Junction 54: Fresh Start

NOTE: Back in the 1990s, I wrote a column for The St. Petersburg Times called Junction 54, after State Road 54 – a main highway running through the Tampa bedroom community of Land O’Lakes. I’m resurrecting it here because now I live near North Carolina Highway 54 in Durham.

We probably should’ve known better in 2020.

Every year, just before Christmas, we bring in a carpet cleaning company to give a massive scrubbing to the carpets in the three bedrooms of our Hope Valley Ridge townhouse in Durham. My wife, Catherine, likes to kick off a new year with a fresh start.

“Don’t walk on the carpets for at least two or three hours,” the man in the mask told us after he had finished. “They’re still a little wet and need to dry.”

When could we put furniture back?

“I’d wait until tomorrow,” he said.

“It looks so good,” Catherine said, eyes wide. “I should take pictures!”

The cleaner bid us farewell until next year. I closed the doors to the master bedroom.

Calliope, our puggle, had other plans. She’s obsessed with the master bathroom. After anyone takes a shower, she busts her way through the double doors (unless I remember to lock one of the doors in place), and sneaks into the bathroom to lap up water.

This time, I forgot to lock the left door. She busted in. Not only did she visit the shower, but she also stopped by the walk-in closet to poop on the freshly cleaned carpet.

It turns out, this was just a hint of things to come.

That night, while I worked on organizing the garage, Catherine took the kids to their Aunt Lou’s apartment. They ate chicken sandwiches and peaches. Our 7-year-old, John Michael, wolfed the food down far too quickly. When he came home, he complained about a stomach ache. I joked about getting him a bucket to keep by the side of his bed. He said, quite seriously, that it might be a good idea.

I kissed him good night. The bucket remained in the reorganized garage. I settled down on the couch with Catherine to watch the latest episode of The Mandalorian. We got about halfway through, to the point where Boba Fett was about to reclaim his armor from inside the starship Razor Crest, when we heard retching and a wet splat in the hallway outside John Michael’s room.

Apparently, he woke up vomiting on his bed (and his beloved stuffed animal pillow, Doggie Bear). Then he got up to rush to the bathroom, but got sick again and left a puke trail on the freshly cleaned carpet of his room. Again, threw up in the hallway, splattering the floor and walls, even the hinges of the bathroom door.

We let him sleep on the couch while we dealt with the mess.

Our daughter Athena, nearly three, snoozed in the bed in her room.

“Hope she doesn’t get sick too,” I said.

She didn’t. Luckily.

Next time, I’ll get the bucket.

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Wes Platt

Lead storyteller. Game designer and journalist. Recovering Floridian.

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