The Plumbing Incident – Part 2: Singing Plumbers and Obnoxious Grinding

The Plumbing Incident


Once we sedated the cat, Terry got on the horn with this plumber guy that we have worked with in the past. It had only been small jobs, like replacing the washers in the shower head or fixing a leak with the kitchen sink, but his rates were reasonable and no one got hurt, so we might as well invite him back. Of course, this was a much more intense situation, what with nothing in the house draining except for my sinuses, so the plumber and his southern drawl had a few questions for Terry. “You guys shove anything in there you shouldn’t?”

Why, yes, we crammed a Buick in the toilet just the other day. Do you think that might be an issue? “No, nothing has gone in there that shouldn’t go in the toilet.”

Plumber Man was not convinced. “You sure your kids didn’t try to flush somethin’ just for fun? Mine used to do that all the time till I got ‘em on the medication. Squirrel came at me one night, sure did.”

Sounds like those kids need more than just some pills. “No, we don’t have any kids, so we can’t blame it on them. We just have cats.”

This got Plumber Man’s attention. “One of them missing lately?”

Why was this man obsessed with the concept that someone in this house had purposely destroyed the sanitation infrastructure? What kind of clientele is he used to dealing with? “Uh, no, all the cats are accounted for. They’re looking at me right now and wondering why I’m not giving them any treats.”

“Hmmm,” pondered Plumber Man. “You got any trees?”

What the hell? “Why, yes we do. Lots of them. Big ones.”

“Could be tree roots in the lines.”

Ohhh. “Can you fix that?”

“Probly oughta snake your pipes.”

My mind went a place it probably shouldn’t have when I heard that suggestion. Luckily, Terry was doing the talking and remained chaste. “Whatever we need to do. Can you take care of it for us?”

It turns out that Plumber Man did not have the requisite snaking skills, but he knew a couple of guys that did, and he would send somebody out in the next day or so. We just had to make sure one of us was here to give the Snake People access so that the exorcism could be performed properly. “We’ll be here,” said Terry. “Please hurry.” Then they did that Texas thing where both men grunt instead of saying goodbye, because a cordial departure is too girly, and they slammed the phones down.

Of course, the “we” in being here meant “me”. I’m the one that can work from home, if needed. Terry cannot do this. In fact, Terry is a little suspect about this whole “work from home” concept. He pretends to be supportive and all that, but I know in his heart he considers “working from home” to be the same as “not working”. I have tried to convince him otherwise, but it’s clear from our conversations that I have not succeeded.

Exhibit A:

Home phone rings at 5 pm. It’s Terry. I’m on our secondary line, participating in a conference call with 7 directors at my “anonymous for fear of losing my job” un-named company. I am not a director, I’m in mid-level management (you know, the level where people actually do things that make a profit for the company), and these directors could easily end my career with one email. Still, I blatantly lie to these directors, explaining that I have a critical call coming in that I must take. Hold, please.

I switch phones. “Hello?”

Terry: “I’m on my way home. Are you at the house or in the office?” An innocuous-seeming question, but I’m already clenched. The subtle hint is coming, wherein I’ve had a play-day while he’s actually furthered mankind in some way.

Brian: “I’m at the house. Got paged before I could even get out of the house and I’ve been on conference calls ever since.”

T: “Oh. Okay. Did you call your mother about that surgery thing?”

B: “Um, no. I’ve been on conference calls, all day.”

T: “Okay. What’s for dinner?”

B: “Haven’t really thought about it. Conference calls. All day.”

T: “Okay. Did you find the gas bill so I can call about the discrepancy?”

B: “Been a little busy. Calls.”

T: “Okay. Hey, this is Big Trash week, did you move the-”


And then we don’t speak to each other for two days.

Despite these misconceptions about what I do for a living, or where I do it, the bottom line is that I am now the designated committee chairman for the Snake People Welcome Wagon in our house. This means that I must do a balancing act of pretending to pay attention on conference calls while waiting for the doorbell to ring so I can then hurriedly lock the cats in the guest bedroom, scuttling their plans to make a break for freedom as strangers traipse in and out the front door.

Trouble is, the critical doorbell did not ring as expeditiously as hoped. Perhaps the Plumber Man (who apparently was not an actual plumber, at least not the kind who could officially snake things) confused the phrase “sometime in the next day or so” with “sometime before the next Winter Solstice”. Three days go by before there’s a knock on the door. I open said door to find two overly-exuberant people who are either plumbers or Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are really excited to be here. I think they might even break into song. This is almost fun! Until they ask a question which completely mystifies me:

“Where is your trap?”

My trap? I have no idea what that is, let alone where it might be. When I don’t immediately respond to this query and just stand there, my eyes and mind a blank, their faces light up even further. It’s obvious that I don’t know much about the intestines of my house, and this will make their lives much easier, especially the part where they add obscure additional charges to my bill.

So the lead singing plumber says, “Well, we’ll just go have a look around.” And off they go, to look for this trap thing, which, apparently, is somewhere outside, since they didn’t come inside. I closed the door, convinced that my manliness had been compromised in some way, I’m just not sure how or why.

Two hours later, long enough for me to have actually forgotten they were even on the premises as I struggled to work with a co-worker who has apparently never used a dictionary in his life, the plumbers are at the front door again. They can’t find the trap. Maybe there isn’t one. Did I know if a trap was installed when the house was built?

How the hell would I know that, especially since I don’t know what it is? Was there something really important that wasn’t shared with me when I bought this house? I can still recall in excruciating detail what happened at the life-depleting house-closing ceremony, with all the loan officials and the witnesses and the endless signing of thousands of documents. At no point did anyone ever discuss the existence or the status of this trap thing, nor did anyone ever advise me that I should push for the discussing of such. “Um, no… I don’t know… anything, really.” (There, I’ve now fessed up that my ignorant ass is in the wind.)

No worries, the duo informed me, their grins widening as they mentally calculated additional fees for that now-daunting invoice they would hand me later. We’ll just have to go through the toilets to accomplish this mystical snaking procedure. That was fine by me. I just want to flush without fear of drowning in my own home, I don’t care what you have to do. Fix it.

The duo turned to go get whatever they needed from their vehicle, and I turned to go back to the office and deal with the co-worker who clearly never won a spelling bee. It took them two hours to figure out that I didn’t have something they expected me to have if I was any type of responsible home owner. I assumed it would take them just as long to figure out where they parked their vehicle. Not that I judge people or anything like that.

Eventually, the duo returned, lugging an ominous device that looked like it could be used as a torture implement in a movie where the good guys really, really needed to get some information out of a captured bad guy. They lugged this thing to the guest bathroom, the original nexus of all the hell that soon followed, and they got to work doing whatever. As expected, based on the timeliness of their performance so far, they were in there for a very long time before they discovered that we had yet another unexpected hiccup.

The lead singer wandered into the office, where I was in the midst of advising a work associate that what he wanted me to do with the customer data that I was providing would not happen in my lifetime. “Um, sir, there’s not enough room in that bathroom. Do you have another one?”

“Well, there’s the master bath.”

Two minutes later I have strange men waving their equipment around in my bedroom. Given different circumstances, this might have been an intriguing development, but this was not the right time or the right place, and I hadn’t been drinking. I left the duo to do their thing and I went back to the office for another conference call, a pointless session during which I ignored the discussion and instead searched the company jobs board for a new position that did not require me to talk to idiots. I didn’t find one.

But the lead singer plumber found me, after an interminable period during which it sounded like they were grinding up human bones and then banging on the wall just for the hell of it. “Um, sir, could you come here for a second?”

Oh God. I marched into the master bathroom, where I was presented with the alarming site of the toilet shoved into a corner and a gaping hole in the floor. (And do I need to mention that the stench coming from said hole would stunt your growth? Probably not, I’m sure you get the picture.) The Lead Singer explained to me that something down in those murky depths was not cooperating, and they would have to try again with the guest bathroom. You mean the one that was not satisfactory in the beginning? Yeah, that one.

So the torture device is relocated once more, and they reboot on their apparent mission to drive me insane with the sound of something being chopped to hell under my house. (The people at work eventually stop asking me to join calls because the background noise is causing children to cry and women to become barren.) It’s unreal, that noise. But not as unreal as the thoughts going through my head when the Lead Plumber (I’ve taken away his singer name, there will be no singing in my house for a very long time) moseys into the office and asks me to join him in the guest bathroom, where the fun never ends.

I reluctantly do so, sighing with despair when I see that the toilet has been chunked into the bathtub, an alarming vision that haunted my dreams as I cried myself to sleep later that night. Apparently, either through their own incompetence or a decree from the Karma Gods that I am not allowed to have happiness during my current incarnation, the equipment that they are using is not sufficient to conquer the beast dwelling below. Obviously, Satan has claimed our plumbing as his current lair. And the bitch ain’t gonna move anytime soon.

Since it was getting late, and I really needed some down time where my house was not occupied by people I had just met and didn’t necessarily trust, I agreed that we could continue with the festivities in the morning. The now-no-longer-singing plumbing duo temporarily re-installed the master bath toilet, so that we could have at least one place to conduct private functions, cautioning that we can’t get too carried away cause “it’s loose”. Okay, shouldn’t be a problem. I’m not sure what you do in your own bathroom, but I can’t think of anything I might do that would cause a 50-pound toilet to fall over, unless alcohol was involved. Then the plumbers drove off into the night, promising to return in the morning…

I immediately marched into the office, turned off the light, and sat in total darkness for an hour. It seemed like a better option than committing myself to an insane asylum, which was Plan B. (And I did bookmark a few interesting institutions, just in case.)

The next morning, I was a bit surprised when the Grinding Duo knocked on the door. It had taken them three days to get here the first time around, so I really wasn’t expecting to see them again in this same century. And they were very excited, announcing that they had located a fancier machine that wiould work better than the irritating and ultimately pointless machine from yesterday. This sounded promising, although a tad dubious. (Why didn’t they kind go find this miracle machine yesterday when it was obvious to even my untrained observations that it shouldn’t be taking 12 hours to snake a toilet?)

Still, they were here, they had some man-tools, do what you need to do. And they did. Within three minutes, they were at it, with that grinding noise that will never leave my mind for the rest of my life. We also had a new development, with the house now vibrating as they were grinding, substantiating the claims that this machine was more powerful than its lack-luster cousin of yore and, as a bonus, letting me know what people in California feel like on a random Tuesday when the fault lines get itchy. Sadly, my personal earthquake stretched from morning until late in the afternoon. I was not impressed.

Suddenly, the grinding and vibrating stopped, and the Lead Grinder summoned me from my clenched and puckered position on the ceiling of the office. He thinks they’ve cleared the demon out. Things went smoothly, except for one small problem. (Of course there’s a problem, how could it be my life if there wasn’t a problem.) He very briefly waved some hose-looking device in front of me and just as quickly hid it behind his back, making sure I did not have time to study it and become alarmed. There was a small incident and this device has been broken. They will have to go buy a replacement and return. Then they raced out the door to parts unknown.

They are gone for hours, which should surprise no one considering their leisurely schedule thus far. In the interim, Terry arrives home from his job, where there has been no day-long grinding except for what he might have done with his teeth as he valiantly refrained from taking the life of a worthless co-worker, and he has some questions for me. “So what did they do?” I have no idea. “But you were here the whole time.” I have no idea. “Didn’t you ask them?” I have no idea, something broke and they went to go find an unbroken one.

This unsatisfying conversation is interrupted by the return of the Barbershop Duo. They clattered in the door, racing past Terry and I as we stand in the hallway and work on our relationship issues. They are in the house roughly 37 seconds, replacing the mystery part, and then running out the door like the hounds of hell are nipping.

This can’t be good. They said it was fixed, but why are they running?

Terry: “Did you flush the toilet? To see if it worked?”

Brian: “Um, you’re standing right here with me. Did YOU flush the toilet?”

This gets nowhere fast, as is the standard protocol when two people love each other but don’t always have the same focal points. He’s thinking it’s all about me being the one officially in charge of the home invasion. I’m thinking it’s all about me not being able to have a bowel movement for the last five days.

I sighed. Then I approached the guest-bath toilet and gave it a test flush. It immediately over-flowed, water everywhere.

The anguished wail that erupted from my lips destroyed all flora, fauna and fine china in the entire neighborhood. Three people had to be flown out by helicopters to nearby trauma centers…


To be continued…


(Originally posted in “The Sound and the Fury” on 05/05/09. Revised and edited with extra flair for this post.)


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