Posted in Growing up/old, Lessons Learned

Throwing money right down the toilet

Those of you who have been reading me for awhile may recall the saga of the toilet replacement. At the tender age of 36, I have replaced 3 toilets in my lifetime, and both toilets in my current house in the last year. Personally. With my own two nicked up hands. The one in the master bedroom was replaced because it constantly backed up and because it was leaking from the tank bolts. We had high hopes that a new toilet would take care of the backing up problem, but it was not to be. So we kept a plunger handy, cussed frequently, and like any good homeowners, hoped the problem would magically disappear on its own one day because I had done everything an amateur plumber could do at that point. It was a successful strategy; we can ignore a problem like champions. However, the toilet continued to back up. It didn’t take much; half a square of toilet paper and a funny look in its general direction would be enough to require the speedy and skillful employment of a plunger.

But Monday night, even the plunger gave up. I plunged that toilet for a good 5 minutes, watching the water level creeping up to dangerous levels, and then surpassing those levels so that every plunge splashed water all over the bathroom floor. The good news was that there were no Baby Ruths in the bowl, but I generally do not mop with precursor-to-ammonia, so it was not really the thrill one might hope for on a school night.

The fact is, the problem with that toilet has only grown worse over time, despite my heroic DIY efforts, and I suspected that perhaps we had roots in the line, as there are trees right next to the house; I knew that a call to have that checked had been part of my destiny for some time. And the moment of truth had arrived.

So Tuesday morning, I decide to call Roto-Rooter, and instead call Mr. Rooter, though I cannot remember why. It might’ve been their cute retro logo, or the big notice on their website that they did not charge overtime on nights and weekends. That was probably it.

They also had an online form to request service, which is always appreciated by phonephobic geeks like myself, so I filled it out, and they called me back within the hour to set an appointment for late Tuesday afternoon. They told me that there would be a minimum charge of $39.95 for the service call, which would be applied to any subsequent work they ended up doing. Scott left work early to meet them.

They hadn’t been there long when I got home from work, and Scott pulled me aside to let me know that the minimum charge for taking the toilet apart and scoping out the sewer line was $244, also applied to any subsequent work they ended up doing. I said, “Okay,” and wanted to know if our plumbers had graduated high school yet. You know you’re old when the service people who come to your house look like they could be your kids. Youthful appearance aside, they were polite, businesslike, and seemed to be knowledgeable and competent.

The camera went underwater on its way through the line, and we were given to understand that this was a bad thing. Then the plumber told us that cleaning it out from the house would result in a huge mess, so we went on the hunt in the yard for a clean-out access to our sewer line. Scott and I were clueless as to where one might be, and our plumbers couldn’t find any likely suspects, so it was determined that we would have one installed and it would solve our current problem as well as save us much hassle down the road. I signed the form and they went outside with this fancy wand instrument to try to find the sewer line to figure out where to put the clean-out. The use of this instrument alone brought the total up to $562, which would of course be applied to any subsequent work they ended up doing. (This is foreshadowing, for those of you who are/were not English majors.)

While they were doing that, Scott went to walk The Hill and I hung around the house and negotiated with the dogs, who were trapped in the studio without their dinner and threatening to eat the couch out there, among other terrorist acts.

Pretty soon there was a knock at the door, and it was the young head plumber (he had a partner who seemed to be an apprentice) telling me that they weren’t getting a good read on the sewer line, and that he would prefer to wait until morning and have his supervisor take a look at the situation. It was getting late and too dark to start digging anyway, plus I was without my dinner and threatening to eat the couch, among other terrorist acts, and so I told them that would be fine, and they could call me at work the next day. They put the toilet somewhat back together, but not entirely, and I turned the fan on to get rid of the sewer gas smell that was seeping into the room. I signed the form in advance for the digging they would do the next day, approving (at a somewhat painful price of $1400-1600 depending on how deep they had to dig to get to the sewer line) the installation of the clean-out. And of course, that would cover all monies spent previously in the process.

When Scott got home, we discussed our very expensive backed-up toilet, and I said to him that it indeed sucked, but it could’ve been worse, and that as bad as almost $2K would be, I had feared it would be $10K.

A word about tempting the Fates: Don’t do it. Don’t. No really, don’t. Because they cannot resist messing you up if you do.

Wednesday morning, just before noon, my phone rings and it is the plumber, announcing that there is good news and there is bad news. I said, “Lay it on me.”

“The good news is that you DO have a clean-out—we found it 6″ under the dirt.”

“Great; and the bad news?”

“It’s installed wrong…but that’s not the major problem. Could you come home so we can show you?”

Shit. “Sure, we’ll take an early lunch and be over there in about 10 minutes.”

When we get there, there are 4 plumbers on the scene instead of the 2 we’ve been working with. One of the new guys is a helper, the other is the supervisor. First he explains that whoever put the clean-outs in initially put them backwards and that will screw up any future plumbers who try to use them, potentially breaking our toilet when the plumber thinks he’s headed out to the street. They’ll fix that for us.

The real problem is that the sewer pipe is now going uphill towards the street, and is “bellied” before that, most likely due to pressure from the root system of the big Texas Ranger shrub we have out front. (Just goes to show that a bush from Texas always means trouble.) They need to dig down and replace the pipe from the sidewalk to half-way into the yard. We’ll lose the shrub in all likelihood, but then the pipes will be at the proper angle to drain into the sewer system. They’ll also power-wash the line to get rid of the build-up created by previous back-ups. He tells us all this as we’re watching the monitor as the camera snakes through the pipe and a fair amount of water that now lives at the point where the pipe starts heading uphill.

“Do you want us to try and save the tree if we can?” our plumber asks.

“And do this again in 15 years? No thanks. Take it out,” says Scott.

Then the supervisor hands me the new total for the work. I look at it.


And then I hand it to Scott. Neither of us has seen a number that large on a piece of paper awaiting our signatures since our down payment on our house. In shock, we sign the paper so they can get to work, because what can we do? We need to take care of it. Flushing toilets are not optional, and having raw sewage back up into our house is also not an option we care to entertain.

As we walk to the house, I say to Scott, “Did I call it or what?”

Why is it I am never, ever wrong when I want to be?

They spent 2 days digging, replacing pipe in 80 degree weather under pleasant, sunny skies, which I imagine are a lot less pleasant when you’re up to your neck in a hole, shoveling fill of dirt, rocks, and cinderblock pieces over your head.





I felt bad for them. I felt like I should tip them. And then I remembered the bottom line, and figured they were more than covered. In fact, after this, we should have enough flushing power to dispose of a small-to-medium guinea pig if we so wish.

Wednesday night, the sun is setting fast, and they’re out there re-landscaping the front yard such that it looks better than it did when they started, despite the missing shrub. They ended up effectively weeding half the yard for me, and even put a baby barrel cactus that they’d pulled up right in the the middle of the new bare space.

Before they left Wednesday night, they inspected the rest of our plumbing fixtures. Our plumber said that our moribund hot water heater could probably be replaced at a nice discount, as we just spent so much with them, so we’ll get an estimate on that today. He’s going to upgrade the hoses on our washing machine as a freebie while he’s there, and we are grateful for this small kindness. We will remember it fondly over the meals of ramen we will be eating for the next 11 months.

You know, my family has a small cabin up in Wisconsin at the mouth of the Brule River. It’s been in our family since my grandfather built it in 1935. Scott doesn’t care to spend much time there because, besides the fact that it’s 2000 miles away from here, there’s no running water, and he’s not particularly fond of the one-holer outhouse down the hill.

I suspect it’s looking pretty damn good right now.

The rest of the pics.




I've been doing some form of creative writing since 9th grade, and have been a blogger since 2003. Like most bloggers, I've quit blogging multiple times. But the words always come back, asking to be written down, and they pester me if I don't. So here we are. Thanks for reading.