It started on Mother’s Day.
Or I should say, it stopped.
My sewer line, that is.
I bought a house a few months ago, and as a proud new home owner, I was on still on the honeymoon, filled with ideas about improvements and projects I wanted to tackle.
Enter TAG. I now know him, and I bet, if you own a home, you do too. He’s an unwanted guest that will not be denied. Many years ago, my father, a wise man, as well as a home and business owner, told me about his visits from TAG. (a.k.a. Turd Above Ground)
That night, his words came back to me with haunting clarity.
After having a relaxing day at home, reading the book my daughter had given me as a gift, and eating dinner with her and my boyfriend, I told him about some water I’d found earlier that day on the floor of my basement, near one of the floor drains. Or, rather, the evidence of it – a sopping wet throw rug I keep in front of the washing machine. At the time, I’d gotten my flashlight, checked the ceiling. It was dry. Had it come from the washer? I had no idea, and I was in the middle of making dinner, so I forged ahead, figuring I’d ask my boyfriend about it later.
My boyfriend is a general contractor who possesses an uncanny ability to fix things. When I told him about it, he raised an eyebrow in his calm, knowing way, almost as if he knew something I did not. He instructed me to flush the toilet, and run water in the bath tub.
Minutes later, he yelled to me from the basement. Stop! I ran to join him, while my brain tried to process what I was seeing erupting from another floor drain. Denial is a funny thing, isn’t it? Was that rusty water, I asked, almost as if I said it aloud, I could make it so.
No. It was TAG.
Unmitigated horror filled me as the seriousness of what was happening hit me. This was bad. Running upstairs to escape the smell, I located the home warranty information I’d been given at the closing, and called the 800 number, pushed the appropriate numbers to get me to the correct menus (you didn’t think I talked to a person, did you?), and placed my service call.
At this point, I feel it necessary to clarify that I’m not squeamish; I’ve raised a child, I’ve had numerous pets, and I worked in my family’s restaurant business growing up. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, and I have, many times. But this situation was proving beyond my capabilities.
Over the next few days, I learned more about pipes, sewer lines and plumbing than I’d ever wanted to know. I listened to my boyfriend’s advice; however, this particular problem was beyond his fixing scope, unfortunately. He was, however, at my side every step of the way, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I Googled and You Tubed my way through the internet, reading and watching more information than I’d ever known existed on the topic. Opinions and prices varied wildly on issues such as root killers, pipes and camera videos. My mind raced. I couldn’t sleep. What if I had to replace it? I knew it could be thousands of dollars and take days to repair.
Captain’s Log, Day 1
I had to leave work to meet the plumbers the home warranty company sent. They snapped on their black nitrile gloves and went to work, their big metal snake shimmying and rattling to some unknown tune. Again, the smell was so repulsive I fled. Thirty minutes later, I was told I had tree roots growing in the line, and guess what? The home warranty doesn’t cover it. Big surprise. I was told the line was open, to get it camera scoped, and that the roots would come back, a common occurrence in the spring time. I paid the fee and they departed, leaving me to clean up a mess I’m not sure I can properly describe in mixed company. That was the low point. The substances I cleaned from the floor and the walls, along with the creatures–yes, you read that right–made my skin crawl.
Worms. Did I mention some of them were alive?
And the smell. An unholy, godforsaken, dehumanizing smell emanating literally, from the bowels of my home, seemed to permeate my nose, my mouth, my very skin. If I’d showered for three days, I don’t think I’d have felt clean. Suffice to say, it was Andy Dufresne escaping from Shawshank prison through the tunnel all over again.
Still can’t sleep.
Captain’s Log, Day 2
Since I was price shopping, I called a local company. The woman on the phone told me proudly that they didn’t charge by the hour, but by the job. That sounded promising. I needed a camera scope, I said. They did that? Great. See you tonight.
I came home from work, and evidence that the line still wasn’t clear greeted me from the basement floor.
Plumber No. 2 snaked the line yet again, scoped it with a camera, and announced the alleged ‘good’ news. Since the line was in pretty good condition, I would able to put in a liner – to the tune of $9,500. Did I say the low point was cleaning up the floor? I burst into tears.
Still can’t sleep.
Captain’s Log, Day 3
The drain is open. I’m taking short showers, and checking the drains constantly, creeping up on them, afraid of what I’m going to find. All is well. For now.
Enter plumber No. 3, an old hand who both my boyfriend and I had used at different points in our lives. I’d wanted to go to him in the first place, but the home warranty dictates that their contractors must be used. My boyfriend had spoken with him over the course of this ordeal, and filled him in about what was going on. Did I mention I hadn’t slept well in three days?
I called him. He chided me, telling me I should’ve called him in the first place. Plumbers apparently have egos. Who knew? Bewildered, sleep deprived, and sick with dread about what fixing this might cost, I tried to explain the events of the last few days and found myself groping for words. Phrases like, ‘raw sewage’, ‘home warranty’, and ‘digging it up’ punctuated the conversation. We agreed on a time for him to come that evening.
It occurred to me was living in some sort of alternate reality; office admin by day, plumber whore by night.
Plumber No. 3 came. He observed with an experienced eye, asking few questions, except for me to run water, flush the toilet, and the like. He eyeballed the drains, which mercifully, were clear at this point. And pronounced, in not so many words, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
I hugged him and praised all higher powers. Truly. He gave me a few suggestions about maintenance, and we emerged from the basement, friends and comrades, our bond forged indelibly as we each of us soldiered on in the war against TAG that every home owner wages.
I’ll bear the scars from this battle proudly. I earned them. And because, at the end of the day—wait for it; you knew it was coming—shit happens.
So, what have I learned, and why am I blogging about this? Common sense, in the form of an older, experienced plumber, will win the day. I still love being a homeowner. And about TAG? My father passed about ten years ago, and in the moment of crisis, his words came back to me. He used to make us all laugh so hard, and I almost felt like he was there with me, commiserating. So, thanks Dad!
Also, this blog is for anyone who’s ever felt overwhelmed, uninformed and intimidated by repair men, not to mention short on cash for serious home repairs. You are not alone. Also, this is for anyone who wonders what writers do in their spare time. <grin> Collect experiences!
And, I am a storyteller at heart. I sincerely hope I’ve been able to entertain you with my folly. And who knows? As upsetting as the whole experience was, it’s replete with emotion and strife, perfect for me, as a writer, to tap into when I want a character to suffer, say, by finding themselves in a deep, dank hole in the Earth, clawing through dirt, and coming up with . . . worms.
“May your lines be clear, your position always upwind, and TAG never darken your door.”
–A Brand New Proverb