The Nest
December 2007
I left class, looking at my phone: One New Voicemail. Listen Later. I always skipped over listening to the voicemail right away, in favor of finding out who the message was from, first. One Missed Call. View now. Pablo. 610-457-3970. Dad.
My father answers to Pablo as readily as he answers to Dad, Daddy, Papa, Father, Kevin, Kev, or Mr. Lukiewski. Pablo comes from the mumbled version of Papa Lu, which comes from the mixing of Papa Lukiewski and Mr. Lu, which comes from the far too verbally exhausting Mr. Lukiewski. For as long as I can remember, he has welcomed nick-names, and in fact preferred them with some people — I think because to him, they are more personal. His own father was so frequently called Sugar (because he was so sweet), that until the third grade, my dad thought Sugar was his real name.
I did not want to listen to his voicemail. My mother calls for important things, my father calls to say he misses me. His voicemails are minutes long, and are doting and wistful and nostalgic. I listened anyway:
Hello Kristen. It's your father. I'm just calling to say hello. I see you're not picking up your phone, I wonder if it's me? Are you screening your calls? Are you just ignoring my calls? That's probably it isn't it? hm. Well, I'm driving home from work right now, and I'm getting off the exit onto 78 — you know where I am? And anyway, I was thinking about you and how lonely the house is without you, even if you are the only one not home anymore. How's school? Have you gone to the Career Services Center yet? I can't wait to see you again. I remember when you were little and I would throw you and your little stuffed Ernie into the piles of leaves in the front yard. Man, you used to be tiny enough to fit into my hand. You loved that. Anyway, I just got off the exit and I'm looking at this huge ominous cloud and it's as if I see my life in front of me. Remember that time you hit me in the face with a newspaper while I was driving? Anyway, this cloud, Kristen, is like my life. Right in front of me. And behind me is work, and I'm sure it symbolizes something. This cloud just goes on for forever. Life is funny, isn't it? Hey, when are you coming home? Soon, right? I can't wait to see you. Hey, today at work...
Delete.

A few days later I called my mom instead.
"How's home?" I asked, referring mostly to my sisters.
"Oh, you know, the usual. Abbey's Abbey, Carolyn's Carolyn. But, they're fighting all the time, I don't know what to do anymore. I hope they grow out of it."
"They will."
"You keep saying that. I hope so. And your father..." my mom said.
"What?"
"Oh, you know him, he's just being himself. Always nagging and being philosophical and making sure we're saving money and he must be going through a mid-life crisis or something. Didn't he call you the other day?"
"Yeah, he left a message. I started listening to the message about an hour after he left it, and it ended just now," I joked. She laughed. In the background, I heard my dad ask what I was saying. She explained, and I heard him mutter, "Yeah, yeah. Can't a man get some slack around here?" I could picture him perfectly at the kitchen table, flipping through the paper, peering over his drug-store reading glasses. He has an excessively high bridge in his nose, so high that most glasses rest above his eyes when they rest on his nose; he takes advantage of any glasses that work on him.
"Well anyway, he has a story you'd appreciate. You know, one of those ones that you'd like to tell all your friends. The kind that only happens to us. Actually, here he is now."
"Hey Kris, how's it going?"
"Good," I said, dragging out the o's, "So what's this story?"
"Geeze, right to the point. Okay. So, your sisters," he stresses this last word, as if to signal that if we were all there together, he'd be glaring at them, "are disgusting. You know how our toilets run?"

Our house looks like a cross between a gingerbread house and a dollhouse, on a New England-like plot of tree-shaded land. The long driveway winds back off the road, framed for a short time by a low stonewall, and the entire time by tall leafy trees. The driveway wraps in front of our house, in front of the cream white porch that spans the length of the house. The exterior is several shades of muave siding, with some of the same cream-colored woodwork from the porch showing up on various eaves. The landscaping and the brick sidewalks are the handiwork of my dad, artwork that took him a mere three years to complete (but was cheaper than hiring a professional).
The custom-built house was a splurge, over five years worth of discussion in the making, and moved us three miles from our previous abode. We moved in the day after Christmas, 2001, from a standard suburban house of brick and blue vinyl siding with a golf course off the backyard, to a bigger house that, if you ask my mom, draws influences from Victorian houses and farmhouses, and that, if you ask me, has a nice front porch and a deck big enough you could see it from the moon.
The small move took up a big portion of our lives. My family always talked about moving; not enough to doubt the inevitability of moving every time it was mentioned, but too much to believe that this time was the time. The first time moving was mentioned, I was in sixth grade and I cried every night for a month. I'd like to think that my crying wasn't the reason my parents decided against moving to Texas, but indirectly, it was. Every night of my preteen years my dad came into my room to tuck me in, and then he'd lay beside me in bed, and we'd talk, many times for hours. Why don't you want to move? he'd ask. My friends are here. I like my life here. I was petrified of change. Years later I asked him why we didn't move to Texas for his job. He said, "Your mother and I didn't want to uproot you guys, since you were happy here. The three of you are most important." And though he should have meant, "You whined and cried your way into convincing us to stay," he just meant, "The three of you are most important."
When we finally moved, it was just to have more room. Every part of the new house was discussed and rediscussed, decided upon and redecided upon. The only things my mother claimed to want in the house were a narrow cabinet for baking sheets, a wrap-around porch, and a turret. She got the cabinet. It was the cheapest of the three options.
Choosing tiles and paint colors and carpets and light fixtures and counter tops and tubs and toilets was a chore for my mom and dad, who are aesthetically challenged, and meant I and my keen eye were forced tag-alongs to all the lighting fixture stores and bath outlets in the tristate area. The motto for the whole process was, "Do it right the first time;" spend the money right so that everything would work perfectly.
The first week in the house we had no hot water. The first August we were there, a tree fell on the house and ripped off the front porch. We have an ongoing soot problem and running toilets. The risk of getting the black lung aside, the running toilets are the worst, because they run the most in the middle of the night, and sometimes the toilets jam and seize and bang against the walls.
Furthermore, updated building codes specify a water pressure in toilets that is significantly less than that specified in the seventies, when our previous house was built. As a result, our toilets clog more, and at any given time someone is saying, "You're spending a long time in there — remember to flush twice!"
Carolyn has taken the flush twice advice to heart and decided against it, much to the dismay of Abbey, who she shares a bathroom with: Instead, Carolyn just doesn't flush. My mom recalls many mornings starting with fights, which have begun as a result of Abbey waking up to find a present in the toilet. Instead of flushing, she wakes Carolyn up to yell at her. No one can convince Carolyn to flush, and it's hard to fight her loving defense; she claims she doesn't flush in the middle of the night, so that she doesn't wake Abbey or the rest of the family up with the running toilets. After months of Carolyn's refusal to flush, Abbey decided to join her instead of beat her. Abbey stopped flushing, too.
At least once every other week a toilet gets clogged. Every bathroom has a bright orange plastic plunger that looks like an accordian at one end. Everyone in my family has tried, more than once, to plunge a toilet. My dad is the only successful one, and he is always successful. The frequency with which my father has to plunge toilets means it was little surprise when Abbey came home from a two-week school trip to France, went to the bathroom, and yelled downstairs, "Hey Dad, the toilet's clogged again!"
"Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you — it's been clogged since the day you left for France. I can't get it unclogged," my dad yelled back.

"I tried to plunge their toilet. I used the plunger, I re-flushed the toilet, and the toilet just ran and kind of overflowed," my dad said, "and their bathroom is disgusting. Neither of them keep it clean. There are shampoo bottles and razors and towels and shoes and nailpolish everywhere and... girl things... and hair everywhere."
"Dad. Why are you telling me about plunging a toilet?" I asked.
"Yeah yeah. Right. Hold your horses, I'll get to the point soon. It'll be good, I promise. So anyway, yeah, I tried plunging the toilet that day, and the next day, and I tried flushing it and fiddling with the stuff in the tank, and finally your mother made me call a plumber. Just to plunge a toilet."
"Tragic," I said, doling out the sarcasm.

My father has a Dagwood-like tendency to watch over any laborer doing their job. It's an honest curiousity and an honest desire to learn more handiwork that drives him to stand by and ask questions as they do their work. Sometimes the questions and comments are reasonable and intelligent. Sometimes they are innocently ignorant and worthy of a smile-and-nod. Wow, what's that tool? Why'd you do that? Is that all it takes? I could have done that myself! Where can you get something like that? Have you ever done this before? Man, this is a dirty job — glad it's you and not me.
A few days later my dad stayed home from work to let the plumber (my father's newest laborer-victim) in. The plumber arrived, and my dad started right in with the friendly conversation, and the it-must-be-more-than-a-clogged-toilet conversation. He led the plumber up the back staircase, down the hall, through Abbey's room, past Abbey's hardened-toothpaste-covered sink, and into the bathroom that connected her's and Carolyn's rooms. All the while my dad engaged the plumber in conversation. Can you believe — two teenage girls, and they clog this toilet so bad I have to call a plumber. I bet that doesn't happen often. The plumber chuckled and nodded.
The plumber turned to the toilet, and fiddled with the flusher knob, as my dad looked on. The plumber opened up the tank and jiggled the rods inside; my dad peaked over his shoulder (neither him nor the plumber saw anything of consequence). The plumber tried using his own plunger. Oh, yeah, I already tried the plunger, and I couldn't get it to work. The plunger didn't work. The plumber tried again. My dad was getting excited, obviously it wasn't just his sudden inability to plunge the toilet at hand. The plumber failed again. Hm, said the plumber, this is odd. I'll be right back. My dad's curiousity peaked. The plumber needed to go back to his truck for another tool, a tool bigger and better than a plunger.
He came back, up the stairs, down the hall, through Abbey's room, where she was sitting on her bed. Suddenly the plumber had her interest also — he was carrying a crank about three feet long into the bathroom. What the heck is going on? She stayed put, so as not to look as eager as my dad obviously was: What is THAT? Does that go IN the toilet? How does it work?
The plumber inserted the crank into the toilet, and started turning a knob at the top. My dad asked what he was doing, and the plumber informed him that he was using a crank to unclog the toilet. The plumber continued turning the knob, extending the crank and grabbing for whatever was jammed into the pipe, and then paused, a quizzical look on his face. Abbey listened on from her bed as my dad asked what it was. Something's... crunching? The plumber sounded confused. My dad was giddy. Everyone waited on edge.

"And then, Kristen, oh my god. It was the most disgusting smell I have EVER smelled. The plumber put it in a bucket and ran out of the house, I ran out of the bathroom, Abbey had to leave her room. It was disgusting. Absolutely disgusting," my dad said.
"What... wait, what was it? Did he pull something out?" I asked. His answer had better been good for all the build-up.
"Kristen, even the plumber was impressed. He said, ‘Well, that was a first,' when he came back in. It was disgusting. We have no idea how it got there."
"How what got there, dad?"
"A bird! The plumber pulled a bird out of your sisters' toilet! It was a dead bird — it had been sitting there for weeks. The plumber said he's going to tell people about this!" He sounded proud to have made the plumber's stories-to-tell list. I was cracking up.
"How did it get there?" I asked.
No one has any idea.
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