I’m going to be scarce today. Old friends from Dallas are visiting. They are immigrants from Ukraine. I’m going to be showing them around St. Francisville. Last night, after jambalaya, we were all drinking a bit and telling stories. Vladimir told a great one about how his father, during Soviet times, solved the family’s toilet problem.

When the family’s toilet bowl cracked, you couldn’t just go to the hardware store and buy a replacement. What hardware store? The government installed that toilet, and it was the government’s responsibility to replace it. But good luck getting on a list to have your toilet replaced. Finally, Vladimir’s father, a senior engineer, cooked up a plan. He had a Communist Party connection in a city called Novokuznetzk, a guy who could get him a new toilet.

Problem: Vladimir’s family lived in Dnipro, Ukraine; Novokuznetzk is on the other side of the USSR, near the Mongolian border — a 17-hour flight.

But the family needed a toilet. So off dad went.

How did he get the toilet home? He lugged it onto the Aeroflot flight, and sat on the toilet all the way back to Dnipro. Though a small man, Vladimir’s dad wrestled the toilet up into their apartment and installed it. There it remains to this day.

A system that makes a man have to fly 17 hours one way to get a new toilet through back channel connections, then ride all the way back home sitting on top of that commode — that’s not a system that works.

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