The Great Plumbing Tragedy of 2009 (and 2010)

When I was approximately 37 weeks pregnant, things hadn’t been good with our plumbing for a while, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. Are things being less than good ever not a big deal when it comes to plumbing? I’m guessing the answer to that question is no, but I’m hardly an expert. Sometimes the toilet would act kind of funny — like, the water level would get really high or low or it would bubble after I took a shower (please know that anything bad that ever happens as the result of a shower happens only after I shower and never after Ben showers, because his showers are 30 seconds long and mine go on for hours, which makes me feel really bad especially in light of last week’s low-impact challenge, in which I didn’t even participate because one of the things was “take no shower longer than 5 minutes” and honestly, fuck that shit because I mean well but I could never in a million years take a 5-minute shower). Then the bathtub started being weird when we did laundry and I don’t even remember the rest but it was all crazy shit involving the toilet and bathtub, but not so crazy that you just wake up one morning and decide to call a plumber because you’re, like, about to give birth at any minute.

When Soren was but a wee lad of approximately one week in age, the plumbing situation became dire. What followed was one of the worst experiences of my privileged, lily-white little life, ranking right up there with the Bar exam. (Although I have to say that it was incredibly fortunate that the Great Plumbing Tragedy of 2009 did not occur while I was actually in labor or giving birth in our living room, because let me tell you, that was hard enough without plumbing tragedies. Yes, I will finish writing my birth story one of these days, because I know you just can’t wait to know about me having a baby on the couch you’ll sit on if you ever come to our house.) By “dire” I mean that the toilet started, like, overflowing after I took a shower and the bathtub started filling up and there were, like, unidentified floaties in there and it was all-around bad news.

So here’s the setting: our little tiny house with one bathroom, me (experiencing all the things you experience within a week of giving birth, such as having to use pads, for example, with the added bonus of complete breastfeeding failure and having to attach a machine to my boobs to harvest milk every few hours), Ben, Ben’s mom who came to help with the baby, one simple dog, one evil dog, and five cats. From that setting, subtract functional plumbing.

Thanks to Google, expert consultation, and the ounce of common sense you get if you rub our heads together really fast, we suspected a clog in the sewer line. Ben went to Home Depot, rented a machine (cue creepy Amazing Race music), and tried for hours to unclog the sewer line. This endeavor was not successful.

We called one of the big local plumbing companies and then this happened:


crime scene photo

Do you see the toilet? That’s not where the toilet is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be where the red thing with the big silver handle on the blue thing is, right next to the bathtub, by the toilet paper (on another day, we’ll discuss the fact that our bathroom, which, by the way, is off the kitchen, is worse than most of the “before” pictures you see on bathroom remodels). Why would anyone do that to an innocent toilet? Because they’re cruel, heartless bastards, that’s why! Only not really. That was the only way they could access our sewer line, which, in an ideal world, takes waste products from our house and delivers them with little mess or controversy to the big city line in the alley behind our house. Tragically, our sewer line had become clogged or, worse yet, the poor thing just gave up and collapsed.

That’s what the guys from Big Local Plumbing Company eventually concluded, because their camera eventually came to a point where it couldn’t see anything and something smelled vaguely of dirt instead of shit. This meant that we’d have to get a city permit, close off the alley, dig up the yard, construct an elaborate teepee and build a fire where our garage currently stands, and pay them approximately $20,000 to replace our sewer line. The words “second mortgage” were uttered by this one dude. You guys, I shit you not. You know, for $20,000, you can take our lean-to and use it as a toilet, dudes.

So we’re, like, sitting here with, you know, a newborn and also no money now or for the foreseeable future, freaking out. Thankfully, as the glorious universe would have it, some guys were rehabbing the house next door (the one where guys used to throw food to Coltrane). The guy who bought the house and was in charge of the whole thing (we’ll call him David Ortiz) told us $20,000 was batshit fucking ridiculous and we should call his plumber. So we did and keep in mind that during this multi-hour process we don’t have a toilet because it’s still all removed and shit so people can access our sewer line and also we’re not supposed to allow any water to enter the sewer line because after entering the sewer line it could not escape so we’d just be making matters worse. This meant, for example, we had to go outside to wash bottles and breast pump parts in the yard with a bowl of warm water from inside and the hose. Fortunately, the guys rehabbing the house next door were very hospitable and let us share their porta potty.

Eventually one of David Ortiz’s plumber guys showed up and relatively quickly determined that the guys from Big Plumbing were crazy and there was just a clog in the sewer pipe. He huffed and puffed and used 900 attachments on whatever you call that snaky thing that you run through sewer lines to unclog them and I’m not even going to tell you what was happening to our already unfortunate bathroom because I’m not complaining because this guy kicked fucking ass but was not able to unclog the sewer line that night.

Although it’s probably not accurate, I pride myself on being relatively low maintenance. Even still, when it became dark and cold that night, I was less than enthusiastic about, for example, getting up to pump my boobs in the middle of the night and then having to go next door to pee in a porta potty in the dark. After some discussion and the crying of delicate tears, Ben and I went to stay at a hotel with Soren and Ben’s mom, bless her heart, stayed at our house with the animals and no functional plumbing.

Kind of like with labor, I’ve blocked out some of the details of this whole experience. I can tell you for sure that the next day involved Ben coming home early and then me coming home later because oh man, I was hormonal and sad and crazy and didn’t want to be away from everybody even though our house sucked ass but as soon as I got home I realized I forgot a vital breast pump part and had to take Soren and go back to the hotel. I was also always completely starving due to breast milk harvesting and trying not to spend money so I made myself some gigantic sandwich with Tofurkey and crudely sliced cheddar and mustard and then went back to the hotel to sulk and eat my sandwich and hope Soren slept long enough for me to pump my boobs at the next scheduled time, which always was quickly approaching. Now that I’m thinking about it, the boob-pumping experience was worse than the Great Plumbing Tragedy of 2009, but it’s all over now so let’s move on.

While exiled in the hotel, which by the way didn’t have a refrigerator so I had to keep bottles of breast milk stored in a cooler with ice and freak out while calculating how many hours each bottle had left over and over in my head, I changed a lot of diapers and talked to my parents on the phone just in case they might feel moved to send me a big wad of cash (just kidding, I actually like my parents). Meanwhile, Ben dug up our back yard by hand so the plumbers could access the sewer line and this was much cheaper than hiring people to dig or bringing in some kind of small tractor-type implement, went to a laundromat to wash diapers (when I say “we use cloth diapers,” I really mean it), taught the dogs Farsi, and answered the phone each of the 900 times I called him to ask if they’d fixed it.

Eventually, they fixed it. They also added two pipes in the back yard that allow access to the sewer line without removing the toilet. I don’t remember how long it took or how we went about reassembling the house and yard. I do remember one thing, though, like it was yesterday. After everything was back in place and I was able to pee in my own house like a civilized human, the main plumber dude (we’ll call him Jim Thome) came to collect payment. After I handed him a check, he made me promise him two things. It was like we were in some movie I’ve never seen because I think most movies are really stupid (I know this makes me sound like a curmudgeon) but I’m sure exists, where a wise, old Asian man (although this guy was a young, garden-variety white guy) imparts some amazing, hard-earned wisdom on the young prodigy, and I took it just as seriously as I would’ve if I’d had to, like, master karate or climb a mountain to hear these words. The two things were: (1) that I would never tell anyone what they charged for this (they totally hooked us up); and (2) that we would have our sewer line cleaned out every year.

True to my word, this year, right around Soren’s birthday, I told Ben it was time to have our sewer line cleaned out. He said he ran some water through the line and it was fine. Famous last words, my friends. I am willing to take full responsibility for breaking my promise to Jim Thome. Who breaks a promise to Jim Thome? A stupid, ignorant, assnugget, that’s who.

On Sunday, when I got out of the shower, I heard the toilet make that noise it made immediately prior to the Great Plumbing Tragedy of 2009. I went outside to tell Ben, who was cleaning the gutters and constructing a bowling alley for children in Haiti with his bare hands. Ben was all business about nipping this thing in the bud, so instead of waiting until the next day and calling Jim Thome, who would come clean out our sewer line for the reasonable fee of approximately $100, Ben went to Home Depot, rented a machine (cue creepy Amazing Race music), and tried for hours to unclog the sewer line. This endeavor was not successful and cost only marginally less than the $100 we would’ve spent on professionals who actually know what they’re doing. Then he made some mysterious phone calls to try to find a “bag.” I don’t know what this means, but I do know that for the rest of Sunday evening and into the next day, we were not supposed to put any toilet paper into the toilet. If they ever make cloth diapers for adults, let me tell you, I’ll be the first one ordering 30 of them on the internet when I’m drunk.

On Monday, I cheerfully went to work, which is something I do in an office where you can put toilet paper into any toilet of your choice, and Ben stayed home with the sick baby and our plumbing nightmares. As you may have guessed, he ended up calling in a professional, who labored extensively for two hours before unclogging the sewer line and hooking us up but still charging more than it would’ve cost us to have Jim Thome come out and clean the damn thing a month ago.

Tune in for the next installment of this shit next year.

*Disclaimer: I wasn’t even going to write about this because I thought it might portray Ben in a bad light but then today I was sitting here all sad saying (whispering, actually, because I have completely lost my voice thanks to this awful cold) “I don’t know what to write about” and Ben said “Write about the plumbing thing” and I whispered “But I thought it might portray you in a bad light” and he did that disdainful sniff thing people do when they know they’re better than you (just kidding, he didn’t really do that) and said “Well, I can admit when I’m wrong.” It’s a good thing I’m never wrong.