We take modern plumbing for granted.
I’ve spent the better part of this past week without a sewer connection. That means that I’ve been pestering my friends who live nearby, all three of them, for showers all week. It also means I’ve been urinating “al fresco”, under the cover of darkness. Let’s not ask too many questions about other bodily functions though, okay? Let’s just say I’ve been going into work early most days this week.
My point is, plumbing is what makes civilization even more than farming.
In school, they always taught us that modern civilization, as we know it, started with farming. They taught us that as people stayed to tend crops instead of follow the herds, they built permanent camps which became villages which, eventually, became cities.
I would argue, however, that real modern civilization was born when the Romans first got the idea to enclose their plumbing. When that first, genius Roman city planner decided to put sewers underground and replace the foul stench of open trenches, which had been the norm until then, and replace that malodorous tradition with construction projects, civilization as we know it truly began.
And brought with it a host of modern problems.
In my case, the problem was one I initially tried to handle myself.
When the shower first backed up, thanks to several loads of laundry, I poured all kinds of hazardous and noxious chemicals down the drains. I bought and used things that were so terrible, so dire that the warnings printed on the packaging sounded more like plans to deal with a spill in a chemical plant than something the average Home Depot shopper should be screwing around with in their bathroom. In fact, these things were so bad at one point that leather gloves which had accidentally gotten soaked in water containing some of those chemicals actually started to melt away. Seriously. I have pictures! And, I thought all was well. For about two weeks.
That’s when the shower started to back up when I was, well, running the shower.
So, for three days, I took what we used to call “Navy showers“. Basically, I got wet, then turned off the water and lathered up, then turned the water back on just long enough to rinse off. I’m sure it helped the planet with all the water I conserved, but it was starting to get a little uncomfortable. So, off I went to Home Depot to buy supplies. I bought even more chemicals, a CO2-based plunger, and a plumber’s “snake”. I used them in turn, spending the most time trying to get the snake working right. It was one that you hooked up to a drill, to add extra power, and, though I hate to admit it, I screwed the first one up bad enough that I broke it. Unfortunately, none of that worked.
So, defeated, I called a plumber Sunday afternoon.
I called Mr. Rooter, because I’d used them before and I knew they didn’t charge extra for working on the weekend. I also knew they did good work at what I think is a reasonable price. Sadly, there wasn’t anyone available in my area by the time I called Sunday afternoon, which meant waiting until the next morning, but I figured what was one more night wallowing in my own filth?
Well, the plumbing technician showed up early Monday morning and got right to work. He ran through at least three obstructions and at one point I could hear things gurgling in my bathroom, which seemed an encouraging sign. Sadly, it was not. The technician called me out into the yard where he found the only “clean-out” in my line. A clean-out, incidentally, that was far, far further out than it should have been. He’d run his camera down that line and found the problem, or, at least, the first problem. I feared the worst, but my fears turned out to be child’s play compared to what was actually wrong.
The problem was roots.
Not roots that had grown through the pipes, as I had feared, but roots that had grown under the pipe and lifted a thirty foot section of it. Lifted it so high, in fact, that it made my shower the lowest point in my personal sewer system. So, yes, it was a big problem.
The other two problems were with the main sewer. First, when they built the house, apparently, a builder took a short-cut and lifted my sewer connection to link it up with the city sewer main. So, it was higher than it should have been in the first place! But, to make matters worse, when the guys from Mr. Rooter went to make the connection, the found the city main choked with roots! I love the live oaks in my backyard, and, in fact, they’re part of why I bought the house with my ex-wife, but they certainly seemed out to get me this week. In the end, there was really only one thing to do: replace the whole sewer line to the city main.
Now, for those of you who aren’t homeowners, let me tell you how this feels.
Imagine being neck deep in a mucky, fetid swamp, trying not to make waves because you know it could drown you. Got that? Do you have a handle on the perilous and uncomfortable feeling of knowing you’re inches from sucking stagnant water up your nose and suffocating on swamp muck? Great. Now imagine that someone is throwing stones at you. Stones big enough to knock you unconscious. Imagine having to hold your breath while that water with God only knows what kind of diseases in it is lapping at your mouth and nose, trying to find its way into your lungs. Can you feel the horrible panic? Can you feel your chest tightening from the fear of drowning in a sloppy, green sea of homeowner’s debt? Fantastic. Now imagine looking up and seeing one of those stones on a collision-course with your head. You know it’s coming and you can already feel the lump forming even as your gut tightens because you’re about to be fighting for consciousness so you don’t drown, alone, in this swamp.
That was pretty much how I felt when the tech told me what was wrong.
His estimate was not much more reassuring.
Let’s just say it started somewhere over $10K. In the end, because the folks at Mr. Rooter are fantastic, caring, decent human beings who haven’t lost their humanity in this tight economy, I ended up owing less. I won’t say how much less, but, less than the original $10K. Still an impressive sum for which I needed a lot of help.
Sadly, the finance company was less caring and more cut-throat. I won’t give them any free advertising by mentioning their name, but I will say that, until dealing with them, I thought loan-sharking was illegal. Apparently, not if you do it right. Thankfully, I had some benefactors who were willing to lend me the money I needed at lower rates. They’ve asked to remain nameless, otherwise I’d sing their praises, too.
In any case, I got enough money together to get them started and WOW, did they!
The next afternoon, there was a crew of four guys digging up my backyard with a small backhoe. They dug a trench easily 120 feet from the back of my house, around my ponds, between my trees and to the city sewer main at the back of my yard. I took pictures of it because words leave the spectacle of the thing,well, in the dust. This trench started out about three feet deep and got down to almost five feet deep near the sewer main. It runs at least four feet deep for a significant portion of it’s length and was dug in less time than it’s taken to write this entry. It was amazing! If not for the roots in the city sewer main, I’d have had service restored that first night! Unfortunately, the rest took longer.
The city did come out the next day to clear the roots and make the connection to the city sewer main, but, by then I’d had to make a nuisance of myself with friends to beg showers so I could get into work and not knock people out. I didn’t shave, really, but used my beard trimmer to keep my stubble under control. Still, I looked pretty rough by the end of the week.
And, yes, I really did get tired of “urination al fresco” and holding it until dark, or going in to work hours early for the same reason.
So, the good news is, now, I have a working sewer line and I can flush my toilets! Not to mention shower, shave, do laundry and dishes, all of which I was frantically doing Thursday night. Friday afternoon, the main technician who was working on this project the entire time, got my second toilet hooked up, so everything in the house should be working now. I still have the trench until the city inspects and approves the work according to the permit. I’m not as worried about that, frankly, since I’m able to bathe and eliminate with the modern ease with which I have rather grown accustomed.
Other good things of come of it, too, though. Some I won’t got into in detail except to say that I have a new appreciation for my friends and family who were all more than willing to come to my aid. I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, at how willing everyone I knew was to help. Since my divorce, I have felt pretty alone down here in Texas, so it was nice to be reminded that I did have friends and, though they may be a little way away, family who really do care.
I also really was reminded about how well I live, really, and how comfortable I am. That’s sort of a double-edged sword, though, as I’ve gotten, I think, a little too comfortable with things that really needed to change. I’ve gotten a little stuck and a little complacent. My financial situation, for instance, has been just good enough for me to not really feel the need to really grab hold and make some positive changes. I’ve just gone “with the flow”, if you’ll pardon the metaphor in a post about sewers, for far too long. I need to relearn to set my sails and make my way regardless of the current.
Of course, I do still have a huge bill to pay before I’m done, but that may turn out to be a good thing, too, since it’s finally motivated me to actually start selling my ex-wife’s abandoned jewelry. Yes, I have finally listed my first item on eBay. In this case, it’s my ex-wife’s gold and ruby ring. If you’re interested, go bid on it and help me out! Don’t worry, stalkers, there will be more items if you want to own a piece of the Network Geek’s history.
Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us."