Plumbing the depths

The two of you may recall a post from a few years back in which I discussed a Thanksgiving notable primarily for the eccentric flow of household waste water and the delicious effect it had on our version of America’s great feast day. You will be amused to hear that fortune smiled upon us and hilarity reigned again this year.

Since our first adventure, we’ve remodeled the ancient bathroom on the second floor, which serves what we call, for obsolete but perfectly good reasons, “Weezie’s room” and “Tilly’s room,” both of which are now primarily for guests. A little rearrangement for efficiency’s sake, new fixtures, a big stand-alone shower which serves our new generation of athletes better than a tub, bright paint. It’s nice but not fancy.

During the summer, H and A competed in a big triathlon nearby. (Which produced this wonderful, slightly staged, picture.)

They brought along with them a number of New Hampshire teammates, some of whom parked campers in the back-back, and some of whom used random beds, couches and whatever they could find in the way of cozy floor space, and all of whom had been told they’d have access to a nice new shower. Fantastic! But after a few flushes and half a shower, test guest No.1 looked down to find himself ankle deep in fecal matter. This is fairly disgusting even for a triathlete, and we were soon informed we had a problem. To make a long story short, we shunted the sweaty off to our own bathroom on the third floor, the one in what was then my father’s apartment over our garage, and I think perhaps Paul’s across the backyard. Others just hosed off by their RVs and used their own facilities. Virtually everyone had competed well, they were all fit and cheerful and sociable (a state I vaguely recall myself), and we had a memorable weekend party regardless of the effing effluent.

I called the Rooter man, of course, who pulled the toilet, theoretically cleared the lines, told me the plumbing seemed to have very little pitch (1/4-in. per foot is standard), and that the twists and turns required by the ancient carpentry beneath the floor were choke points. He recommended supplying less luxurious toilet paper to guests. (“Welcome! So glad you’ve come! Please use this tissue paper. And I know you won”t mind limiting yourself to two squares. See you at dinner!”)

Obviously not really satisfactory, but maybe the best I could do. Occasional guests seemed to have no problems—even with real toilet paper. But we were having a fair crew for Thanksgiving, and I wanted to be certain not to add another plumbing disaster to the menu. So I called K, former schoolmate and owner of the plumbing company we use. We hemmed, we hawed, we agreed we’d rather not pull up the floor unless we really had to, and we finally decided to try “pressure assisted technology”—a toilet that uses pressurized air to shoot the water down the pipes. The guy who installed it laughed and nodded when I asked him if it would do the trick. “Just tell whoever’s using it to stand up before they flush or they’ll go down too,” he said. So good.

But no. We clearly had Old Faithful on our hands. A group of friends ready for a good party for a few days? Predictive perfection: Merde

We managed. (We’ve had a lot of experience, after all.) And we actually had a great time.  But Monday morning, up came the floor, and in went the plumber. Bumpings of pulling out the toilet. Whine of electric screwdriver. Thumpings up and down the stairs. Growl of reciprocating saw. Holler from Wayne: “Mark, you’ve got to come up and see this.”

He points at an opening he’s had to make in the plastic piping installed during the remodel. I peer. “What is that,” I say. “A snake,” says Wayne. For a micro-second, I’m wondering how one of the local serpents could have crawled through our pipes. Then I realize Wayne means a plumbing snake, that coiled steel auger you feed through the plumbing to—theoretically—clear it of blockages. “Holy shit,” I say, displaying my grasp of this highly technical plumbing situation. “How could that be?” Wayne shrugs, clearly not yet ready to rat out the Rooter guy. “How much of that is in there?” I ask. “We’ll find out,” says Wayne direly. And he spends much of the day doing just that. Here’s how much.

The shower stall is about three feet by four. By actual measurement, the separate sections of snake come to just shy of eight feet. (One of them was spotted using a mirror and a flashlight and was pulled
out by the longest pair of needle-nose pliers I’ve ever seen, a tool so scary-looking a dentist would be proud to own it.) You’ll notice that the one on the left and the one on the right had been doubled back on themselves inside the plumbing, just to make sure nothing much could squeeze by.

Wayne tested things, put everything back together, used a few little tricks to get us better pitch, screwed the floor back down, reinstalled our X-15 of a toilet, and we discussed the obvious: how had this happened? Rooter guy turns out to be the only possibility. But how can you lose that much of even a powered, super-long pro snake and not know it? And if you did know it…? So I’ll be having one of those discussions I really hate with the Roots.

But I think the bathroom might finally be all set. Come by and help us test it sometime. Bring lots of friends.


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