It’s a 1950s house, and for all of its near seven decades, it has avoided a makeover. It’s in a historic district in a college town, right off campus, and you can just imagine some professor-type remaining totally satisfied with it the way it is.
The wiring in the brick home still has two-prong outlets, and the light fixtures are original and kind of fancy, and in the bathroom off the parlor, there’s not even a receptacle for plugging-in your hair dryer or electric razor.
And in that same bathroom the ceramic tile is old school all the way. Green and white. The wall tiles are installed to wainscoting height and include a ceramic toothbrush holder and a ceramic fixture for the toilet paper. There’s a walk-in shower that’s tiled from the floor to the ceiling. The tiles would have been picked up one at a time and meticulously set into place on troweled mastic adhesive. The spacing and alignment are near perfect and hand set.
Nearly seventy years ago, a master craftsman had spent most of a week, showing up for work with a white-bread sandwich and a thermos of coffee or tea, and performed his task with flawless skill.
And then one day.
And then one day the tile man clocked-in for work and he had an easy grin on his face. Like he knew something. He only lacked the bathroom floor, and labored all morning at an easy, regular pace, comfortable he’d finish by quitting time. He took his lunch break, sitting alone on the tailgate of his Ford truck, and enjoyed the sandwich he’d made that morning about 4:30. He took a ten-minute break in the afternoon, then went back to the bathroom to wrap up the job. When he stood up and surveyed the walls, the vanity, the shower, and the floor, he was pleased. He had done some pretty work. He gathered his tools, wiped his hands on a shop towel he kept in his toolbox. He took one more look as he closed the bathroom door.
And why was he smiling? Because right in the middle of the bathroom floor, where anyone, gentleman or lady, seated on the porcelain throne would see it, he had made a magnificent two-inch square statement to the world.
I don’t know what the homeowner had to say about those two little flip-flopped tiles. I can’t be sure they even noticed it right away. Or at all. I’d been in and out of that bathroom a hundred times before I spied the sneaky switch. I know what I had to say. I said hallelujah! Not loud enough to freak out Sandra, my sister who lives in the house. Just audible enough to loose a word of praise into the universe.
A Chinese-American philosopher, Lin Yutang, writing in the 1930s said that cows and dictators go together well, but that dictators and monkeys don’t work out. There’ll be at least one primate in the pack that scoots off in the opposite direction.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on self-reliance gives evidence he approved of the monkey mind with this popular soundbite: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.” I think Mr. Emerson would say there is a version of consistency that is wise, but he doesn’t sort it out for readers. Emerson added, “A sect or party is an elegant incognito devised to save a man from the vexation of thinking.” Suggesting that a person who thinks for himself is not going to necessarily tow the party line.
About 30 years ago, Whitley Strieber wrote a book called Communion that detailed his claim of true experiences when he was taken hostage by aliens. I remember his appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and Johnny asking the author what was the strangest part of his strange encounter. Strieber said something like even though these aliens had him completely immobilized he sensed they were still skittish and a little afraid of him. When Johnny asked him why, he said he believed that their prior surveillance of human behavior left them convinced that we were likely to do something unexpected. Better keep an eye on that earth critter!
And there you have it.
Our working man was a hero, sure to stand by your side when facing down some dictator who’d like to takeover and rule our country. Or he’d be willing to buck his party affiliation in favor of a better idea. Or he’s kept the aliens from landing and taking over. All just because he was willing to reverse the order of one white and one green ceramic tile. Hallelujah!