The very first thing I did today upon awakening once again into this beautiful world was to make a wish, from the bottomless and deepest depths of my heart, that our bathroom toilet would begin yet another flabbergasting flooding disaster. When it comes to bathroom flooding, this is not my first rodeo. More like the seventh.
The worst incident to date occurred not too long ago during a very serious snowstorm. The “drain man” (as we call them in the biz) who came to the rescue explained that the flooding was caused by a gaggle of pesky tree roots that somehow burrowed their way into the pipes, creating a blockage so great that our bathroom and hallway became flooded with what we came to describe as a substance called “poo sewage.”
So why would I wish this?
Am I insane?
More likely though, it’s because every once and awhile, when the apartment, with its crumbling infrastructure, old creaky pipes, and insatiable ability to attract insects, appears to be running a little too smoothly—to the point of extreme suspicion—it’s good to have something go horribly wrong. It builds character. It builds resilience. It reminds me that what I have planned for the day is not necessarily what the universe has planned for me.
And, when all is said and done, and the apartment smells once again, as it does now, of poo and sewage (poo-sewage n.), I know this is simply another obstacle for me to reframe as a challenge. It’s an opportunity for personal growth. Sound about right?
Obviously, I would never wish for the return of the poo sewage. I have not yet processed the mental trauma from the first six go-arounds; I’m by no means prepared for the seventh. And yet, here we are. Here I am. Typing in my office chair in the living room (my office) as the drain man sets up shop in our bathroom to battle back the flooding waters, and whatever vicious beast is causing this unbearable, disastrous scent to permeate our home.
If I could capture it in a bottle, perhaps add a little essence of lavender, a dribble of blue chamomile, just a smidgen of eucalyptus, I would call it, Poo Sewage. A new, bold scent featuring recycled human excreta that blends complex elements to deliver an avalanche of fragrance, producing an aroma so thick with confusion you’re not sure whether you’re supposed to like it, but you do. One whiff and you’re hooked … or throwing up. Either one.
As you may have deduced from my ramblings, the aroma of poo sewage is not a delight. And worse, it’s quick to spread; it hovers within the apartment like a stagnant, putrid cloud of stinkiness. I have not one but two essential oil machines pumping on high, packed to the gills with generous drops of peppermint and lemongrass. I open the windows. I run around in circles. I pinch my nose with some chip clips. And I pray.
It all started upon my return from a morning run around the neighborhood. Typically, my favorite post-run activity, before I start work, is to take a shower. It makes sense, right? Stinky, smelly, sweaty Matt requires water and soap before he can really do anything else. Maybe even a shave and a fruit smoothie. But it wasn’t meant to be. Not this day.
Today, Amanda greeted me at the door, as if she had been eagerly awaiting my return. She had that look on her face that made me immediately understand that something not so great was happening and that most likely this something would require my mental and physical energy to correct. It is a very specific look that occurs whenever a large apartment bug requires squashing, or when the sink backs up, and whenever I have forgotten to do something I was not supposed to forget to do.
It happened again.
The toilet is flooding.
Dirty water is coming up through the bathtub.
The smell. It’s back.
Like a montage showing the detective putting together the pieces at the end of the mystery, I began to replay the clues. The day before I had trouble flushing the toilet in the morning. It flushed, but it didn’t seem happy about it. It gurgled. Gargled. Made a fuss. It was … concerning. But it went away eventually. Later that day I saw the second clue: a large puddle had formed in the middle of the laundry room located next door. Not good.
Understanding the importance of addressing all water-related issues immediately, I had promptly filed an official request with the maintenance department to bring it to their attention:
11/30/17. The laundry room in the basement has some flooding with some strange black residue, not sure what it is. The automatic lights didn't seem to work when I walked in. Might want to send someone over ASAP to contain it.
While on the maintenance website I also noticed there was a historical log of all the maintenance requests that we’ve ever made, dating all the way back to 2013. That’s five solid years of archived complaints (insert whistling noise)! Intrigued and feeling a little nostalgic, I scrolled through the long list of apartment traumas, reliving each individual incident as if for the very first time. Years of frustration and anger all filed in one convenient location.
Cockroaches, ants, giant spiders - please spray/gel or whatever is necessary!
We have some sort of animal living above our ceiling. We can hear it in the same spot every time near our living room windows on top of one of the higher panels on the right side of the room. Please send someone to do something about this.
There are hundreds of ants that keep coming up from the bathtub. Every few hours we turn the shower on a flush them down the drain, but it doesn't appear to be slowing down. We also see a few in the kitchen, but it's not nearly as bad as the tub. Can someone help us, please?
Apartment life. Magical. Wondrous. A more or less permanently blissful experience. However, one major benefit of foregoing home ownership, at least for the time being, is that every time something goes wrong all I have to do is call a number, and someone will come and, at the very least, place a very temporary band-aid on whatever the issue is. No charge. Which is also good, considering that I’ve managed to evade attaining and mastering almost every single handyman, maintenance, and construction type skill throughout my thirty-five years of life. And so, to date, we have made 53 maintenance requests and counting. I wonder if we make it to a 100 if we win some sort of prize. I sure hope so.
As for the 53rd maintenance request, I unfortunately never once thought that all those clues I saw the day before were actually clues; I didn’t know they were symptoms of another much larger plumbing issue. I should have known better. So, as the toilet continued to flood and the dirty water in the tub continued to rise, Amanda slapped a kiss on my cheeks, said her goodbyes, and promptly left to catch the bus for work.
As it was still early in the morning, I called the emergency maintenance line. There was no time to waste. The nice lady who answered my call asked me a series of serious questions. Following my response to each one, she got off the line as if there was an expert person sitting next to her or a checklist she had to refer to in order to confirm that my experience could be considered a true and earnest emergency. My responses would determine if I would be granted an additional question. Luckily, I somehow made it through an entire round, enough, apparently, to grant me a call transfer to the actual emergency maintenance man on staff.
The toilet’s flooding?
He knew me by name. As most of the maintenance staff now do. He also remembered the snowstorm flooding incident the year before and with a sympathetic tone said that he would certainly mention our past flooding history to the drain fixer uppers, who would appear, like magic, within the hour. As we briefly discussed the past floodings, major and minor, I began to recall the last drain man telling us, with a smirkish expression, that this, this whole flooding situation, would happen again, most definitely and without any doubt. He seemed sure of it.
He was right.
As promised, a drain man came to the rescue within the hour. Still in my sweaty and now very uncomfortable workout gear, I welcomed him into our home and showed him the source of the problem. Then, using arm movements, general gestures of exasperation, and a very concerned vocal tone, I thoroughly explained the situation and our rich history of bathroom flooding.
He nodded in understanding. I pointed to the toilet that wouldn’t flush properly. He grunted. Then to the bathtub filled with dirty water. He nodded again. He understood. We parted ways. Me to my chair in the living room with a cup of tea. Him to bring in his tools and what I imagined to be piles and piles of outside dirt, stuck on his shoes, that would eventually be evenly and fairly dispersed throughout the entire apartment.
From my perch, I could hear the drain man fill the bathroom with drain man tools and the ginormous drain unclogging device that would hopefully fish out whatever was clogging up our pipes. In mere moments the toilet would be completely removed, and water would begin flowing quite freely wherever it darn well pleased. Once again, our bathroom had become the epicenter of another major project, packed with wet-vacs and tarps, old tools and strange smells. I sipped my tea, still sweating, still uncomfortable.
I began to mull over how the whole situation would play out. I knew, that every time a maintenance man or drain specialist enters this home, that while they typically do fix the issue at hand, they also leave me with an almost equally devastating eruption of dirt, grime, and in this case, poo sewage to clean up. My duties were not yet done. I would be the clean-up crew. I would have to prepare myself.
Now, as someone who has journeyed the full spectrum of cleanliness from an outright deviant and disrespecting destroyer of my parent’s basement as a young man to now being an undeniably obsessed neat freak over my own domain, I prepared my tools.
As someone who regularly cleans and washes the recycle bin. As someone who casually worries about what’s behind the fridge and what may be lurking under the stove. As someone who vacuums the shoe tray. As someone who dusts the top of each picture frame and door. As someone who awakens in the middle of the night to carefully deep wash the humidifier. As someone whose brain begins to hurt when unidentified pieces of rubble fall from our upstairs neighbor’s floor onto the tops of our delicate drop ceiling. As someone who truly cares way too much about rogue pieces of lint, pesky spots on the kitchen floor, and who has a genuine certified belt holster for Magic Eraser cleaning sponges ... I prepared my tools.
Green, sustainable, organic bathroom spray that may or may not be effective.
Select-a-size paper towels.
Vacuum with extension wand and crevice tool
I was ready.
I could hear the drain machine churning down through the pipes; it’s a loud and intrusive noise, and I’d expect nothing less. It was hunting. For what, we knew not. At this point, the laundry room next door was also flooding into the hallway. The poo sewage was releasing itself back out into the world. A monster finally released from its underworld imprisonment with an overdue and gluttonous appetite to destroy all human life with nothing but its foul stench. Death by pungency.
I could hear the drain man talking with the maintenance man over the phone to relay updates and request support. It was worse than we thought.
Shut the water down.
The situation was escalating. The poo sewage was gaining power too quickly, gathering its strength for a final assault. The drain man would use the wet vac to contain the flooding. Then back to the drain machine. Empty the wet vac outside. Contain the flooding. Contain the flooding. Contain the flooding.
It was a carefully orchestrated symphony of emergency flood protocols handled by a one-man team playing defense. He needed help.
By my second cup of tea, I saw it. The email. It was our very own water shutdown emergency email! You see, the water in our building is shutdown often and all the time. We receive these emails on a weekly basis. We always wonder what’s going on. What’s happening? Why so many water disasters? But this one was special. This one was ours.
Dear Matthew Hobin,
There will be an emergency water shutdown today, December 1st between the hours of 9:30am-10:30am due to a pipe repair on the property. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and we will do our best to make sure the work is done as quickly and efficiently as possible. We ask that you please plan accordingly. If you have any questions or concerns please contact us at ResidentServices@theblahblahblah.com.
Apartment Owner People
Pipe repair. Plan accordingly. Questions or concerns! For a moment, I felt special. I wanted to tell people. This was us. Our toilet caused the water shutdown this time. I was proud. There is a reason for this madness!
Once the water was turned off, it became clear that the drain man was one of the best in the business. Soon the flood was over and he had successfully fished out whatever needed fishing out. The situation went from mission-critical to everybody can go home there’s nothing to see here.
And just like that, I was called into the bathroom for the final talk. The summary of events. The big finale. The drain man pointed at the toilet. I nodded. He pointed at the bathtub. I grunted. He put his arms up in victory, declaring his job here was done. I smiled and went to shake his hand … and then … slowly withdrew as I realized how bad an idea that actually was. He seemed hurt, but understanding.
At the end of his investigation, the drain man never found any “tree roots.” I’m not even sure how tree roots would get into a pipe. He did, however, find the pipe clogged with paper towels and bum wipes. Bum wipes!!! Say it ain’t so. Did you know that we have a bum wipe epidemic in this country? We do. And it’s bad. I know because the drain man told me.
Unfortunately, these so-called flushable wipes aren’t so pipe friendly. In fact, according to several real and very serious news organizations, flushable wipes are causing outright havoc to wastewater systems all across the world. Consumers, duped by false claims of “flushability,” are led to believe that wipes do no harm. False! Meanwhile, villainous corporate board members are stroking their pointy goatees and sitting back while profits continue to soar in this multibillion-dollar industry.
So what’s the problem? Wipes DO NOT BREAK DOWN. Ever. Wipes are indestructible. They never disintegrate. Ever. We’re talking blocked pipes and sewers, ravaged septic tanks, and, of course, the ever-present and always occurring big middle finger to old Mother Nature herself … litter! That’s right folks. These wipes will be here probably forever. Maybe. I think. Google it. Or read this article by The Atlantic. Sewage authorities everywhere are apparently losing their minds.
Look, I’ll be real. I’ve used flushable wipes. In fact, I’ve found them to be pretty handy for certain types of personal hygiene, and I’ll leave it at that. But I told the drain man that I dropped that bad habit a long time ago. We don’t use wipes in this household! Not anymore. No siree. I pointed to the toilet. He grunted. I explained.
Less than one year ago I purchased an ingenious device called the Astor CB-1000. The best, most highly rated, most reasonably priced easy to install bidet on the market. For $24.95 you too can become enlightened, cut down on toilet paper, and feel confident that your bum is squeaky clean.
As I explained the situation, I told him that even someone like me could order this thing and follow the instructions with absolutely no issues. As I heard myself talking, suddenly, I realized, I’m basically an amateur plumber. A regular, hard-working, blue-collar guy that could pull his weight when it came time to install a new bidet. We could install bidets all across America and eliminate this horrific bum wipe epidemic once and for all! Matt Hobin. Plumber. Useful. This could be the beginning of a new career.
As my explanation drew to an end, the drain main kept nodding, staring suspiciously at the bidet as if it were a strange creature he didn’t quite understand. But at least he knew I wasn’t the culprit. He said it could be anyone in the building, and for some reason, that the bulk of the wipes were finding their way down to our part of the system, clogging up the pipes, and bringing the poo sewage to the surface of our bathroom. What luck.
With so many units in the building and because multiple buildings share the same plumbing system it would be near impossible to narrow down the list of suspects. It could be anyone. The quiet graduate student next door. That nice couple on the third floor with the tiny little doglike creature that wears a vest when it goes outside. It could be the bro-dudes in apartment D that drink a thousand light beers every weekend. The elderly lady on the first floor who walks around the neighborhood picking up trash. The man who lives next to the main entrance and comes running out shouting at the top of his lungs every time someone slams the door. Everyone was a suspect.
As I finished up my self-righteous monologue about the bidet, the drain main said a few your welcomes and a couple it was no big deals and slowly backed his way out of the apartment. He grabbed his tools and the drain machine, he pointed to the puddle in the laundry room and the hallway and said the maintenance crew would be by to take care of that. And he left.
And just like that, the world was back to normal. The toilet was fixed. The bathtub drained. And I didn’t have to visit the local Target department store to relieve myself. Everything was as it was before the poo sewage returned. Almost.
At the end of it all, as I predicted, my reward was a thoroughly stinky and disgusting bathroom. Weird spots of poo sewage covered the area. On the wall. The floor. The toilet. And the dirt from the drain man’s shoes was evenly and fairly distributed throughout the apartment. The final fee for a crisis averted. And so I lit the scented candle. Pulled on my rubber gloves. Loaded up the Wet Swiffer. And got down to business.
The poo sewage smell would, of course, remain for a day or so. Once the source of its power is killed off, it can no longer emit pungency at full power and eventually dissipates to the point where you can breathe freely once again and inhale through your nose without crying.
For now, the toilet now flushes properly. The floor and walls are clean and dry. And once again I’m able to take showers at my leisure. But I know, we all know, that a monster lurks down there in the deepest darkest parts of that strange place that none of like to think about. That place that with just a flush takes away the stinkiest parts of us. And so I wait. Standing ready to battle the monster again someday, or rather, ready to call someone else to battle the monster again … someday.
The Hobin Family Maintenance Log Highlight Reel:
10/22/14. Our kitchen sink fixture shot right off, and the water just went straight up causing a mess in the kitchen and spraying everywhere. It went so high that it was hitting the ceiling directly and shot a hole in the drop ceiling spraying fragments of it across the kitchen.
2/29/16. Please send someone over immediately to check the pipes in our bathroom ceiling. We currently have water pouring out (not the first time) from the ceiling onto the floor. The person upstairs said they are filling a bath, but there is NO water spilling over.
3/2/16. Intercom buzzing -- noise that never stops, being generated by the door and buzzer panel in our apartment. It only stops if you press the Door button, as soon as you let go the buzzing starts again.
6/5/17. Twice over the weekend something big, like rubble from the upstairs neighbor’s floor, has fallen and crashed on our living room ceiling tiles. The noises were so loud I thought their floor was falling apart. So, now we have tons of rubble or whatever it is sitting on our ceiling tiles, and we'd like to get it removed and cleaned. We'll definitely need a tarp or something because I imagine it will get incredibly messy. You may also want to check with the upstairs neighbors to make sure their floor is OK because something huge is crumbling and falling from up there. Thanks!!
6/12/17. Hi, the ants are back in larger numbers again. Can someone come to get rid of them and take a look? Right now there is a whole colony of them in the bathroom just strutting around. Pretty gross. Thanks!
6/20/17. The bathtub faucet is still leaking, but now it's leaking really bad. Can someone please come and fix this today? Thanks, Matt
8/13/17. The maintenance guys installed a new refrigerator on Friday and hooked up an ice maker with it. However, I think the tube that brings the water to the ice maker is leaking because the area is flooding with water. I turned it off for now, but there's still water everywhere.