Grandmother Heimstadt's answer to all problems:  the toilet.

Grandmother Heimstadt lived in New York City in a real, old-fashioned tenement apartment on East 68th Street between First and Second Avenue.  There was a living room, kitchen which doubled as a dining room (which also contained the bathtub) and a bedroom. 

Directly off the kitchen was the minuscule closet which accommodated nothing but a bare lightbulb, a roll of bathroom tissue hanging from an ancient wooden roller, and, of course, la toilette.  This being a big city the toilet was the high-pressure type (not the tank type).  One pull of that lever and an enormous rush of water would power into the bowl, accompanied by a whooshing sound just a few decibels lower than the sound made by a jet taking off. 

At this point in the story of Grandmother Heimstadt, many folks imagine the juxtaposition of "kitchen/dining room" and water closet (separated by nothing but the cheapest of wooden doors) and think "ooh, yecch!"  But in the case of Grandmother Heimstadt the loo was indeed in the most convenient place imaginable.  Leftovers gone bad in the fridge?  "Toss it down the john," she'd say — the "john" being classic New York-speak for the porcelain appliance.

Pet has an accident?  "Toss it down the john."

Obnoxious letter from cousin Minerva in California bragging about the great weather and the orange tree in her backyard?  "Toss it down the john."

You get the idea.

The Landlord/Rent Control/Vermin Conspiracy

Grandmother Heimstadt, family lore has it, had lived in her apartment for at least forty years.  During that time, the comfortable upper-East-Side neighborhood she lived in had blossomed into a bastion of wealth and privilege.  Rents had escalated in the area commensurate with the speed at which tony restaurants and chic boutiques sprouted on every avenue and cross-street.  How could she, on her modest City pension, afford to continue living in her neighborhood when it's become one of the most desirable in New York?

Now in the last year of  World War II, New York City invented a type of socialized housing called "rent control."  In short, rent control dramatically restricts a landlord's ability to raise rent on apartments occupied for long periods of time by lower-income individuals.  Escalations are made according to some sort of cost-of-living formula; and cause rents in rent-controlled apartments to end up being much lower than the rents for a comparable apartment leased to a brand-new (read "fair-market-value supply-and-demand no-damn-rent-control") tenant.  The newspapers, over the years, told spine-chilling stories of evil landlords resorting to all methods of chicanery in order to get rent-controlled tenants to move out, so that they could then merely slather a coat of cheap oil-based paint on the place and rent it to a Yuppie for five times what they've been getting under rent-control.

The great Landlord/Rent Control/Vermin Conspiracy began shortly after the day Grandmother Heimstadt's pet dog brought her the corpse of a freshly-killed mouse.  Of course, down the "john" it went.  Grandmother Heimstadt elected to tell her eldest son about the good deed that the dog had done.  After all, from her experience "back on the farm in Germany," there were few animals more useful around the place than a good mouser.

Shocked, my uncle then broadcast to the family how the landlord must be releasing vermin outside his mother's apartment in hopes that she'd move.  His suspicions were supported by the fact that after the first mouse incident, Grandmother Heimstadt had encountered several additional vermin ranging in size from "adorable" to "vaguely scary."  Although I'm pretty sure that yes, the souls of mice and rats go to Heaven when they die, by this time, I need not tell you where their corporeal remains ended up.

Had Grandmother Heimstadt bought into the Landlord/Rent Control/Vermin Conspiracy, I am certain that she'd have called Cousin Robert, a police officer, to thoroughly look into the matter.  However, she'd have no part of it.  Grandmother Heimstadt couldn't fathom the thought that such evil could exist in the world.  After all, God made the world, and all God's children are inherently Good.

It took the involvement of two sons, five grandchildren, two second-cousins and a family friend to finally put an end to the Landlord/Rent Control/Vermin Conspiracy.  Upon hearing (from the two sons, five grandchildren, and two second-cousins) of the whole thing, the family friend, being a legal secretary and therefore privy to all knowledge in the Universe, got the bright idea to ask the building superintendent about the offending vermin.  And the superintendent, at that very moment and with a few simple words, explained to everyone's satisfaction the cause of the rodent problem (construction on a lower-level apartment) and a proposed solution thereto (weekly visits by a licensed exterminator).  Indeed, the believers in the Landlord/Rent Control/Vermin Conspiracy seemed rather let-down to be informed of the true cause of the invasion of the vermin.  They in fact implored Grandmother Heimstadt to report each and every additional offending rodent to them on a regular basis.

But she didn't want to bother them with such petty information.  And around and around the tiny, cold little rodent bodies continued to swirl in the rushing water...

The Great Landlord/Rent Control/Bad Super Conspiracy is Born

On a regular visit to Grandmother Heimstadt's apartment, a relative noticed that Grandmother's hand had been bandaged.  This was no pinkie-sized band-aid, nope.  It was gauze and surgical tape and was of very large size.  When asked as to the cause of the injury, she dismissed it as a cut received while "working around the house."  The relative asked where she'd had the injury treated.  Grandmother replied that "the Super (superintendent) couldn't fix it, so I..."

The relative cuts off Grandmother Heimstadt, "what couldn't the Super fix?"

Well, Grandmother Heimstadt was trying to convey that she'd gone to the Super's apartment first to try to get a bandage.  But the relative, who by now was on the telephone with another relative, was no longer hearing her.  The relative's story ended up being that something was wrong in the apartment and Grandmother Heimstadt had to fix it herself, with no help from the Super.  And on top of it hurt herself gravely in the process.

The fires of the Landlord/Rent Control/Bad Super Conspiracy had been stoked and were blazing hotter and hotter by the minute.


Grandmother Heimstadt was a life-long pet owner who always had a dog and at least one cat around her place.  She was most proud, however, of her pet of greatest longevity, a huge green parrot named Lorita.  Although Lorita's vocabulary was limited to "Pretty Bird," "Hello!" and her own name, Grandmother Heimstadt would spend hours attempting to engage the parrot in conversation. 

Now, Grandmother Heimstadt could play the "absent-minded old lady" role really well, and ostensibly, her life was an open book.  Little did anyone know that she was keeping a terrible secret from the entire family.  She was Lorita's enabler.

It began with a little nip near Grandmother Heimstadt's left eye that left half of the skin immediately around her lower eyelid a nasty purplish color.  Grandmother wore sunglasses to hide the evidence.

The abuse had escalated  to the point that Grandmother Heimstadt had her hand torn open, resulting in a bloody wound three inches long.  Lorita had gone mean.  Really mean.  Worse, Grandmother Heimstadt, continuing her cover-up, refused to go to hospital to get the required stitches.  The poor old woman had become sucked into the gaping maw that is elder abuse — at the hands of her parrot!  If anyone found out, she knew there'd be trouble.  Surely if the A.S.P.C.A. knew that Lorita was a vicious biter they'd come and take her away.  God forbid!

The Family Intervenes

No one, least of all Grandmother Heimstadt, was fully aware of the gravity of the trouble that was about to ensue.  Let's simplify by stepping back for a minute and taking a look at things from the viewpoint of the family.  The Landlord/Rent Control/Bad Super Conspiracy theory was merely being amplified as it made the rounds of family gossip.  Moreover, anyone  who'd go to Grandmother Heimstadt's apartment couldn't help but be aware that something really awful was afoot.  The poor old woman was covered with varying sizes of bandages from the tiniest round Band-Aid all the way up to surgical dressing held in place with mountains of tape wrapped 'round one hand.  Half a dozen brand-new packages of band-aids, gauze and surgical tape littered a shelf that was once reserved for a lone bottle of Listerine and a toothbrush in a glass. 

Could the Bad Super have something to do with Grandmother Heimstadt's injuries?

An investigation was begun by cousin Robert, the cop.  He interviewed the Super (in plain-clothes, on his time off) and repeatedly questioned the poor man about his grandmother's injuries.  The Super insisted that he'd not set eyes on hide nor hair of Grandmother Heimstadt in months.  Nonetheless, cousin Robert made sure his visits to the building on East 68th Street were more and more frequent.

A steady flow of grandchildren, cousins, second-cousins, nephews, nieces and other relatives came and went.  Grandmother Heimstadt heard the same thing morning, noon and night, "Where did all of those boo-boos come from?"  Finally, the pressure was too much for even the always even-tempered and stoic Grandmother Heimstadt.

Grandmother Heimstadt Solves Her Problem

It was about 11:00 p.m.  The woman dialing 9-1-1 had heard shrill, desperate, seemingly muffled cries for help coming from the apartment upstairs, and she told the 911 operator so.  The second call she placed was to the Super, because there was water seeping through the cracks in the kitchen ceiling, and there was a lot of it.  The Super arrived promtly, saw the problem, and decided he needed to see what was happening upstairs.

The Superintendent couldn't help but hear the racket coming from Grandmother Heimstadt's apartment, so he let himself in with his pass-key.  Before him stood Grandmother Heimstadt, her housedress soaked through, a toilet plunger in her right hand, a blood-soaked rag in her left.  Upon seeing the Super come through the door, she turned around and ran to the toilet, and pushed on the handle furiously.  A powerful stream of water blasted out of the bowl, spraying as high as the ceiling and completely soaking the entire little room.

"What's going on here?!"

(Grandmother Heimstadt's voice took on a vibrato as she plunged furiously:) "I lost something down the john."

"Well, lady, let me fix it!"  Intending to solve the problem, the Super tried to push her aside but she wouldn't budge.

When the police arrived, guns drawn, they saw through the open door what appeared to be the a middle-aged male pushing an elderly woman's head into the toilet.

"Unhand the lady, put your hands over your head, and come outta the john!" cried the officer in charge.

The Super spun around, hands raised high. As he unclenched his fists, green, blue and purple feathers fell like snowflakes to the ground.

"This crazy lady's trying to put a pillow or something down her toilet.  I keep pulling, but she keeps pushing with that fucking plunger!"

The officer's request that the Super shut up was drowned out by the loud whooshing noise emitting from the bathroom. Grandmother Heimstadt was busy working the lever, in an effort to get rid of any additional evidence against her.  Her final tug on the handle was the one that did the trick.  The spraying of water became nothing but drips, falling from the ceiling.  The noise subsided quickly, punctuated by a gurgle from the toilet, as if it'd finally swallowed something that went down the wrong pipe.

The dog, jealous of all the attention being received, grabbed hold of an officer's billy-club, biting and tugging furiously.  The cat waded out of the water in the kitchen, walked into the living room and soiled the carpet.  The first of the cops to enter the living room smeared it all around and it just got worse from there.  Everyone (four police officers, two EMT's, the Super, Grandmother Heimstadt, the cat and the dog) sat down and the officer in charge dialed a telephone number.

Robert to the Rescue

Cousin Robert answered the telephone bleary eyed.  The clock on the nighstand read 11:45.  His eyes opened widely and he shook himself awake when he heard the voice of his Lieutenant on the phone.  Robert's face turned the shade of a vine-ripened tomato as he listened to the story being told him.  As he put on his shirt, slacks and service revolver, his wife asked what was going on.

"That shithead tried to drown Grandma; in the john, no less!"  The door slammed behind him.

It took Robert nearly an hour to get to Grandmother Heimstadt's apartment.  Upon his arrival, he was ushered upstairs, where he confronted Grandmother Heimstadt, after hearing myriad sides of the story from all concerned, including the Super.

Although the Super and at least four police officers swore that they saw feathers in the toilet, Grandmother Heimstadt insisted that she'd only flushed a Kleenex.  Cousin Robert announced, "If she says she flushed a Kleenex, then I, too say she flushed a Kleenex.

How They All Ended Up

The Superintendent was fired, and evicted from his apartment.  A new Superintendent was hired by the Building's owner, and he moved in with his wife and young daughter about two months after the debacle described hereinabove.

Grandmother Heimstadt received a letter from the Building's owner apologizing for the difficulties with the Superintendent, and completely denying that they, or the Super, had had any part at all in trying to get her to move.  A carbon copy was received also by cousin Robert.

Robert was promoted to Detective because the Captain in charge of the Precinct House, despite the stories of four officers, a commander, two EMTs and the Superintendent, couldn't believe that Grandmother Heimstadt had put her own parrot down the toilet.  The Captain's recommendation included this phrase:  "... demonstrated the qualities of a fine, level-headed public servant when all around him were, seemingly, hallucinating."

Grandmother Heimstadt's neighbors somehow got wind of the "parrot-in-the-toilet" story, but all dismissed it as being the same kind of urban mythology as alligators in New York City sewers.

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