Photo by Cottonbro Studio (Pexels)

The Roto Rooter Guy Attempts to Fix My Toilet

Cody Shrum

I lean against the doorway, arms crossed, one hand feeling my untrimmed chin hair. How else should you stand when a stranger is fixing your toilet? Of course, we don’t make eye contact. He’s in his forties, wears blue jeans tucked into boots, an old green t-shirt stained from chemicals. I pretend I’m not watching him work. He snakes my old toilet that won’t flush anymore. I think of someone giving big game animals enemas. He talks but I can’t hear over the god-awful rusted metal-scraping-porcelain sound resonating through pipes.

“This oughta clear up all the calcium buildup,” he says.

I walk through the house, pretending to tidy up. I could actually tidy up, but what if he needs me for something? Not enough time to commit to full-scale cleaning. I hear him scraping around the inside of the bowl again, and assume my position in the doorframe.

“Calcium buildup under this rim all the way around. Surprised the bastard didn’t shit out sooner.”

He laughs at his joke, and I laugh harder.

I’m not supervising. He’s a grown-ass man, won’t break or steal anything. I guess it’s my male need to see how things work, to be a part of the fixing even though I’m not qualified to do it myself; my standing here makes me an accomplice, a sidekick. He’s Batman and I’m Robin, if Batman fixed toilets in shitty Gotham City duplexes and Robin stood around doing nothing.

He wipes sweat from his brow and flicks the handle. It still won’t flush. A certain lightness, a floating fills my chest—I damn-well couldn’t have fixed it myself anyway.

“Well, that ain’t right,” he says.

“That’s what I said!”

“I’ll be damned. Well . . . looks like it’s time for a new stool.”

Now we make eye contact. We’ve solved the problem. He seems younger now, someone I’ve known for years; someone I grew up with. His face less worn, any wrinkles and sun spots faded.
“Yep. It served its purpose. Your landlord’ll set you up with a new throne.”

He gives me a head nod, the way guys do, and picks up his tools as I thank him for this duty. This is not a handshake moment. As he walks back through my apartment, he takes a quick scan of the living room, trying to figure me out, glimpse what kind of life he’s just momentarily walked into and is about to leave. Because seeing my broken shitter wasn’t quite enough.

With the door closed, I remove my domino mask and become normal again, just a dude. I tap out the digits to call my wife, tell her the good news: we can forego our bucket plan. I wonder where the Roto Rooter guy’s Bat signal is calling him to next, who he’ll go home to when he calls it a day. His work, those glimpses of intimacy, they must change a person. He’s lucky to be able to fix his own toilet without having to call a guy. It would be nice to be the guy sometimes. But maybe when you fix toilets all day, you don’t want to fix your own shit when you get home.

Cody Shrum is a writer and editor based in Kansas City. He holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Cody’s short fiction and poetry have appeared in or are forthcoming from such journals as BULL, Cleaver Magazine, Identity Theory, Harbor Review, Rust + Moth, and the Midwest Quarterly, as well as the anthology, Kansas Time + Place: An Anthology of Heartland Poetry.

X: @cshrumly

IG: @cshrumly