• Tale of Two Toilets

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    Tale of Two Toilets

    I had flown in from LA on Tuesday to pick up my mother from the convalescent center to take her home – and then stay with her for the balance of the week. Once I got her situated in her own bed, I went downstairs to the basement bathroom that I normally used. I opened the door. “Madre de Dios”, a stench like a living thing hit me full force. I waited for the air to clear, and then, much to my disgust, I found the bathtub about half full of a dense brown liquid with some floaters and white filaments – the toilet containing the same. Being an astute observer and having a demented teacher for Chemistry in High School, I correctly identified this glistening effluvia as Raw Sewage. Since it was in the tub, I assumed the mess had come down from the upstairs toilet, and had bubbled up into the bathtub and downstairs toilet because of a blocked drainage line in the basement.

    Being the son of my father, I knew that this was a small problem for “Jose – Fixit Man”. The problem was getting a snake, auger, or other apparatus down the drain – hopefully without immersing any of my bodily parts in the fragrant bouillabaisse.

    After repeated efforts I did get a small sewer auger part way in the toilet with no success, other than to plunge in up to my elbows. I quickly reasoned that this was a job for advanced chemical cleansing compounds.
    It was a tough to find undiluted Hydrochloric Acid, but I knew that would be the ticket. I did finally obtain two gallons at considerable cost. However, since the drain openings in the tub and toilet were all covered by murky swill, the question became how to get the acid in the plugged pipe. I finally decided that the best way was to pour it directly into the overflow aperture in the upper part of the tub. As has been my philosophy in the past, I thought that “more would be better”, and so I poured the entire gallon of acid down the overflow.

    It took about five seconds. I was immediately startled by a sound much like an approaching steam locomotive. Before I could escape, there were old faithful-like eruptions both from the toilet and tub – spraying the room and yours truly. My skin started to burn. There also was a very strong odor that brought back memories of Basic Training and the Chlorine Gas Chamber at Fort Ord. Lungs burning, eyes and nose dripping, I held my breath as I opened the small bathroom window and escaped (albeit dripping) out the door. I rushed upstairs to wash off, and, of course, added to the tub contents as the water, acid and unmentionables drained downward through the system to the basement.

    I placed a towel under the bathroom door to keep the gas from moving upstairs and eliminating my mother in her sick bed.
    After an hour or so I ventured back in to observe the resultant ruin of the bath. Pretty much Crap everywhere, with the drains still plugged. However, being the quick learner that I am, I decided that the solution was just more acid. Same song, second verse, except that I opened the window first this time, and nimbly rushed the door once the acid was poured. Same result with a bit more splatter. Looked like a fight with brown paintballs by 50 combatants.

    Okay, it was time for reinforcements. I called a local plumbing company who said they were sure it would be no problem. I arranged for them to be there when I was not. I wasn’t quite sure that whomever they sent wouldn’t ridicule my efforts, and I didn’t want to have to explain what had happened in the Chamber of Horrors.
    I got a call that afternoon which explained that they would need much larger machinery to clean the drains. The guy said he would call back tomorrow. Another gentleman did call back the next day and said he would be out in the morning if “I was going to be there”.

    I reluctantly led him downstairs. His first comment, as far as I can remember, was to roundly curse the other plumber from his firm. However, he explained that he was from South Carolina and had seen bigger problems than this. If you ever saw the Movie, Deliverance, you’ll remember some of the locals who had interesting views on life. Randy the Plumber would fit right in.

    After surveying the entire house and finding no cleanouts, we both hauled in his Super Killer Router – three hundred pounds, three feet high, gigantic drum and a coiled steel snake with what he called “The Jaws of Hell” on the end. We removed the upstairs toilet – Randy explained that if possible, we should avoid the downstairs disaster – as I remember, he said it smelled like “rotten chicken guts”.
    The one diameter inch snake went down the upstairs toilet hole, first with ease and then with a crunching, grinding noise – then came to a halt. We’ve hit the junction” Randy said, “but I’ll get er’ goin the right direction directly”.

    Eventually the snake moved on and Randy exclaimed, “we’ve got er’ now”. He withdrew the snake and I went down to check the fluid level in the bathtub. Unfortunately no movement. We put the snake down again, same difficulty making the turn and then about 50 feet of easy going. I checked the downstairs, same result. Randy had me go outside and sure enough, there was about 10 feet of angry steel snake coming up out of the roof vent. It vaguely reminded of the movie something H. G. Wells had described in War of the Worlds.

    Reversed the snake, in and out, in and out, same result each time – once with 20 ft of steel snake thrashing around on the roof.
    We looked at each other and knew the time had come – the downstairs toilet was next. I was afraid Randy might bolt for the shop, but down we went into charnel room. As we were taking off the toilet, my one concern (other than being burned to death with acid – I hadn’t told Randy about my previous efforts) was that since the level of sewage was much higher in the Tub, we might get some overflow from the toilet hole.
    I barricaded the door opening best I could with large towels and he removed the toilet. The resulting geyser only came up about a foot, and soon leveled out to about six inches throughout the bathroom. I tried to avoid the flood, by jumping from foot to foot, but was highly unsuccessful. I haven’t had the chance to stand in raw sewage much – but I can say it is not something you would want to do on a daily basis. I thought I might even have to change my socks and shine my shoes again before the next wearing.

    The Jaws of Hell went down the toilet hole and after a half hour of grinding and running up to see if it had come out the roof vent again, large pieces of cloth and “wipes” began to be pulled out. The Hell Jaws looked somewhat diminished and tarnished, as if they might have come in contact with some sort of a fluid adverse to metal. They sort of looked more like the “Jaws of Heck” now. Randy gave me some suspicious looks but I avowed no knowledge. I did explain to him that I definitely knew that the blockage did not come from my doing.
    Two hours went by with shoving, grinding, and cursing. The sewer line was finally unblocked, the cesspool mess in the tub and on the floor drained back into the pipes – and we were left with the cleanup and toilet replacements. Randy had become somewhat silent and sullen during the ordeal – perhaps it was the clinging stench that now permeated his clothes and the acid blisters beginning to raise on his arms. He finally presented his bill, which I gladly paid and then leaned over to me. He looked me straight in the eye and said: “Don’t ever call me again”.
    I’ve been constipated ever since.

    January 2010

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