Just as men of a certain age need a certain amount of focused attention, a house of a certain age should probably receive the same. I come by this opinion in one of the least pleasant possible ways: Coming home from dinner last Friday night, I went to check on the progress our dryer was making in the basement only to find the laundry sink next to our washing machine was half full of brown water. And it was rising.
I tried to kid myself into believing that what I was about to stick my arms into was a sink full of muddy water, possibly contaminated by lint or phosphates from the detergent that our washing machine had drained most ineffectively back into the closest receptacle rather than down the drain and out into the sewer. And illusions along this particular line were quickly extinguished once I caught a whiff of what was seeping back into our home. Yesterday's Gardenias. That was the name my father had for the gunk into which I was about to plunge.
I remembered the times that my father battled with the sewage that somewhat regularly found its way back into the basement of the house in which I grew up. That was the drain of the shower in our downstairs bathroom. For years we were told that the roots from the hedges in our front yard were to blame for this periodic backwards flushing of stink. We called for a plumber to come out and run a snake through our drain to get this misdirection corrected, but it rarely came before we had at least a quarter inch of less-than-fresh water across the floor of the basement. The whole family sprang into action, bringing towels and mops in and attempt to stem the tide.
It was this image that kept me working on my own sink, years later, but the water level kept rising. It would soon spill over the side of the sink. I grabbed a bucket and bailed, carrying the water out the door and dumped it into the driveway. I alerted the rest of my family and ordered the shutdown of all plumbing-related activities. I worked furiously on pushing the bad water out with my plunger.
Ultimately, it only succeeded in bringing more goop back up. My wife took the next logical step: call a plumber. We waited. The waters didn't recede, but they didn't advance. Finally, we got a call back from a plumber who promised to be out the first thing in the morning.
I didn't sleep well that night. I was nervous about all the possible outcomes, and aside from that, the only thing I could smell, even though I had used the hose outside and lathered up solidly to clean my arms, was Yesterday's Gardenias.
When morning finally came, Ygnacio showed up just like he said he would. He made rather short and effective work of our clog with his roto-rooter. He suggested that we run a camera down the pipe to see if there were any problems, and offered to have an associate of his come out later in the afternoon to take a look. Victor showed up a couple of hours later, opened the drain, and this time instead of a spinning blade, he pushed a camera down into the darkness below our house. I watched as the snake progressed foot after foot, yard after yard on its trip toward the main sewer. I felt a twinge of empathy as I imagined our one hundred and thirty-eight year old house wincing at the indelicacy of it all.
Finally, just a dozen yards from the middle of the street, we saw a clump of roots. "There's your problem," Victor said, "He just punched a hole through that. He should have used the big blades."
I felt a twinge of my own now. This one was connected to my checkbook reflex. The good news was that Ygnacio and Victor had worked it out so that I wasn't going to have to pay for the extra cleaning. "He shoulda used the big blades in the first place," Victor confided to me.
And so yet another steel cable was launched into the bowels of my home. This time with the big blades. Now it was mid-afternoon. I had spent the past twenty hours trying to make sure that the only thing I had to deal with was Today's Gardenias, and only briefly at that. Once the trucks were loaded back up with all the tools that were necessary to keep drains clean, and everyone was paid, I took the time to call my mother to share my experience.
She told me that, years after I had moved out, it was determined that all those plumbing crisises were not the fault of the roots of the hedge. There was an odd turn out under the street that periodically became blocked. It wasn't our fault, or that of our vegetation. If only Victor had been there with his camera way back then. Then again, if we were all as careful with our plumbing, you might not have to be reading about this now.