Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Dirty Little Secret

WARNING: This is a really GROSS story. If you have a weak stomach don't read this.

We were enjoying having our own place at last. We were doing some work on the house, mostly painting and cleaning up from the fire. The kids were settling in, more or less, with a few bumps in the road. I was pleased that my oldest daughter, then eleven years old had made a new friend. The friend was over for a visit one day, and we were visiting with her mother. Tee had to go outside for a minute, and when he came back in, he gave me a really funny look. I waited until after the friend and her mother left, and then we consulted. "Come outside", he said, "I want you to see something." "Okay", I said, kind of uncertainly. I followed him outside to the sewer clean out behind our house. I leaned over and looked. There appeared to be something all around on the ground. It took me a minute to realize it was macaroni. As in Mac and Cheese without the cheese. Also there was all this white stuff on the ground. It took another second to sink in that this was TOILET PAPER. We were alarmed, but assumed that the "stuff" had just come up because the cap to the clean out was unscrewed. We screwed it back in and cleaned up the mess, very carefully, and went on our merry way.
About a month later, while downstairs in the kitchen, I heard a funny noise coming from powder room adjacent to the mud room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. I went to investigate.
It was water. Brown water. Coming out of the toilet. Nasty water. Stinky water. Sewer water. I didn't know what to do or who to call. Totally stressed out and yelling at the top of my voice, I sent Tee out to take the cap off that sewer thingee outside. As soon as he did, all the water stopped and went away, leaving us with one horrible mess to clean up. This we did, with a lot of towels, (which we threw away), lots of bleach, and gloves and masks. Of course the wallpaper and the vinyl flooring were completely ruined and would have to be torn out.
We both heaved a sigh of relief as we finished that clean up job. Clearly this house had a dirty little secret that no one had disclosed to us when we bought it. The mystery of why the sewer cap had been left off when we bought the house had now been made crystal clear.
I called the city sewer people and told them what happened. I told them that I had a dilemma: put the cap on the sewer clean out to keep stuff from coming up in my yard, or risk city sewage coming up in my house. What was I supposed to do? I certainly didn't want "stuff" coming up in my house, but I sure didn't want it in my yard either. His advice to me was less than steller. "Well" he said to me in his best Texan accent, "Iffen I was you, I'd leave that cap off outside, cause iffen I had to choose, I'd rather have the stuff come up in my yard than in my house." And that was the best he could do.
So we left it off. And the "stuff" came up in the yard on a regular basis. Not just macaroni, either. Every couple of months like clockwork, usually after a good rain. I had a number to call, and they would come out anytime, day or night and clear the line, but it all started to get a little old. I told my step mom about it, and she decided to call the state and have it investigated for me. They wrote me a letter saying they were investigating, came out and talked to the city people, were satisfied with the explanation that it would be taken care of (eventually) and then promptly closed the investigation. Meanwhile I ripped out the entire bathroom, except toilet and sink. Took out the drywall, ripped off the wallpaper, tore up the vinyl flooring, which was rotted anyway, all around the toilet. And for two years the water didn't come in the house again.
I started to believe that the problem had resolved itself, but there was still just a niggle of doubt which kept the plans for rebuilding on hold.
Fast forward two more years. (I still had not replaced the walls or floor, for fear it would happen again.)(And we are lucky enough to have three bathrooms, so losing this one for a while wasn't a big deal.)
I was in the kitchen, and again I heard a sound in the bathroom. Again I go in, and again, the same old story. Again I freaked out and again, we cleaned it up. (by now I am running seriously low on towels) I went outside and sure enough, the city clean out was backed up and running down the yard. When I went back inside to call the number, I accidentally tracked the "stuff" all over my kitchen. I must have gotten a little too close and stepped in it. This finally put me over the edge. I got really, really angry. I called the number, as usual, but this time I went a step farther and emailed the city manager. I told him I had had enough. That I couldn't live like this, and shouldn't have to. That is was dangerous for me and my family, and we were thinking of selling and moving away. I told him I needed some answers, not just advice on how to live with the problem. (On that particular day, when the city showed up to unstop the line, the guy recommended that I "drill a hole in the sewer cap to relieve the pressure.")
To my surprise he was very sympathetic and promised me they would take care of this. I hadn't expected that. (It's a shame when you live in a world where kindness is unexpected.)
A couple of weeks went by. Nothing happened. I took out the toilet and put a rubber stopper on the hole. Thank God (and I mean that) I did, because less than a month later it happened again.
This time I awoke to hear the toilet running in the upstairs bathroom. This didn't surprise me because the chain was too long and I hadn't gotten around to fixing it yet. It kept hanging up and making the toilet run. I jiggled the handle and went downstairs.
But I was concerned when I got downstairs and saw that the kitchen sink was stopped up. It hadn't been stopped up when I went to bed. I fooled around with the garbage disposal, and then put that problem off for a few minutes to get the kids ready for school.
My now fifteen year old hopped in the shower. Then I heard it. That old familiar sound. This time, though, there was a difference. It was NOT coming out of the toilet, because there was no toilet, and because there was no toilet, it wasn't brown. (gross, huh, shoulda been there.) AND IT WAS COMING OUT OF EVERY FAUCET IN THE HOUSE DOWNSTAIRS! The kitchen sink was overflowing, the bathroom sink, the drain pipe on the washing machine, all running over. For about twenty minutes it ran and ran and ran. There was water everywhere. Again I sent Tee to take the cap off of the clean out, but when he got out there, the cap was already off, and the pipe was sitting in about a foot of standing water. There was nothing we could do. I called the number but no one returned my call. And the water just kept on running. By this time, Tee and I began taking out our frustration out on each other. We were screaming at each other over the sound of the running water and scaring the kids. Then we stopped yelling and just stood and looked at each other, with sweat and tears pouring down our faces, while the water continued to run.
Finally, realizing that my daughter was still in the shower and going to be late for school, I yelled up the stairs for her to get out. To my consternation, when she turned off the shower all the water downstairs stopped running as well. Then we realized what the problem was. The stopped up city pipe outside our house was keeping all our waste water from leaving our house. All our daughter's shower water was coming out of every faucet in the house. That explained why the sink was stopped up in the kitchen when I got up. The water running from the tank in the upstairs toilet was going straight into the kitchen sink.
I called the city manager again, and this time I'm not ashamed to say I used my womanly wiles. I cried. I didn't fake it, it was genuine, but I didn't hold back. I cried buckets.
Later that day he sent out the "Head of Something" (water works? parks and recreation? I don't remember.) to look at my house. This guy tried to tell me that something was wrong with my "stack". I immediately called Rotor Rooter and had a consult, (at a cost of 175 dollars, I might add) and it became clear that the problem was not my "stack". They put a scope down the city line and discovered that it was completely overgrown with weeds and tree roots.

I'm happy to say that the next owner of my old house will not have to deal with that dirty little secret. The problem is solved. The city manager had the sewer people dig all the way down from two blocks away, through four backyards to bring all of us a new sewer line. They tore up my yard, but I did not care. I was just so happy, and so were the neighbors. After it was all done, my immediate neighbor came up to me and thanked me profusely for getting us all a new line. Turns out he had been having the same problem since the early seventies. Turns out all the neighbors on my side of the street had been having sewage backup in their houses and yards for years. (HOW did they cope with that for so long?) He chuckled as he told me that his bathtub had drained fast for the first time in thirty years. They had been promising to fix it as long as he has lived here, so he had been kind of skeptical that they ever would. He's still talking about it. Hee Hee. Womanly wiles. Never underestimate 'em.


Charla said...

You write very well.

jujube said...

Thanks for stopping by, Charla. You made my day!