Flushing Money Down the Toilet. Really.

A couple days ago, my wife and and I were walking the dog and talking about selling our house.

We’ve lived in Tarzana for almost 13 years – which seem to have passed more quickly than the previous ten in Sherman Oaks. Our house value has doubled, and our son is a high school junior who wants to travel to a foreign country for college. Time to downsize.

It’s not the house. Unlike the McMansions that sprang up like lawn mushrooms all around us, we have only one floor, no sea shell bathroom sinks, no gold-flocked mirror tiles two stories high over the fireplace, no kitchen center island, no marble anywhere. There’s land, and there used to be a tennis court. We took it out after the Northridge quake and replaced it with a great lawn and terraced hillside because that was cheaper than fixing it – and it’s even more snobby/cool to say you’ve removed a court than that you put one in. But the gardening bills, not to mention the DWP and gas bills, are growing more and more prohibitive.

Don't get me wrong: I love my house, which says a lot since I also once swore I had no intention of moving to the West Valley where there’s at least one boat in a driveway, on every block.

Anyway, we want to travel once our son is out of high school. So why do we need to keep this place? I’m just afraid that when we sell it, some builder will buy it, tear down the house, fill in the pool, tear down the guest house (yeah, we have one of those, too), rip out the fire pit, level everything and build three houses that go straight up and have a five foot strip of lawn between them, and no place to put a market umbrella, much less a deck chair in what passes for a back yard.

But we’ve got to go sometime. We figure maybe if house prices don’t crash we can get enough out of our place to buy another, smaller house, for cash, with lower maintenance all around. Of course, we’d pay more in property taxes, so maybe it will be a wash after all. I guess we could always sell our 140 x 60 back yard to the neighbor above us . . . for his backyard.

“If we’re going to travel, maybe we should rent instead of buy,” I told my wife.

“What? And flush money down the toilet?” she said.

That made me immediately forget about the house and got me thinking about what it might be like to actually flush money down the toilet. No coins, though. I’ve got enough plumbing problems and the idea that the next plumber to snake a camera through the clean-out, looking for tree roots invading the sewer line would spot some sparklingly clean pocket change and start figuring how to over-charge me, did not appeal. I decided to start with a dollar and go up by denomination until I just couldn’t stand it any more.

So I stood over the toilet in the guest bathroom and dug around in my pocket for a single. I found a crisp new bill and rubbed it between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand while I contemplated the insanity of tearing it in half, and then in half again, and consigning it to a watery grave. Geez, I don’t know. Maybe I should just get some Lifesavers at the cheap gas station down the block, instead. Or buy one of those paper daisies at the supermarket checkout line and help an underprivileged kid. I could make change and do a load of laundry. Or give the bill to that guy who always hangs around outside the Rite-Aid. The guilt nearly did me in.

On the other hand, sometimes it feels good to be a little nuts. What the hell.

I ripped my bill – serial # E41490434 D – into four pieces, neatly bifurcating George Washington’s head into left and right brain and left and right jaw portraits. (I hope this is not against the law.) Then I let the scraps waft lazily down into the clean, inviting water. No stopping me now. I flicked the tank handle and watched as my legal tender for all debts public and private swirled clockwise into the great beyond. I imagined that it might meet and mate with another single and escape to sea in a freak sewage accident on Santa Monica bay.

But it was not to be. The flush ended prematurely, the suction stopped, and the wet green paper bobbed serenely back to the surface. Damn! I thought I’d fixed that problem.

I decided to take it as a sign. I picked the torn bill parts out of the bowl with salad tongs, and dried them with my hair dryer. (That’s when I discovered that money paper doesn’t absorb water very easily; another reason it floated rather than sank, which I take as a good omen at least for our battered currency). Then I taped it back together. Obviously, I’m going to need that dollar – and some of the other bills that luckily never made it out of my wallet – to buy a new tank floater before something else rises to the top.

Oh, and talk about flushing money down the toilet: I can see from my office window that I forgot to turn the pool water off hours ago. There goes at least $50.00. Oh well, in the absence of decent rainfall, in this near-record dry winter, at least the back stairs and deck are getting a long overdue bath.


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