01 April, 2017

The Tub Is Back

When a 350 pound, antique, clawfoot tub gets stolen out of your yard, at 1:00 PM on a Thursday afternoon, it makes the expression: “…when pigs fly…” seem like it’s not an oxymoron. 

I’ve always loved the impossible. Quixotic at best, naive at worst, the notion of pigs with wings, goats chewing their cud in my kitchen, an attempt to craft something flawless while deeply knowing that “perfect” is for nature and not for humans, these are some of the images that (I believe) shift a life of trying into a world-enriching endeavor. I can’t help but wish that trying and making were all it took to eradicate racism, disallow a government administration bent on decimating our planet and all its inhabitants (except the grotesquely wealthy), somehow make right the horrendous wrongs that happen every day, bring sense to the senseless, and most of all to set right what our species has made and done so very wrong. But this track and other musings are for another writing piece. The tub however, removed from my yard seven years ago, is a story not yet finished. And if maybe pigs can - could - might actually fly one day, whether metaphorically or, for example, in a plane, then who knows? Maybe my tub has a children’s story book of seven year adventures to tell, if only our ears could listen.

In the meantime though, here is the story:

A client of mine was remodeling her bathroom. It was located upstairs in an old house. Her issue was removing the tub without cost. I volunteered. I’d wanted a tub like this for a while as I had this wonderful idea about how to re-do my own bathroom. My art practice had taken a fascinating turn and I was playing around with questions of what I called ‘the space between.’ Where are the lines between art, not-art, and living? 

Once this 350 pound object was safely in my yard, bordered by a retaining wall on either side of it - were an exit to ever be attempted - I proceeded to spend 3 weeks grinding down the outside. And yes, I was aware that amidst the uncountable layers of paint between me and the original steel was a non-quantifiable amount of lead. So I was suitably protected and working in my new, heavy duty
respirator. My idea was to strip it down to metal. I intended to let it rust until it was visually perfect, and then epoxy it to keep it exactly the way I wanted it to look. I was then planning to gut my current bathroom, design and rebuild the room specially for this tub, and then enjoy the masterpiece, multiple times a day, whenever nature called. My birthday was February 21st. I asked that my gift that year be help with gutting the bathroom. This was a job but also a lot of fun in a family connected, making kind of way.

The tub, by this time, was quietly working on its transformation to art object and I had thrown out the disposable zoot suit I had worn for the three weeks it took me to complete the grinding.

On February 26th, while I was chatting it up with my sister on the phone, I wandered up into the yard to check on the rust color. I discovered the tub gone. I was so shaken by this (theoretically) impossible turn of events that I became paralyzed. There I was, in my yard, and hanging onto my fence for dear life. Chronic Post-Traumatic-Stress makes certain things untenable and this was definitely one of them. But even so, years before this day, a wise person had once told me - when I was crying about the fact that my legs go numb when I get frightened - that: “…Holding onto a fence is better than falling down.” So as much as I hate calling for help, and I do, I had to call my son who lives nearby to come and help me get back into my house. Thank goodness I had my (still analogue) cell phone in my pocket.

Calling the police and filing a police report was challenging for me because I’ve always been afraid of them. But I did it. They were actually very kind and told me that other than filing the report, the only thing I could do to get my tub back was to visit every junkyard in Boston, and hope to find it there. Which I did. But because my particular tub had the entire exterior ground down, and was beautifully on its way to becoming the centerpiece for an artistic bathroom experience for anyone who chose to use the facilities, it was easy to ascertain that none of the tubs I saw were the one I sought.

The tub, my tub, the almost permanently elevated from the relative obscurity of (commonly thought to be) household object, to artful visual and experiential piece extraordinaire, had not yet been photographed before it  disappeared. I wanted to wait until the rust was perfect in my eyes.  

You know it’s peculiar how I gendered the tub in my heart. She was definitely a “she” to me. And yet, in these seven years, since she was ripped from her destiny to parts unknown, we have (finally) begun to acknowledge and change (until recent executive orders from the administration have tried to catapult us back in time) our cultural understanding of gender. We now unequivocally know that the combination of gendering and violence are entrenched in many people’s choices. So presumably we now know that we need to stop both the gendered pronouns and the violence. (I wish.)

Turns out my Great Dane, Tzeitel, (A female. Perhaps animals can tolerate mixed up pronouns and identity because they are not violent like us.) who turned 7 years old this past February 26th, was born on the day the tub flew (was lifted) out of my yard. The disappearance was orchestrated by 3 men, as witnessed by my neighbors who thought I had finally sold one of my creations and therefore, while they saw the theft, they never said a word because they assumed it was a moment to be glad for me. After the tub was stolen I spent three days terrified in my house before I decided to research the biggest, scariest looking, gentlest dog breed. At that time I was living alone with my daughter here and being frightened into immobility was just not an option. I thought about getting my dog as yet another attempt to take something awful and turn it into something else. There is no question that my dog has brought wonderful into my life.

Seven years have gone by. The gutted bathroom has long been finished and beautiful. Not in the way I’d planned. But still. I couldn’t keep bathing in the sink, peeing in a pot, and hoping forever, could I? This being without a bathroom hadn’t gone well for my daughter who had never lived in a tipi in Vermont like I had. She didn’t have waves of nostalgia for my past. And why should she? We don’t long for other’s pasts unless we are empathic enough to realize that we have to deeply understand others’ experiences so we can try to make right the gross injustices in our world. 

This past Saturday, exactly one week ago today, I decided to go pay a visit to one of my favorite places in Boston. The Boston Building Materials Resource Center (BBR):

Matthew St. Onge, president

It is a fabulous non-profit that provides vital service, education, supplies and building materials to the people here in the city. There are many projects I could never have afforded without the access they offer. Also, their facility is dog-friendly so I love to go there with Tzeitel. We browse and imagine together. Last Saturday though, I went without my girl. Just on a whim.

I walked in. I turned my head to the right. My intention was to look at kitchen cabinets. (You never know when an idea might hatch. I like to fertilize my art practice whenever possible.) And there, quietly resting on a four-wheeled, wooden dolly, was my tub! I walked over. I stroked the side. Perfectly smooth. All around. It was clear that wherever she had been during these years, she wasn’t cared for by someone who knew enough to use epoxy to stop the rust while it was still gorgeous and orange. She is rusted smoothly all around. But there were the two white splotches I had been unable to grind through. And there was no question that her outside was completely and (can I say?) perfectly ground down and smooth.

My legs started to go numb. At first I thought I should just marvel at the miracle of synchronicity. The fabulous reminder that amazing things can still happen despite the heartbreak in our world. And then…an incredible thing happened. I realized that after seven years, and some fairly horrendous experiences, one absolutely perfect thing was about to happen. I was going to get my tub back!

Here she is as I first saw her at BBR:              And up close:  


It took a support phone call with my daughter in Vermont and some courage but I approached one of the excellent staff people and asked if they wanted to hear a story. We stood next to my tub as I narrated. By this time I was excited about the nature of miracles and the joy of getting her back. 

What followed then was disconcerting at best. 

The manager who was summoned had a conversation with the person who was there to pick up the tub they thought they had purchased. I was not invited to be privy to this. I was told that the customer had agreed to wait until the situation was “resolved” and he would leave the tub there. While this conversation (that I felt should have included me) went on, a funny thing was happening inside me. A silent sort of evolution/revolution. There was no artist in a zoot suit and respirator to grind my outside and bring my inside forth. There was no oxidation of metal to transform my surface to a glowing beautiful orange. It all happened invisibly inside my body. The same one that has never (yet) bathed in this tub. My legs were no longer weak. Okay. My hands were shaky and my breath was short but I was experiencing my own metamorphosis standing right there at the BBR, next to my tub. It was like a train running inside me. Like seeing a pig fly. A determination born of getting stepped on one too many times. A knowing of desire and intent that our world hasn’t quite completely quashed in me yet. Here’s how it inaudibly sounded: “I want my tub. It’s mine and I’m going to bring it (her) home.”

They wanted to see a police report. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it. I went home and looked through all of my papers. It was nowhere. 

The next day I held on to myself and called the police station. They found the report! They gave me the incident number. Flying high on my imaginary pig wings and the vindication of a set of life-long tenacity, hopes and beliefs, I even told a few people the magnificent story of my tub’s soon-to-be-but-imminent home-coming.

I wish I hadn’t. Told anyone that is. The end of the story is definitely not glorious like the original discovery. Yes miracles happen. Sometimes even a missing 350 pound tub will find its way home. But along the way, given our world and the times we live in, there often seems to be someone who wants to break a heart.

There were two pretty awful conversations with Matthew St. Onge. He is listed as the president on the website of BBR. He made the point that if he believed me and returned my tub, anyone could come in and say that something they wanted was stolen from them. He talked about not starting a precedent. While he acknowledged that he had never before seen a tub that was ground down like mine, he said it didn’t prove anything. He told me that the contractor who donated the tub had removed it from a house in Wellesley. 
It was clear to me that in his view, I could have nothing better to do than to come to a place of business I frequent often, one that I am enormously grateful for, and make up a story about a tub.

I reminded him that it is illegal to sell stolen goods. I asked if he wanted me to come with a detective from the station. He said “No.” 

My decision to not bring in the police was because I appreciate the BBR and what it offers. Truly. And. The way the person who runs this organization handled this with me was inappropriate and wrong.
I told Matt that there was a very different way he could have handled the situation. He could have been glad at the sheer wonder of it all. He could have been glad for me. He could have been happy that this happened at the BBR.

Instead he insisted I pay.
Which I did.

My tub is home. She is being rained and snowed upon as I type. I’m glad to have her back.

And…because I am still an Artist. Still a caring person. Still a human who has access to her heart. I’m so deeply saddened by our world.








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