Normal History Vol. 137: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 27-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

On Halloween, I wore a costume to my shift at Curves. My agnès b blue jumpsuit that I got in NYC 30 years ago, an aviator’s hat with a tiny clip-on bird and plastic grapes attached to it and then, sewn to the jumpsuit, several fishing lures we got in Anacortes at Shipwreck Days.

When people had looked at me strangely long enough, I told them there was, of course, a story to go with my outfit.

“I’m a World War I fighter pilot shot down over northern France,” I said. “When I plummeted from my single-seater, I landed in the aviary of a vineyard owned by a French fisherman.”

I gestured at each associated object as I told my story, and some people really laughed.

And then the toilet overflowed in the middle of the Latin dance class. I did not know a toilet could keep gushing upward like a fountain until you took off the back and jiggled stuff around. There was fecal matter in the bowl, and the water was flowing out behind the washroom into a tile hallway. Like, gushing out. It was as if I was having a nightmare. It all happened so fast.

A Curves member discovered it when she opened the washroom door. She stood there, holding open the door, calling my name with a horrified look on her face. She ran off while I jiggled the toilet to make the water stop. Then I heard her calling me from the other side. “Jean! It’s going out onto the carpet.” Way out onto the carpet, heading quickly toward the women doing Latin dance. There were about a dozen mainly middle-aged, mostly overweight women dancing with the music totally cranked, looking over there shoulders, inching away from the tsunami of sewage heading their way.

I moved the yoga mats, the scale, and in picking up the stereo speaker sitting on the floor, I managed to rip the wires out. I stood there, wondering where to put a wet, disconnected speaker. Should I get it going or deal with the water? We were down to one speaker on the other side of the room and then, weirdly, it stopped, too. No music.

I ran to get the mop and bucket, but it was too slow a process. I ran to get the dustpan and started shoveling the water (sewage). Must have been several gallons, maybe more. The women were still dancing, doing the moves, humming and muttering their own version of the music, and I kept shoveling toilet water with plastic grapes and a tiny bird on my head. It was totally surreal.

When the water was basically under control, I went to try and get the music going. I tried everything I could think of. No music. I went back to the disaster area, and the next time I went to empty the bucket, several of the women were on the computer getting the music going. They finished the class, tunes cranked, and I finished mopping up.

Later, a woman working out said I was calm in a crisis, and I said, “It wasn’t that big of a crisis.” I thought about Mecca Normal adventures. Changing a tire on a dark and rainy night on the New Jersey Turnpike or driving around New York in the days of 9/11 or that dog that terrorized us in Boston.

The next day, “my boss” (a.k.a. Julie) brought me a rose. A red rose with a spray of something like baby’s breath, wrapped in heavy cellophane, with pink ribbon tied in a bow. I was really touched by that. I felt like someone who had been given a rose. It was a thank-you rose for dealing with the toilet crisis.

“Well, what else would I have done?” I asked.

“You could have sat here and cried,” she said.

Oh no. It was an opportunity for a performance. I’ve always enjoyed emergency response mode in Mecca Normal. One night in Germany, Dave’s guitar strap ripped and he kept playing, supporting the guitar however he could, giving me the “what the hell am I going to do now?” look, the “I do not have another guitar strap” look. He kept playing, and I went into his guitar case to find the duct tape and while he played I built a strap out of duct tape, more or less duct taping his guitar to him, which sort of turned into the performance.

I guess it must have looked pretty strange, and evidently, Curves members had been telling the tale of my actions whilst in costume. I think they thought I would have taken off the hat, which kept sliding over my eyes on the grape-heavy side. No, it wouldn’t have done to take off the hat. The hat was what made it a good story, people, and so they got to tell that story and laugh about it, me mopping feverishly, making it slightly less of a catastrophe by leaving the hat on, you see.

I’m a fiction writer, people. We think about such things. Hat off? There’s barely a story worth telling. Hat on? Legend in the making.

And so the members had been coming in and telling “my boss” (a.k.a. Julie) of my quick action. One minute at the desk creating the club newsletter, the next, almost as if it was right on schedule, I was in there with rubber gloves, mop and bucket. The grapes with the tiny bird to illustrate, to give it some colour.

The rose is symbolic of something else, of course, and so, it was somewhat inappropriate, and I vaguely wondered how Julie came to select a rose or how she happened to have a rose, but, regardless, I felt its intention along with a complication. An accentuation of alienation. I felt slightly more alone in my abstract situation. That anyone could mistake me for a woman who would respond to a rose as a gesture of appreciation for dealing with an overflowing toilet was something to wonder about. For me. Let’s face it; of course I over-analyze things. Over-thinking is what I do. I am aware that some people do not like to be around over-thinkers. Fine with me. In men, let’s say famous male authors, do other men tell them, “Stop over-thinking everything, Salman.”

“Lighten up, Crichton, and stop making everything into a such a big deal.” [Note: Crichton was 6′ 9″.]

A single rose is what a man gives a woman to show her that he loves her. Its symbolism is uniquely solitary, non-transferable to plumbing issues. Anyway, the rose was a nice thing. Through it I felt appreciated.