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Dysfunction Junction

Posted: Jun 21, 2007

There is a interchange in Birmingham, Alabama, that is so infamous it has been dubbed Malfunction Junction. After the last deadly crash, the powers-that-be declared that the interchange should be completely revamped, resulting in a slightly more functional junction.

This is not about that particular interchange in Birmingham, fascinating as it may be, but rather about the extremely sophisticated thermosat that was installed with my expensive new heating and cooling system. Recently my thermostat has begun rebelling against the dull monotony of keeping the same constant temperature day after day---74 degrees in summer and 70 degrees in winter---and has gone haywire, making clicking sounds like an excited Kalahari bushman from The Gods Must be Crazy and flashing random digital numbers on the screen--73, 71, 72.

Do I call the technician and have him come out and re-program my thermostat? No. I completely understand the oppressive sameness of routine, and I simply wait patiently for one, two, or three days until the thermostat decides to settle down and return to some semblance of normalcy.

As the child of a highly functional and wonderfully outrageous alcoholic (at least until his untimely death), I am addicted to chaos, the thrill of the unconventional, the lure of the edge. Someone once observed that our two-story Victorian home looked exactly like a portrait of serenity until one opened the door and then it was like stepping inside a cement mixer---and I loved every minute of it. Most of the time.

In the 1950s Daddy was one of the few large animal veterinarians in North Alabama and his hours were as unpredictable as his lifestyle. We rarely saw him as he came and went in the dark. Many mornings around 2 A.M. I would awaken to the familiar sounds of him in the kitchen making one of his late night meals that almost always included half a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce. To me he represented everything that was exotic, dangerous, and enormously compelling.

If my little sister dogged his footsteps like an adoring Cocker Spaniel, I imitated his culinary habits. If he made fried mountain oysters, I ate mountain oysters.  If he prepared chitterlings, I ate chitterlings. If he ate cayenne peppers, I ate cayenne peppers.

My sister may have been his shadow, but I was his co-conspirator. I yearned to drive wide open in his sky blue Ford truck with the air horn blaring, medicine bottles and syringes bouncing as high as the door handles, drinking Country Club malt liquor and smoking Swisher Sweets.

So when my thermostat wants to take a holiday from being good, I understand. I really do.

Penne J. Laubenthal

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CField says...

Thank you for such excellent writing!

annefarrow says...

I understand so much you just don't know. I too had a reluctant toilet last week that I was sure would have a spontaneous recovery if I could just be patient and give it time to process. After 5 days of waiting for my potty to clear it's throat I realized that even tho I had an "out of order" sign on the door, my senile mother and her sister (87 & 90) had continued to flush wads of tp. The sign surely didn't mean that they should not use it..... I succumbed to calling a plumber to keep my husband from turning my problem into an emergency. I'm missing all the Elk river trash.

StorianLeigh says...

I miss those old days-the old trucks, eccentric southerners, big old houses. These are great memories. I don't want to go back, though.

seanoevil says...

I am getting it....great writng...love it

parkersplace says...

Such a wonderful thing to know people handle a dysfunctional parent with humor and appreciation of the good in it.

rmleclaire says...

Loved it! I really enjoy your essays! Thanks to Leigh Carl for her email to connect me to this site.

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