It began with denial. Several weeks ago, our quiet Toto toilet started making a prolonged and high-pitched hissing sound when flushed. Then one morning not long after, Sam asked whether I'd noticed the shower was slow to drain. I hadn't noticed, actually. But maybe that's because I'd decided to boycott bathing until one of the Democratic presidential contenders (not the “Muslim” one) conceded. Or, if that took too damn long, until I got invited to a party requiring that I dress and shave my armpits.
Thank God for the party invitation; I was starting to stink.
Last Saturday, Sam left for work and I stepped into the shower. As I lathered my hair, I noticed that the sound at my feet was—different. It was less pitter-patter-on-the-tile-floor and more roof-leaking-into-a-bucket-during-a-rainstorm.
I swore. I shut the water off. I skittered to the garage for the plunger and proceeded to work that drain—naked, wet, soap stinging my eyes—until an ashy gray sludge bubbled into the standing water. Realizing the problem was bigger than my ability to cope, I did what any woman in my (lack of) shoes would have done: I ran a bath and shaved my legs.
It was hardly a shock when the tub wouldn't drain but it was a teensy bit disconcerting for the babysitter when I told her she wouldn't be able to flush the toilet for the remainder of the evening. “Sorry,” I said as I buckled the ankle strap on the sexiest four-and-one-quarter-inch peep-toe stilettos ever known to man. She'd have to either hold her bowels or let go of looming humiliation. “I sure hope I don't have to poop,” she said. I was hoping the same thing even as I assured her it was no big deal. “We're family,” I said, applying lipstick. Truthfully, I didn't care a whit about the fact that she might have to pee outdoors because I was going out and I looked hot. I was in Me mode.
Or denial, which ended abruptly on Sunday morning with a debilitating champagne-and-pot-brownie induced headache and the arrival of “reality,” aka parenting a 38-inch spaz while hosting Alyce and his snake. Believe me when I say that the last thing a person—particularly a hung-over person—wants on the Day of the Lord, is her plumber and his snake on her front porch. I know this from experience.
The first time I met Alyce, a former roadie for Ratt and a character for whom I've developed a deep appreciation, was eight years ago, when he arrived at the house Sam and I rented in Pacific Beach. It was a Sunday. Our toilet wouldn't flush. Our bathtub wouldn't drain. There was gray sludge, there was Alyce, and there was his snake. Are you sensing a pattern?
That time, Alyce's snake was of no use: Too short. So his work pushed on into the week and I came home one afternoon to find Alyce and another dude in our front yard, literally. They were visible only from the necks up because they were standing in a giant, six-foot-deep hole they'd dug there. In fact, our front yard was the hole, which became a portal to what would eventually become a tunnel, spanning beneath the wall surrounding the property and into the driveway, which later had to be jack hammered. It was special. “It was one of my beautiful moments,” Alyce likes to say when referring fondly to the condoms he recovered from our sewer-line.
Memories of that time haunted me on this most recent Sunday morning. Alyce had to use a Sawsall to slice away the thingamajig that caps the entrance to our ancient pipery. He then sweated his nuts off while twisting a 50-foot snake into said pipery, forcing it deeper and deeper into the main line. I imagined him having to dig yet another hole, and this time, there was no landlord to pay for the work. On the bright side, who wouldn't choose seven hours of a plumber's Sunday over a European summer vacation? I mean, Al's crack is nearly as good a view as picnicking on the Seine. Oh, happy day.
I perched my camera-ready self in the bathroom window for the first of five retractions of the snake, not wanting to see what he'd recovered and yet ready to capture the offending detritus for posterity. Could a tree root have grown through our 1954 cast iron pipes? Did Ruby shove Elmo down there without me knowing? Wait! Maybe it was all the Steve Francis and Marti Emerald mailers I'd drowned in there! And to think, I'd been so happy watching toilet water swirl across their posed smiles. Not exactly worth it now, I thought.
Lucky for us, Al found a culprit. There, on the end of the metal coil were strung a series of sopping cocoons.
Baby-shit cocoons, to be precise. In the process of toilet training—a most unpleasant requirement in raising a human—I'd flushed more baby wipes than Alyce had ever seen. Gold star for me! Sure, it says right on the back of the package: DO NOT FLUSH. Just like that. In bold letters. But I ask you, what kind of parent takes the time to read a baby-wipe package before the toilet backs up? A self-absorbed, Veuve-drinking, weed-eating, fiiiine-ass-shoe-wearing mutha, that's who.
It should be said that before any of the Big Dig tools came out, our Alyce had predicted the baby-wipe outcome as coolly as if he were Sylvia Browne. He's that good. Without shame, I tried to play the green card; I swore on Ruby's favorite blankie that I'd never flushed a single baby wipe or string of dental floss or The Trouble Shooter running for District 7.
But you just can't bullshit your plumber. Fortunately, Al's a modest guy and he didn't judge me or do the superior I-told-you-so. He just methodically unwrapped each and every one of the nasties, dropped them into a fetid pile, replaced the guts on our Toto, and drove away into the sunset. I looove watchin' him go, that Alyce. I do. But I love not ever seeing him even more.
The moral of the story is, don't party too hard if you're pushing 40 and you have to function the following day. Don't wear bad shoes. Don't flush baby wipes. And if you need a plumber who does great work and won't cause the forfeiture of your world travels, e-mail me.