeks (closer to three, but adjusted for the holidays) to get to this point, but I am satisfied with my first chapter. What helped it the most was just deleting the damned thing. I had received some advice to add a new first chapter to SubAqua to help introduce my protagonist, give the reader a sense of what he’s all about, and define the world he’s living in, which by the way, is a really cool, underwater city known as Aquataine. That was good advice. But, after making numerous revisions, and changing the order of things, and shortening it, and lengthening it, and using different phrases. . . I just hated it. It’s gone.

Stephen King in “On Writing” calls this murdering your darlings, but I’ve never liked this chapter enough to call it a darling. You see, even boring information can be written well. The first chapter of an action/adventure novel should not read like an Ikea instruction manual. In other words, it should not suck, even by accident.

But that meant that I had to do all that introducing stuff somewhere else in my manuscript, and I’m happy to say that I found a way to work most of those details into my original first chapter. That allowed me to open with action (like I wanted to), and still introduce Phelan’s character and his world by showing his reactions to that action. I think it really works, and I hope when I’m finished with the other 25 chapters, that I feel this satisfied with them too.

There were a few other steps involved in getting to this point, too. Take adverbs, for example. A way to find adverbs in your writing is to search for “ly,” since many adverbs end in ly. I searched for “ly “ (there’s a space there), “ly,” (comma), and “ly.” (period). I had 833 ly’s in roughly 84,000 words. I reduced them by 45 percent. But wait just a second. Some of the adverbs can stay in a few examples, like probably, possibly, only, and a couple of reallys, especially since most of these are in dialogue, whether spoken or in my protagonist’s inner voice. I kept some of the adverbs like quickly, suddenly, and calmly. Sometimes, especially in the dialogue, these words just work better than saying something like, “He walked with the speed of a hungry cheetah, stalking his prey.” Maybe it’s not a crucial detail for the story, but I still want you to know that “he walked quickly.” I’m happy with the 50 or so actual adverbs I’ve left in. I like Grammar Girl’s site on Eliminating Adverbs for advice on this one.

Exclamation points are another sore spot. I went from 244 to 94. I killed 150 of them! I found killing these suckers to be a bit easier than the adverbs, but there is some really good guidance on the web, and I want to highlight the one site I found most useful. So I will. Here: Too Many Exclamation Points! is K.M. Weiland’s posting on most common writing mistakes. She says it’s okay to use an exclamation point when your characters are raising their voices (which mine seem to do a lot). I agree with her, but I still trimmed as many as I could. I found that I overdid it in a couple of spots. A little. Sometimes.

I research the crap out of this stuff, and I’ve decided that I have to read ten posts on whatever subject is at hand, in this case, adverbs and exclamation points. I found a great article on showing versus telling, but did I bookmark that one? Nope. But never mind. . . Of the ten posts, five will make good points, and the other five will make “other” points. I’ll read about ten posts, and one of them will always come out on top. Is that authoritative? Heck no. But what is? Nothing. That’s what. Every rule gets broken.

Writing is hard work. Reading should be fun. As I tell my family, this book will be finished when you can pick up a hardcover book off the shelf at Target. Until then, write, rewrite, revise, repeat.


The Aquaccino

It has been pointed out a couple of times that I might have mentioned food a couple of times in my Young Adult manuscript, SubAqua. The story takes place 220 years from now, when Baltimore is underwater, covered by a dome. Over the course of twenty or so revisions, I have become a regular at a few of the eating establishments that are featured in the city now known as Aquataine.

One such place–my favorite, perhaps–is ‘All About the Bean,’ a coffee shop run by a supporting character named Annie. When Phelan, my protagonist, needs a place to get a bite without being recognized, his love interest Ariana suggests The Bean as a friendly place. Annie is sympathetic to Phelan’s cause, and after the second visit, Annie presents Phelan with an Aquaccino, a concoction she’s mixed up special for the occasion.

Annie describes an Aquaccino in chapter 18, as “Swiss Chocolate, shaved coconut, and Jamaican rum extract in a rich, dark roast with frothy cream.” I was feeling guilty about including this, because I’d never actually had one. Until… tonight.

The fact that I hadn’t tasted an Aquaccino has been bothering the crap out of me for some time now. I’ve been bothered enough that a few weeks ago, I bought a French Press for the sole purpose of layering and frothing the milk. A week or so back, I picked up some coconut extract. But, I stared at the little tag below the rum extract for a couple seconds. “You know, six bucks is a bit steep for something called ‘extract,’ don’t you think?” Yes, Captain Morgan, I hear you.

So here’s what you need:

Annie’s Aquaccino – Owner, All About the Bean, Aquataine

  • About three-quarters of a mug of delicious instant Maxwell House (please do substitute coffee of your choice).
  • Sugar/sweetener to taste (I used a teaspoon of sugar)
  • A splash of rum for flavor (perhaps half a shot)
  • In a separate mug, heat a couple tablespoons of cream, heated for around 40 seconds in the microwave. (Not too much heat, or it will burn and stink. You don’t want stinky cream.)
  • Add a few drops of coconut extract to the cream and dump that into your French Press.
  • Gently floof the handle of the press. Floofing is a term I am making up for adding air bubbles to your cream mixture. You’ll see. The press (I think ‘layers’ is the right term) layers the cream and makes it all frothy.
  • Add your perfectly floofed cream to your coffee, nice and slow.
  • Sprinkle a little bit of chocolate on top. I actually used a sprinkle of baking cocoa, because well, I didn’t have anything else handy.

You know what? It’s pretty darned good!

Founding Day Celebration Rocks Aquataine!

By Benjamin Maxwell

BALTIMORE – April 22, 2140: Long-time readers of my columns might be in for a surprise, as this is my last ever from the wonderful city of Baltimore. But fear not, my loyal readers, for this is a happy occasion. Today, we celebrate the founding of the re-envisioned city of Aquataine, Baltimore’s new name as it goes under the dome.

The day began with the ceremonial retiring of the flag of the City of Baltimore, forever enshrined in the new seat of the Aquataine City Hall in the Central Dome. The festivities officially got underway as the new flag of Aquataine was hoisted high on the flagpole in the government courtyard.

The new flag, featuring the city’s shield and motto ‘in civitatem mari popularia’—A City of the Sea, a Government of the People—in a field of aqua. The flag is 30 by 42 feet, the same size as the original Star Spangled Banner flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

The city’s first governor, Cal Donovan gave the inaugural speech, and introduced the dome architects, lead engineer, and the leads of the construction teams. The Sea-Notes Marching Band led the parade through Schaefer Plaza around the former Baltimore harbor area, followed by numerous floats showcasing the amazing technology that has been incorporated into this wonderful city.

Rhappahanock Engineering of Virginia had one of its underwater runabouts on display in the Transportation Dome, which will be the main transportation hub for travel between domed cities. The runabouts will be used for light-duty deliveries between the surface cities and nearby underwater cities. Rhappahanock also had scale models of its huge cargo and passenger subs with walk-through displays. These futuristic ships will be ready for public use within the year.

Also included in the celebrations were tours of the key environmental and support systems. Visitors were also treated to guided tours of the water treatment facility, the oxygen generation plant, and the electrical generation system with a model of the remote underwater current turbines. One of the most incredible systems is the electro-optic panels that line the dome. These panels can be made transparent, but can also generate the lighting that simulate a blue sky, sunrises and sunsets, and can even simulate stormy skies.

Further celebrations included live bands, including the best of the rock, techno, and classic scenes. World-renowned Hydrophonist Jessie Matthias performed with Hanover Axx, a Rock-Hydro band, for a two-hour free concert.

If today’s activities are any indication of how well people will adapt to living underwater, then the population of Aquataine will live a comfortable and entertaining lifestyle. Aquataine sets the high water mark for Boston and Philadelphia as their domes are completed within the next few months.

Ben Maxwell is a staff writer for the Boston Chronicle. His stories focus largely on environmental issues and health matters. You can follow him online at our web site.

Dome Foundation to be Completed March 21 Around Baltimore

—–Original Message—–
From: Ben Maxwell <benjamin.maxwell@bos-chron.com>
To: Franklin Maxwell <frankiemax@rhappahanock-engineering.va.us>
Sent: Wed, Mar 16, 2135 3:01 pm
Subject: Dome Foundation Around Baltimore

Hi son,

Just dropping a note to say that Mom and I are back in Baltimore to watch the completion of the foundation for the dome. Well, I’m in town for the foundation. Mom is going to check out a lecture on hydroponics at the Waxman Center.

I wanted you to know that we’ll be here for about two weeks at the Constellation Plaza. If you can pry yourself away from your studies for weekend, we’d love to see you while we’re in town. Say the word, and we’ll get you a Coastliner ticket and pick you up at Penn Station.

For your reference, my plan is to be present at the official completion of the foundation in the Locust Point area of town. A lot of the press will be there with the film crews and photographers on Monday morning. Apart from that, we’re completely free. I think you’d really appreciate the work that’s going on here. With your engineering background, I think you’d be amazed at the precision of the work being done, and all the preparations for the start of the acrylic build which is scheduled to begin sometime in May. Maybe I can talk your mother into another trip down here for that.

Our dome back in Boston is not quite as far along as the one here. I’d say the foundations are maybe fifty percent complete. But there’s a lot riding on the Baltimore Project, being the first of the domes to go up on the east coast. If they screw this one up, we’ll all be running for higher ground!

Oh, we were really impressed with the photos you sent of the Trident Prototype ship. I hope I get to take a ride on her when she’s ready for sea trials. A surface ship that’s able to dive underwater looks like a lot of fun. I’ll probably need the little bag though. I’ve always had a touch of motion sickness, you know.

Anyway, we hope to hear from you soon!

Love, Dad and Mom

Ben Maxwell, Staff Writer, Boston Chronicle

Dubai Has Done It!

By Benjamin Maxwell on location

DUBAI, UAE – June 2, 2128: Coming just three months after the United States Congress passed the bill mandating construction of domes over twenty-five cities, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has completed a massive dome covering nearly a third of the city.

Nearly thirty thousand workers on the Almasi Capitol Dome Project gathered in the streets of Dubai’s Al Quoz Cultural District to witness the last section of the acrylic dome being formed in place nearly eight hundred feet above. The Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea have continued to rise, and many of the lower lying cities along the Arabian Peninsula have already been lost. Meanwhile, sea water has just crested the mammoth concrete base that rings Dubai.

“I have every confidence in the Almasi project,” said Jamila Sarraf, a mother witnessing the celebration with her five-year-old daughter. “The dome has kept the city safe so far,” she said as she points to the water that now laps at the acrylic dome. “The water makes me nervous, but everything seems to be fine.”

The Al Quoz Main Dome is the first of a series of domes, according to Osman Haddad, one of the many construction engineers on the Almasi project. “This is the main dome, the largest, at nearly three miles in diameter. These six other, smaller domes will house some of the support services to provide fresh water, air, electricity.”

He gestures to the six partial domes visible in the distance. “Those should be finished within the next eighteen months, ahead of schedule. Then full work will continue on the Sharjah project. The sea won’t let that deadline slip any longer than 2131, I’m afraid.”

But not everyone is celebrating. Critics believe the span of the dome is too wide, and that the arc of the dome is too shallow and can’t support the weight of the water once the dome is covered. Still, Mohammad Almasi, the designer and creator of the dome stands behind his work.

“We have performed continuous calculations of the structural integrity of the dome, of the acrylic compound, and of the concrete retaining structure at the base. This dome is as solid as it can possibly be, and it will stand for decades to come,” Almasi said.

Time will tell whether the dome will remain a viable means of protecting our cities and our people. But for all of us on the east coast of the United States, we sure hope they succeed. Ground was broken for the foundations of domes over Boston, Massachusetts and Baltimore, Maryland only a week ago.

Ben Maxwell is a staff writer for the Boston Chronicle. His stories focus largely on environmental issues and health matters. You can follow him online at our web site.