Monday, August 25, 2008

In the Toilet: Out of Patience by Brian Meehl

At the beginning of the summer, on his twelfth birthday, Jake Waters had made a vow.

He was going to be the first J. Waters not to die in Patience, Kansas.

Patience, Kansas, is dying on its own--has been slowly expiring before the eyes of five generations of J. Waters men, Jeremiah, Jud, Jack, and Joseph, and now Jake's dad Jim, proprietor of Waters and Son Plumbing. Jake knows who the designated "son" in the company name is, but he has his own secret plan, nicknamed OOPS--Out of Patience Soon. Yessir, someday soon Jake knows he is going to ride out of Patience and avoid the fate which for a century has left his Waters forebears, um, mired in the muck, to put it politely.

His dad, Jim Waters, has a different dream. He spends most of what he earns on antique bathroom fixtures to furnish his dream--the American Toilet Museum, affectionately called The ATM. You see, toilets--specifically the Dolphin Deluge Washdown Water Closet--and toilet plungers--specifically the Plunger of Destiny (a.k.a. The Sceptre of Satan)--loom large in the Waters' family history.

Trouble is, the town of Patience, Kansas, once known as the Rose of the Prairie, is under a curse laid down because of said Waters family history, specifically because of the aforementioned toilet and the buffalo hide plunger old Jeremiah had invented. It seems Jeremiah was given custody of the townspeople's treasure when the banker got wind of a gang of bank robbers on the way to the prosperous metropolis of Patience. Jeremiah was to conceal the treasure somewhere near his ranch a few miles out of town, document the hiding place, and return the stash when the outlaws were long gone.

However, a self-proclaimed local religious prophet, Anders Cass, gave away the story when the gang shook down the town elders, and when the gang rides out to his ranch, Jeremiah, caught with his pants down, so to speak, on the elegant mahogany seat of the Dolphin Deluge, has to defend himself with the only weapon at hand, the Plunger of Destiny loaded with toilet-cleaning carbolic acid crystals. In the ensuing bathroom altercation, Jeremiah receives a blow to the head which renders him unable to remember the location of the Patience treasure map. The town elders turn on Cass, and in the manner of the time tar, feather, and escort him out of town on the customary rail, inspiring him to lay down the Curse:

And I say unto thee, where the soil of Satan rises, the wrath of God floods down! Jeremiah Waters, you and your unborn son, and the unborn sons of your unborn sons, will be a-punished for this! You will watch as Patience, your rose of the prairie, withers to a broken weed! And when all that remains is the burnt stalk of its former glory, there will be a final reckoning! Judgement Day will be a-comin' to this place! The final destruction will begin when the Sceptre of Satan returns to Patience.

As Anders Cass prophesied, Patience has slowly withered over the ensuing century, leaving empty, dilapidated houses and abandoned stores, a tiny post office barely clinging to its zip code, one surviving store, Gas & Goodies, and only eight kids old enough to make up a baseball "team," who, without available rivals, play in the "World's Series of Workup" annually for individual points. The team, like almost everything else in Patience, exists only through the beneficence of the town's only employer, Knight Soil and Fertilizer, affectionately known as the "stink farm" for its odoriferous processing of cow manure into the popular home garden product, Dung Shui.

Jake's only anchors in Patience are his baseball buddies, Howie "Kapowie" Knight, son and heir of the stink farm's owner, and Sira "Cricket" Rashid, a recent immigrant to Patience and daughter of the proprietor of the struggling Tumbleweed Motel. To add to Jake's worries, Cricket's immediate goal in life is to unseat Howie as top scorer in the Workup World's Series. But when Jake learns that his dad has actually tracked down and ordered from eBay the dreaded Plunger of Destiny, he's pretty sure that the final destruction foretold by the Curse is beginning.

With one eye out for signs of imminent destruction, Howie decides to delay his escape from the doomed town until after the Workup Series, but when news of the return of the Sceptre of Satan to its place of creation leaks out, things start to unravel fast in Patience. A hailstorm of epic proportions leaves the town a foot deep in "thunderstones," which the resilient townsfolk make into hand-churned thunderstone peach ice cream. But then Jim Waters discovers that local wells are being dangerously contaminated by nitrates seeping into the water supply from KSF's retention ponds, and despite Marvin Knight's efforts to bribe him with promises of support for the Antique Toilet Museum, Jim stands firm. With the EPA inspectors on the way, Marvin pumps a tank truck full of fresh water into a suspected well to dilute the evidence and has Jake and Jim thrown into the town's emergency jail to keep them quiet.

Jake, however, has just had an epiphany. He realizes that old Jeremiah's dying words,

I fall leaving unknowable secrets! Hark! Enter Death!

are not an admission of his failure to recall the location of the treasure map. Like all his descendants, old Jeremiah had a fascination with word puzzles. His dying words are an acrostic for--


With his dad's help, Jake escapes through a small window in their impromptu jail. As huge black thunderheads build ominously in the west, Jake and Sira bike furiously out to the abandoned Waters' ranch to search the bowels of the Dolphin Deluge for the flushed map. As they do, Patience is hit with double killer tornadoes, one of which sucks up KSF's manure ponds and deposits the entire production of the stink farm ankle deep all over Patience.

Is this the prophesied final reckoning for Patience? Will Jake and Sira and Howie find the long buried treasure of Patience? What will they reveal if they finally open that long-buried chest? Will Patience rise, like a be-pooped phoenix, from its municipal manure slick?

Brian Meehl's fine and funny first book Out of Patience takes its own sweet time in building to the suspenseful and unfailingly funny satisfaction of these and many other questions. Wonderful right-on characterizations carry what seems a preposterous premise to the only possible ending for this engaging and audacious novel. A real out-of-the-ballpark finish makes this one a world-class workup winner.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home