When renting doesn’t seem like such a bad idea

In winter there is a ferocious monster who roams the streets of Salt Lake City terrorizing neighborhoods. It’s called the Abominable Snow Plow, and with one quick pass of your house it can dump ten feet of dirty snow from the street into the driveway you just spent two hours clearing. The first winter we spent in our house was the worst winter I’ve ever lived through, and on more occasions than I can count Jon would spend hours shoveling snow off our sidewalks and driveway only to have the Abominable Snow Plow speed by and destroy every inch of his work. It became so ridiculous that Jon would stand in the street in the path of the snow plow, snow shovel raised above his head like a medieval sword, and scream an unintelligible sequence of damns and hells and sonofabitches. It was like a suburban recreation of Tiananmen square.

Every winter now Jon can hear the snow plow coming from miles away, and he often stands in the window waving his fist at the universe as the plow turns the corner onto our street. Until I owned a house and saw the work that goes into its daily maintenance, the work required to keep the driveway free of snow just so that we can use the car, I never knew a snow plow could be such a public nuisance, and now when I see one turn into a neighborhood I feel an unreal twinge of misery in honor of every person who is going to have to dig out from underneath its wrath. I also feel quite happy that it won’t be me.

In a sad and possibly financially devastating turn of events this week a new wheeled villain has been menacing our neighborhood. Today will be the third day in a row that two separate plumbing trucks have been parked in front of our house, and right now it feels like we’ll never be able to dig ourselves out of this mess. The neighbors have gathered outside like people do in the South during a tornado warning to whisper about the possible devastation and to try and determine what this means for everyone else. One of them was so worried about whether or not it was going to turn into a bigger problem that to comfort herself she made up a story in her head that Jon and I were going to a costume party as plumbers and these trucks were an elaborate part of our disguise.

Tuesday afternoon while Jon and I were working in the basement we heard a strange gurgling noise coming from the downstairs toilet. I noticed it first and stood by as Jon tried to plunge the toilet only to see water shooting up through the sink every time he pushed down on the plunger. Jon immediately called the plumbing company who helped us with our kitchen remodel, and within thirty minutes they had a truck at our house. The plumber said it should only take him an hour to cut through the blockage in our line, that it was probably a tangle of roots that had penetrated the pipe. Happens a lot in these old neighborhoods, he said, and we most likely had nothing to worry about.

Three hours later he had to call another plumbing company because he hadn’t seen a line as bad as ours in a few years, and he needed a bigger set of equipment. Not to worry, though, because once that other equipment was here he could blast through the blockage and get us back up and running. Three hours after that both plumbers sat in our living room giving us the bad news. Things didn’t look good, they said. They would have to come back the next day and dig a hole in our driveway to get at the problem. And even then they might not be able to save it. We should prepare ourselves for the worst: replacing the whole sewer line.

Yesterday two plumbers from Roto-Rooter were here for 12 hours trying to save our sewer line. They dug a ten foot trench in the middle of our driveway and spent half of their day drudging up the most insane things out of the pipe — tree roots, and paper towels, and what looked like a beach towel. At 9:30 PM last night one of them finally gave us more bad news. They would have to come back again today and dig another hole, this time at the start of our driveway so that they could fix the connection between our line and the city’s line because they have never seen anything like this. Before you even think it, no, I do not flush beach towels down our toilets, although I could see the appeal of doing that if you were renting and really hated your landlord.

As if these plumbing troubles weren’t enough, this week we also had to pay taxes. And replace the brakes on our car. And schedule Jon for a root canal. On the first night of this plumbing disaster my neighbor called to ask about the Abominable Plumbing Trucks that had been parked in front of our house all day, and I joked that quite possibly this and everything else that has happened to us this week was the Lord’s way of calling us to repentance. He does this sort of thing, don’t you know? Those hurricanes happened because of those floating casinos, and San Francisco sits near a fault line BECAUSE OF THE GAYS! She laughed and said, “If you do find religion in all of this, you should totally come with us to the Orthodox church. We have much better food than the Mormons.”

Taxes, a toothache, car trouble and THE SEWER. Can’t think of a better way to spend a life’s savings. And yet, I know we’re going to get through this with our fists waving furiously at the sky.

  • SurprisingWoman

    Hey Jes, The Mormon food of choice would be jello salad. Green is the prefered flavor and I have heard rumors of carrots in it, but I have never seen it myself.

    Plumbing problems are the worst. Check with your homeowners insurance, but it is likely there is no help there for you. Sewage backup is a separate endorsement that probably wouldn’t cover even if you had purchased it (which if you haven’t I would suggest it.)

    Good luck on your week from hell. I think we just get these weeks to make us appreciate the other 51 in the year.


  • heathero

    You so know this post is worthless without pics and audio!!

    I can only imagine how much it sucks. I do however LOL at many of the comments. And tho its not funny people are laughing with you not at you, Dooce.

  • http://biodtl.diaryland.com biodtl

    We had a similar problem not long after moving into our house. I got really freaked out wheh the guys said they pulled a large number of white mice out of the line (I mean, what the hell were the previous owners doing? Keeping a snake in the sewer line?) until I found out that’s plumberspeak for tampons. To make matters worse, this happened the same morning of a large picnic/party, so we had to rent port-a-potties for our guests. Classy!

  • http://www.greggdigressions.blogspot.com Melessa

    Nah! It’s not God. Sometimes sh*t just happens. Sometimes, quite literally.

  • http://www.piecesofkake.blogspot.com karen

    *sigh* for once I’m happy I rent!

  • http://uppoppedafox.blogspot.com Vikki

    A couple years back, we got a great tax refund and were thinking of all the cool things we could do with it. Within days of this contemplation, we found a tiny puddle on the basement floor by the drain. Roto-Rooter…augering…tree roots…collapsed main line. We used our nice refund to replace the entire main line to the sewer and re-landscape the front yard to cover the giant hole and mess left behind. But, we’re lesbians so that’s probably why it happened.

  • Amanda

    Sweet baby Jesus, I am NOT looking forward to owning a house. Unfortunately, that’ll be next Thursday. Yippie!

  • rch7279

    yuck. That’s exactly why we don’t own a home yet. We just aren’t ready for that responsibility, although I do yearn for being able to remodel and change my surroundings.

    I really like your new “I’, Heather B. Armstrong. This is my website” photo.

  • Anu

    Hopefully in a few years (maybe months) you’ll be able to look back and tell the story about when all hell broke loose one day in the Armstrong household. Lessons in patience take many forms I guess.

  • Shannon McKarney

    What I want to know is how they figure out that the blockage is under the driveway? It’s kind of like looking at someone’s tonsils and saying they have an intestinal blockage.

    What I also want to know is how many adclicks it’s gonna take to help the Blurbodoocery pay for this madness. Get clackin, people!

  • Erin

    Don’t you just love how all the big expensive (painful) things go wrong all at once?! It’s like when you run out of all your toiletries on the same day and have no deoderant, toothpaste, or tampons. It never fails. You’ll get through it though. Keep shaking those fists! ;)

  • Cori

    We had something similar happen to us last fall, only our gurgling noise and running water was bubbling out of the garden in our front yard.

    But renting can suck, too. One time my husband and I rented a house in the woods outside of town, and it had a septic tank that had, apparently, never been pumped. In February in northern Wisconsin it overflowed. Temps regularly below 0, 5′ of snow on the ground.

    We had to shovel off the snow over the tank ourselves, and then start a campfire and tend it for the better part of a week to thaw the ground, and then dig the hole ourselves. And the septic pumping people thought they were so swell for coming out at that point and pumping us.

    Shortly after that, we bought our first home.

  • Jenn

    Ugh, I just remembered that when we lived in our first apartment, our parking area was at the end of a dead end alley, so when the borough decided to plow it (which was maybe 1 in 5 times that it snowed) they left a giant pile of icy, slushy crap right in the middle of the parking spaces.

    Every time I hear a story like this, I get the urge to go down to the basement and start glaring at our pipes, in case they were thinking of clogging.

  • Tideypoo

    Sorry to hear things are being so crap for you guys right now. Unexpected financial horrors are always so much fun, aren’t they? Hope it works out quick and as painless in the wallet department as possible.

    Since this is my first comment here I’ll add here that I really enjoy your blog, Heather. Its the only one I read, and though I don’t have kids I really love seeing parenting through your eyes. Seems more realistic than what you hear from most people :)

  • http://www.issasworld.typepad.com Melissa

    SO freaking funny. Sorry, but it is. We had to do it to our house too. And we ended up replacing the entire line. Alhtough they could have saved us like $1,400 by just telling us that first. But no they had to try shit first. Cause it could have worked.

    Sounds like a crappy week. I wouldn’t go to a church for food though. Even good food. Sounds like a trap to me.

  • http://www.babblefishe.blogspot.com Hannah B.

    Sorry about the double posting. My computer froze, and I didn’t realize the comment went through the first time. Aack, so embarrassed…

  • apuraja

    maybe this is god’s way of punishing you heathens for running home internet businesses!! hahahah.. i guess god is a old school economy fan.. just kidding.

  • greenday

    too little too late, but my uncle the plumber swears this works. go to your local farm supply place, like a rural king, and buy copper sulfate. put that in your toilet tank regularly, like when you are gone for a few days visiting the avon world sales leader and such. it will kill all the tree roots in the line. i don’t know if it works in beach towels. he says you can also toss a piece copper pipe in the tank and let it sit.

  • gdawg

    Heather – check with your homeowners insurance. We had our water line break between the house and the street. The insurance company covered what needed to be done to diagnosis the problem, but wouldn’t cover the actual fixing of it. It’s worth a shot – saved us a few hundred dollars.

  • http://dollface.net/ Doll

    You should start a PayPal Help Fix Our Sewer donnation. At $10 a person from a few thousand readers, you’re looking at a good chunk of change.

  • http://www.justsayjes.com/blog jes

    orthodox food IS better than mormon food. but, do mormon’s have a certain food? i mean, when mormon’s get together, is there A Food that must be present? like a beancurd casserole or little vienna sausages?

  • http://www.babblefishe.blogspot.com Hannah B.

    Good luck with the sewer repairs. We had sewer problems right after we moved into our house–the first we’d ever owned. We’ve had our yard dug up twice (because we didn’t replace all the pipe the first time around) so I feel your pain. We live on a street with 80-year-old trees (unusual for Des Moines) and plumbing trucks are a frequent sight. A less frequent, but still not uncommon, sight is a backhoe parked next to a huge mound of dirt. I feel a twinge every time I see either kind of vehicle. I hope your repairs will go as smoothly as these things can possibly go.

  • http://www.babblefishe.blogspot.com Hannah B.

    Good luck with the sewer repairs. We had sewer problems right after we moved into our house–the first we’d ever owned. We’ve had our yard dug up twice (because we didn’t replace all the pipe the first time around) so I feel your pain. We live on a street with 80-year-old trees (unusual for Des Moines) and plumbing trucks are a frequent sight. A less frequent, but still not uncommon, sight is a backhoe parked next to a huge mound of dirt. I feel a twinge every time I see either kind of vehicle. I hope your repairs will go as smoothly as these things can possibly go.

  • http://www.jbjones.blogspot.com Mrs Ca

    Eek. Rough week. You’re bound to have something good happen next, because you totally deserve it after a week like that. I’m sure all of us can relate to having a bad week like that at one time or another. Doesn’t make it any better though, does it?

  • http://www.xanga.com/novelle361 novelle

    Ironically, I just purchased a house yesterday. And here I was getting all excited to be able to stomp on the floor and not worry about downstairs neighbors or even poop on the floor if I felt like it. Because I can.

    Now I know not to joke about such things. Because if the sewer backs up, I will be stuck pooping on the floor.

    And then I won’t even be able to yell at my dog for his occasional indescretions.

    Because I’ll be squatting next to him.

  • toddlermama

    In our family, that’s called “The Immigrant Fist Shake,” in honor of my Polish mother-in-law. One Thanksgiving when she cut into a cake to find it filled with pudding and not buttercream like she had ordered, she marched down her street in Brooklyn with the offending cake in one hand and the other fist shaking the whole way to the bakery at the end of the street. They replaced the cake on Thanksgiving Eve. May your sewer line replacement be as entertaining and go as swimmingly. ;)

  • http://david-jaime-jason.blogspot.com the other white jason

    Alethos Anesti (sp?)! Wow, I am not only thrilled that Heather has an Orthodox friend, but that so many Orthodox read this site. We could form a special club–NO our own jurisdiction! Yeah the OWFLME (say “OW-flem-ee”)–Orthodox Who Find Lapsed Mormons Entertaining. The Metropolitan would be in SLC, of course and our calendar would begin June 27, 2001.

  • http://www.sissy-fuss.blogspot.com cheri

    this comment isn’t about your recent post…it’s about the daily photo today of jon and chuck. you guys are SO AWESOME! too bad more people didn’t love pets like you guys.

  • Gretchie

    Must. Click. Many. Ads. Good lord woman, it’s the like the Seven Plagues of Blurbodoocery over there. Someone mentioned how Chuck’s internal monologue must be completely wierd right now. We have one sentence of internal dialogue that we apply to our dog whenever These Things Happen, when he just sits there in the middle of the floor taking it all in: “They’re always doing things.”

  • Card Chick

    While not on the same scale $wise, this is akin to me just making the last payment on my car and getting a call from the mechanic this am that there’s a coolant leak in the manifold gasket thingy that will cost $530 to fix! So much for paid off.

    But, no, I don’t feel got calling me to repent. I feel happy hour calling me tonight instead.

    Hang in there!

  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/beachgalshideaway Beachgal

    Wow….that all does suck. But at least you have the savings to take care of it. A situation like that would completely destroy me financially. I have no savings. Good luck getting your pipes and all fixed.

  • http://thefathousewife.blogspot.com/ Strizz

    SO….where are you pooping? Just kidding. The lucky thing for you is that you HAVE a life savings.

  • http://lifeisgoodatthebeach.blogspot.com/ BeachMama

    I couldn’t even imagine having to replace sewerpipes! Not to mention the driveway being dug up and whatever mess the plumbers leave behind. You seem to be taking it in stride.

    If the Lord does want to get your attention you would think He would opt for a less expensive and stressful message, ask him to cut you some slack before the plumbers show up today.

  • http://murasaki.englishfactory.ca Murasaki

    Up until I read this entry, I considered my parents tree killers for removing The Large, Shady Poplar With The Elaborate Root System from our front yard.

    I am now convinced that old trees are inherently evil, and will not hesitate to strangle and choke sewer systems, especially if you’re the one footing the bill.

  • http://www.helllonwheeels.com MsShad

    oh. Somebody already said that.

    I’ll commit to clicking on each ad in the morning and then again at nite-time.

  • KarinaLJ

    So our post office in upstate NY notified us that we had to have a mailbox on the street so the mailman could just pull up and reach his hand out his window instead of walking up to our front door. We obeyed. Then the abominable village snow plows took out the mailbox three winters in a row. We finally gave up replacing them and now our mailman walks all the way up the driveway and delivers our mail in the box on our front door.

  • http://www.hiddenexposures.com hiddenexposures

    (not to start a second thread – this will be it for my comments back – apologies to everyone!)

    suz-at-large: i’m not a timid housewife either…and actually have a job that often involves working with police, fire, and takes me all over the city and all over the bad, not-so-bad, and sort of good areas. i tend to be far more aware of my surroundings than your average person because i have to in order to assure my personal safety. let’s just say that my opinion of the area by coors field is waaaaaay better than living somewhere much worse off…so the idea of “this is bad” is a little skewed.

    i learned from many years living in san francisco that crime happens everywhere, and while some areas are more prone to it than others, there is really nothing that you can do once it’s visited your front door.

    ok, i’m done hijacking this thread. my point was still that the armstrongs could face much worse things elsewhere…one of those chipper (and not very effective – i.e. makes you want to punch the person who says it): “always look on the bright side of life” (insert monty python tune here).

  • Shana Banana

    Fibercon by the way…. And hey… you can always find Jesus through a non-denominational Christian Institution… Here in so Cal.. we have the Calvery Chapel… Yanno the place all the sinners go.. to eat, study, and eat some more. The Non-Christians like to call it.. ” Calorie Chapel ” heh. You can know Jesus without having to have a “type” of belief. ” The Big Guy” loves us even even with a vodka hang over and legs we haven’t shaved in a month. and you dont have to go to weird classes and all kinds of off-handed stuff to be a part of the “clan” But Hey! one thing about bein Mormon… You can have one wife.. and three girlfriends and it’s ok… I just couldn’t live without Mountain Dew… THAT WOULD BE A SIN! hahaha Good Luck Heather… and Tell Jon if he opts for no Novicaine its a cheaper procedure… Gotta cut corners where you can to save money yanno… :: kisses! ::

  • http://www.helllonwheeels.com MsShad

    Mormons have green jello as “their food” In all sorts of jello creations.

  • Shana Banana

    Im tellin ya Heather… it’s all that constipation going around in the house. The sewer just couldn’t take the weight of all that poop. It happened to my Mother-in-law who has never been to the bathroom to shit for less then an hour in the 11 years I have been with her son. They had to re-pipe her sewer, and so she had to borrow the neighbors shitter for three days.. and a week later.. the neighbor had to re-pipe his too… she was the destroyer of neighborhoods everywhere… I wonder if you drop a box of Fobercon down the drain… if that would take care of it for alot less money then the Roto-Rooter.. They are charging you by the hour to stand around and “try and figure out your problem ” aren’t they? Jerks… Grrrr.

  • http://kassig.squarespace.com/ Kassi Gilbert

    That’s horrid, but be glad that they didn’t find a dead body. Though, yes it would have been much more blogworthy than a beach towel…finding a dead body would have been 100% more traumatizing.

    No, I have never experienced this personally…but I can imagine.

    Hi Heather.

  • ZUZU

    Just to attest to Orthodox food: Tonight we were at our Holy Thursday service, when my son came over to ask an impt question.
    “Mom, is there coffee hour afterwards?”
    “Is there a won-shun?” (luncheon)
    “No, sorry.”
    “A service with no food?!?!”
    “I’m so sorry, no.”
    He then put his head in my lap and sobbed. At this point, I promised to take him to take him to the church kitchen and rummage for food if he could make it for an hour. He and his stomach were appeased….

    Anyway, hang in there, and just remember, you still have the “best girl!”

  • gabip

    We’ve all been down this road, it will get better. My father always say’s, “It’s just a bump in the road, two months from now you’ll look back and wonder why you got so upset”. Look at it this way, perhaps this is an opportunity to put in a nice brick trim driveway, or cobble stones, maybe this saved you from having your entire home flooded. You have your husband, your daughter, Chuck, a loving family, your health and great friends,we should all be so fortunate.

  • Heather

    One of the benefits of living in crappy, sub-standard, military housing. The government pays for everything that goes wrong. Those $500 toilet seats? They’re at my house!! So sorry to hear about the problems. If I could send some, I would send some of the really good alcohol they have here. We will be praying to the housing gods for you.

  • oO_Bubblez_Oo

    Oh, you poor things! I feel your pain…

    On a slightly related topic… we don’t have a plumbing problem, but we discovered about a year ago that our seven-year-old brick house had termites. Termites that aren’t covered by insurance or warranty because the warranty isn’t trasferrable, and weren’t detected when we had our inspections when we bought it five years ago. When we pulled off the skirting boards that needed replacing this week (after paying $7000 for termite killing 3 months ago) we discovered that not only have they eaten the skirting boards, they have also eaten the framework for the windows and sliding doors in five rooms, including the family room which is entirely glass windows and doors… We had to stop pulling off bits of wood because the actual windows and doors were shaking in the frames. So now we have no curtains on any of the windows, no skirting boards, and it’s gonna take another three weeks or so to get someone to fix the frame… So even though it’s a completely different matter, we were told that the termites had gotten into the house through the sewerage lines that run beside a termite nest in the park next door, and they went into the house through the cracks in the foundation… We were quoted $7000 to turn our garage into a room with two sliding doors, so I shudder to think how much it’s going to cost to rebuild frames around eleven windows and doors… plus all our skirting boards…

    I don’t think i could stomach the brown sludge that you guys are dealing with though…

  • Heidi Dillon

    Same thing happened to us in our Sugarhouse house. Every time we’d flush the toilet, water would flood the basement. Finally we ended up having to replace our sewer line from our house to where it connects to the city’s line. We got a contract from our APT beforehand though . . . he had to keep the price under $6000. Heh heh heh. Sucker had to replace part of the street out of his own pocket.

  • anneelizmary

    Signing in just to deliver condolences commiseration. Your plumbing/sewer woes sound horrific and very anxiety-producing. The “pain” will stop on the tooth at least, and the root canal will be a good, long-term prep for the crown–at least that’s a true “investment.” Houses aren’t an investment, I’ve decided; they’re a hobby. Cars are even less an investment–they’re just constant expenses–a note or repairs. Taxes–we in our household similarly roto-rooted through our savings account to pay for 2005 . . . . Best wishes from your Tennessee sister expatriated in Alabama…. Anne

  • roorabbit

    I’m really enjoying the way that this comment thread is weaving together food, poop, and religion. Sorta brings to mind “Witness,” that old Harrison Ford movie about a detective who hides out with the Amish, helps them with their barn-raising, shares their picnic, then gets to see his mortal enemy step in cowshit right before meeting his maker. That gives me an idea: why not adapt the whole community-barn-raising thing to this situation, but instead of growing beards and getting out our straw hats and hammers, we can just all send a few dollars along to the virtual-community-sewer-fixing-party-and-imaginary-religious-food-smorgasbord? If everyone who commented here sent $10, dooce would have over $1500 to throw at the teeth, the driveway, or the bourbon fund, and we’d all get to be neighbors–for a few minutes, anyway–in a concrete and measurable form. Whaddya say? I’ll do it if you will, and I’m unemployed and currently living in a barn myself.

  • electricboogaloo


    BeStill: Look, there’s no easy way to say this. I’ve read enough Steinbeck to know that if you have a run of bad luck, and then your dog dies, your life is about to suck on a level you never imagined. If you’re on your way towards California for whatever reason, for the love of God, just stop, stop wherever you are. Do you hear me? DO NOT KEEP trying to get there in the face of adversity. It’s too much adversity. Stay where you are and maybe take some of JoJo’s happy pills until the adversity passes.

    Heather: I feel strongly that snowplows and all of the wrath that they wreak upon innocent homeowners are just God’s way of telling you that the place you live is way too fucking cold, and you should move. *Shoveling snow.* Can you even hear how insane that sounds? To have to devote precious time and energy to moving snow out of your way?? It was 98 degrees here in Texas on Tuesday. NINETY EIGHT. We don’t have a single snowplow in our major metropolitan area. Not one. Because we don’t need them. It snows maybe once a year, and on that day everything closes and we all stay home the way God intended and watch television and have sex and order pizza.

    I don’t know what he’s trying to tell you with the plumbing thing though.

  • http://www.amanda.veryzen.com Amanda B.

    I feel your pain. After stepping on a rusty nail yesterday, I spent 3 hours mapping out a plan for relieving my contractor of his left testicle.