Thursday – 11:32pm
“Do you smell that?”
“No,” I said with false certainty hoping my confident answer would make the question go away. The truth was my sense of smell is horrible and Wendy’s is incredible, but I didn’t want to get off the couch.
“Seriously, it smells like something is burning. Could you go look in the basement and make sure?”
I could tell she was starting to worry but I was exhausted and didn’t want to muster the energy to get off my butt. “I don’t smell anything. I’m sure it is fine.” As the last word fell from my mouth we both flinched. A huge crash echoed from the basement. We both bolted for the basement door.
At the top of the stairs Wendy screamed “Oh no.” I bounded down the stairs into the fray and started picking things up off the ground. Unfortunately I was too late. There was already six inches of standing sewage in the room. I reached down into it and grabbed our modem and set it on our desk only to cover the desk in the brown goo. I then grabbed a box of high school memorabilia off a bottom shelf hoping to save it, but the bottom disintegrated and the contents sank into the dark thick liquid. Hopeless I stood stunned for a moment confused and helpless. I looked to the left at the toilet in the back corner of the room. A steady geyser of brown sewage spewed from pot causing the lid to rise three inches off the seat. Wendy’s tears brought me back to reality.
The smell was awful. The closed basement door had been holding it back like a dam, but now it flowed freely through the house. After a quick pow-wow Wendy ran upstairs to pack up the kids and take them to my mom’s to sleep. I called the city.
“Hello,” the tired man’s voice struggled to get out, “Baltimore city water and waste.”
“Um, hi.” I was still a little dazed and unsure of what to say. “I’ve got a serious problem.”
Was he agreeing with me that I had a problem or was he urging me to continue? I wasn’t sure. I pressed on anyway. “There is a geyser of sewage coming out of my toilet and filling my basement.”
“We will send a work crew out to look at it ASAP.” Now usually the letters ASAP are said with energy and vigor, but I was speaking with Eeyore. “I need to get some information from you…” For the next five minutes he asked me everything from my birth day to the color of the sewage.
When the questioning stopped I asked, “How long until someone gets out here?”
“Oh,” there was a long pause and shuffling of papers, “probably some time around 8am.”
I was standing at the top of the stairs watching the sewage continue to rise. It was about a foot deep. I began to snap. “How is 8am ASAP?” I said frantically.
“Sorry sir. That is the best we can do.” He didnt’ sound sorry.
Hanging up with the city I began calling 24 hour plumbers. With each call everything would go great until we got to the part of time of arrival.
“How soon can he be here?” I would ask watching the sewage rise.
“Oh, sometime around 8am at the earliest. He will call you first thing in the morning to set up the time.”
“No thanks. I’ll keep looking.” And after some pleasantries I would hang up.
Finally on plumber call number nine I found a company that would come right away. It was 1:30am when he arrived. The goo had risen to a foot and a half and then stopped. Once the toilet had stopped spewing the sump-pump could keep up and it all started rescinding. By the time the plumber and I were wading into the basement there was no standing goop; only a nasty coating of brown sludge on everything. The plumber immediately went to work on the toilet. I sat down on my kid’s train table taking in everything that had been destroyed.
“I charge $75 an hour to students,” the plumber muttered not looking up from what he was doing.
“What?” I said confused. “I’m not a student.” I was completely lost as to why a plumber would have a student discount.
Still not looking at me the plumber replied, “Everybody wants to watch. Everybody wants to observe the plumber work.” He stopped working and made eye contact with me. “I hate it when people watch me work.”
“Oh, sorry man.” I said in complete surprise. “I wasn’t meaning to look over your shoulder. I was just taking in the damage.”
Working again and no longer looking at me he replied, “If you want to go upstairs I can call you when I’m done.”
“Thanks?” I said and trudged up the stairs to watch T.V.
The plumber finished around 2:45am. He told me he was confused as to what happened with my toilet. He had snaked it out and only found a few small roots in it. Nothing that should have caused it to explode as it did. I asked if the rain could have had something to do with it. There had been an enormous amount of rain that night. I explained that the toilet geyser had stopped around the same time the rain had. He explained that sewer lines and storm drain lines were two completely separate systems. The only way the rain could affect the sewage was if there was a break somewhere in the sewer lines. Then when the storm drains backed up they would flow over into the broken sewage pipes and push everything into everyone’s homes. I know absolutely nothing about plumbing so this sounded like a good explanation to me.
“What do I do about that?” I asked.
The plumber smiled and gave me a I-don’t-envy-you look. “You have to call the city. They are the only ones that can fix crap in the street. Until they get on the ball you should expect crap in your basement every time the storm drains are overwhelmed.”
“Great. Thanks.” I said exhausted. After the plumber left I couldn’t bear to go back downstairs. I simply turned off the lights, climbed into my car, and left for my mom’s defeated, sensing that the real work would begin in the morning.
To be continued…