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.

  • mayberry_blonde

    Dude, now is SO the time to be constipated…

  • http://www.macwebguru.com doog

    I’ve decided to make a donation a bit earlier than I planned. I encourage everyone else to do the same. Little bits add up. Tell your friends – if everyone that reads Dooce every day gave something, it would make a huge difference. Think of it as REAL ‘family support’ in action!

    Good luck guys. I own my house and we dodged this exact same bullet recently. You have my sincerest sympathies.

  • http://www.grace.blindally.com witchy

    It’s always about the poops, isn’t it?
    Faithful reader, seldom commenter.

  • http://sbfh.blogspot.com PK

    Eeesh, first Melissa and now you? Is this spreading? If one more person comes up with plumbing problems, I’m going to have to quit blogging.

  • Kelly S.

    When all manner of stuff goes to hell like this, I like to call it a shitstorm or a crap-a-lanch.

  • seppukuqueen

    I had the same issue with the sink/toilet thing, but mine was due to a poorly installed bathroom in a basement suite so my slum lord could rent out three floors instead of two. Man that thing was a hole. The floor looked like it had been installed by a crosseyed monkey stoned and suffering brain damage, the fixtures were sealed with duct tape, the toilet was crooked, the cupboard under the sink was backless and filled with spiders…and that was only the bathroom. The landlady was a crazy asian lady who had apparently read every stereotype in the book and decided emulation was a great idea. I never heard her poor husband speak, and he had to come out and fix the plumbing on many an occasion, due to a blockage that was never properly fixed (due to “womanly” products) the first time. The landlady kept telling me not to flush said womanly products every time we spoke, despite the fact I was very obviously pregnant and kept insisting that it wasn’t my fault.

    Sorry, I’ll stop before I get started. Crazy slum lord.

  • momma 2 angels

    Yup. That sux all right. Hope you are feeling supported by all these woes! My recent woe involved a teeny tiny repair on some wood flooring. The fella broke a window. 4 windows bordering living room, like 3×5 each and when it broke Heather it smashed like that glass scene in Ghost when it chopped that bad guy’s (scared about the apostrophe there) head off. Huge chunks. I was freaking mortified. I always thought “double paned” meant safety glass. Erf, no. Hideous, guilty thoughts, a homeowner lesson learned for 1600 bucks (of course we needed new frames to make em’ purdy so that added to the expense) it truly never ends. So anyways I was thinking maybe the tooth can just be pulled? Save the discomfort, money and of course time away from work & fam;)

  • http://schmutzie.blogspot.com schmutzie

    This sort of disastrous avalanching of the financial woe seems to be contagious. And I thought it was just me. Chin up! There are only so many things that can break that they can make you pay for.

  • suz-at-large

    I hate to bust ya bubble, HiddenExposures, but I wouldn’t consider anything in that part of town “nice and safe.”

    I’m not some timid little suburban housewife, I’ve lived on my own mostly in older areas of Denver for many years, and I think those new apartments and lofts in that area where you are, are way cool.

    I’m so sorry for what happened in those apts. today, and hope you stay personally safe. Just please, please, continue to be aware and careful out there.

  • http://temporarydisarray.blogspot.com SaraChickey

    A beach towel? Whoa. When I was younger, my siblings and I thought it was awesome to drop rocks down the septic pipe and listen for the splash. When the whole fucking septic tank backed up (and our lawn became a giant cesspool), it wasn’t so awesome. Stupid kids, we were.

  • http://www.theniffer.blogspot.com the niffer

    Good lord, Armstrongs. I’m feeling your pain. Hopefully you’re just getting all of the bad stuff out of the way in one week instead of spreading it over a year. Or five.

  • happy

    Everyone’s different. But, I had to have two root canals last year. Was dreading it and begged the dentist to just pull them. Maybe the dentist was exceptionally good. But I had no pain during the procedure and virtually no pain later. I even fell asleep during the second one. But that might be because I’m chronically sleep deprived.

  • Kathleen

    I hope they find out what the trouble is soon. I know it can be such a pain when plumbing stuff goes haywire.

    When we were selling our house – February in New Hampshire – the downstairs bathtub suddenly started filling with brown water… whenever th upstairs toilet was flushed. It turned out that when the house was inspected – by folks who didn’t even buy it – they didn’t replace the cover to the septic tank correctly. Our septic system froze. We had to get people to come in with hoses to blow hot water into the pipes and melt the… well, the crap that had frozen. It took three visits from plumbers in a house with no heat.

    Plus, while I was trying to figure out what was wrong, I had to crawl under one of the porches while 7 months pregnant to visit the crawl space where the furnace was… the door was frozen shut… and then I realized that I couldn’t turn on my tummy to crawl out, and spent an hour thinking I might have to stay there until the neighbors heard me call for help.

    Anyway – I’m sure you guys will pull through. It just one of those times. It will pass. Luck to your husband for the root canal. Ugh.

  • http://www.tuneouttv.blogs.com Tommy from Michigan

    I am clicking on the ads. Sorry you are going through this. It really does help those of us who read and have similar frustrations… so thanks for sharing your pain.

  • http://ohjoyohbliss.blogspot.com thejoyof

    You have such a gift for the english language. You have the amazing ability to turn a plumbing story into such an interesting read! You make me laugh. Thanks – I so needed that today! :)

  • http://www.hiddenexposures.com hiddenexposures

    no, you don’t want to be a renter again!

    this is the apartment complex where i live…supposed to be nice and safe:


    i only wish i had a quiet house on a quiet street…that i owned!

    (and yes, i do realize i could be living in some tower block in the bronx with only velveeta and stale white bread in the fridge…but i digress…)

  • http://www.hippestkid.com/ Be Still

    The universe has a way of heaping it on sometimes, doesn’t it? That really sucks. I hope things lighten up soon.

    In the meantime, try to take comfort in the fact that they could be worse, as I can testify from the winter of our discontent in Dec. 2002. Where do I even begin?

    1) I had a miscarriage.
    2) A pipe in our basement ceiling froze and burst, ruining our finished basement.
    3) The draft that caused the freeze was coming over our foundation through a hole dug under our porch by a family of opossums who were now living in our basement ceiling
    4) which we didn’t learn until after repairing the damage.
    5) One of the opossums was sealed in after the hole was filled and we had to tear out our new ceiling to get rid of the hideous smell after it died.
    6) While this chaos ensued, my dog died in a freak accident by falling out of the bed and breaking her neck.
    7) Then I totaled my car.

    Boy was I happy to see 2003 with my sanity and marriage intact.

  • Steph

    My best friend’s mom is a tiny, fragile-looking woman. A few months ago, she needed a root canal of her own. Now this lady was very distraught because she hated the feeling of having half her face numb from novicaine. Her solution? GET THE ROOT CANAL WITHOUT ANY SORT OF NOVICAINE. Bet John isn’t that tough.

  • Bird Lover

    Girl, hang in there. It’s always the way, isn’t it? When it rains it pours, blah, blah, blah. But it is so true. I don’t really have anything else useful to say except hang in there.

  • ChristyD

    I love the last paragraph the most.

  • freecave

    I say it’s Karma. Not to be spiteful, but in my experience, when the shit hits the fan, I can co-relate how bad the spray is to something I have done of an equivalent nature. The last time something bad happened to me I gave 20$ to a homeless guy I knew. It worked. I’ve been good for the last little while. Or another perspective, life evens out. If you up or down for too long (out of balance) then you’ll end up the opposite until it evens out. I wish you love and patience.

  • http://CartwheelsAtMidnight.blogspot.com CartwheelsAtMidnight

    I am SO SO sorry. Your story makes me shudder with fear. Same thing happened to my elderly neighbors last year, though they had to dig up the entire length of their basement, thankfully not their less-than-6-months-old-concrete-back-yard.

    The next day we called and got the insurance on our sewer lines.

  • http://www.blackbeltmama.typepad.com blackbeltmama

    Usually those things only come in threes. Ours was: pipe breaking behind upstairs toilet flooding entire house, windshield breaking beyond what can be repaired without being replaced, and hot water heater going bad. We took a hit! Sounds like you will too.

    If it’s all God, know that you’re due for a nice long break when it’s all done.

    Does Leta have a fondness for flushing things down the toilet, like oh, say, a beach towel by any chance??? ;-)

  • JoJo

    We have had our share of home and car trauma as well. I once had my husband installing some Pottery Barn coat racks at kid height so that I would no longer have to hang up coats. Like getting rid of this task was going to free up so much of my time – little did I know. He was drilling some holes in the wall to hang them and he drilled through the one place in the house that has a one inch pipe for the sprinkler system. All of a sudden the water comes rushing out (80 lbs of pressue)ripping the drywall off and flooding my house through the walls and into the basement that had just been remodeled with new carpeting etc. The next week – the basement floods on the other side of it that wasn’t affected by the first flood. Lucky for me my mother in law was visiting and she has lots of happy pills which she was feeding me every 3 hours.
    More recently we had some big car troubles. My car jumped out of gear on my downward sloping driveway and went rolling into the house at 2 am and crashed into the garage. My husband thought one of the kids fell out of bed – I didn’t wake up since I have still been taking the happy pills my mother in law got me addicted to. Then the next week I wrapped my other car around a pole in the underground parking at work.

  • http://cauri.wordpress.com Cauri

    Heather! I’m having the same kind of week! It’s insane! It all started when my car needed new brakelights…and later that day ended up breaking down! And then when I came home, seeking comfort from my new stuffed easter duckie, I ripped his bowtie right off his little fuzzy body! Oh, such a sad, sad week =(

  • Gora_Kagaz

    aw, what a rough set of circumstances…i’m glad i don’t have to deal with that…good luck with that stuff!

  • http://www.rockthecasbah.org Skywalker

    Well, when stuff like that happens, I usually get drunk and pass out and hope it’ll be all better when I wake up. (really, it doesn’t work, but it’s totally legitimate if you just want to.. err.. get drunk and pass out!)

  • http://www.kirala.typepad.com marian

    You know, before the internet we never would have known that these things happen in waves like the flu or something. Is anyone keeping track? I had another root canal siting on the web today, too. And I don’t need to tell you about the sewer-problem blogging.

    At any rate, deep breath. It’ll get fixed somehow, and paid for somehow, and everything will get better again.

  • myheadexploded

    In our family, the conventional wisdom is that bad things come in threes. You listed four. Now I’m scared. Naked, drunken egg dying appears to be in order. for your family, and mine.

  • http://www.gazellesoncrack.com Amy

    Sending you all the best financial wishes, although not financial aid, ’cause I can’t afford to do that.

    I hope everything works out okay.

  • Lane Meyer

    With no wise words of wisdom on such an experience (and hoping to never, ever find out), I am just left to say how sorry I am for you, Jon, Leta, and the former congressman. I don’t even want to begin to imagine the kind of stress something like this would bring on.

    With 4 rotten things happening over the course of one week, you are certainly due for a GREAT streak of luck. Peace, love, and hard liquor.

  • http://www.lifeorsomethingjustlikeit.blogspot.com KaraMia

    Beware the church offered food, it’s how they always get you..first they lull your stomache into complacency..then your mind…ha, sounds like dating doesn’t it…lol

    Good luck on the Sewer lines, sucks when you have to replace big things like that, not like the city will let you get away with squatting in the front lawn….

  • guilty indulgence

    Your plumbing tragedy sounds awfully familiar. Except in our story, after the excavation, the toilet explodes.

    Turned out that the extremely friendly Roto Rooter plumber, working from the outside air trap, took a wrong turn into the bottom of our toilet instead of directing his motorized thingamajig into the blocked line. After swearing that this was the hardest clog he’d ever encountered, he asked me to flush the toilet to see whether he’d loosened the blockage. To my joy, the toilet immediately shattered from the water pressure, spraying everything and swamping the bathroom.

    It was 2 am. And we were expecting a houseful of guests for my law school graduation.

    There was an upside: Roto Rooter installed a brand new toilet for free. You’ve never seen a more mortified plumber.

  • http://brewerburns.blogspot.com Jennifer

    I’m sorry to hear about your sewer line. We have a similar problem. A huge maple in our back yard. We have to have the sewer pipe roto-rootered once a year or it overflows. Last year it overflowed and flooded the basement. Let me tell you, there’s nothing like raw sewage in your basement to really bring the joys of home ownership into persepective.

  • http://wellbehavedwomen.blogspot.com LucyArin

    My baby sister had a week like that a while ago…a DUI, a root canal, a breakup with her boyfriend…

    I’m really glad that you can still elicit a chuckle or 10 from the whole mess. And didja see comment #45, about the house being constipated? Nearly fell outta my chair. Priceless, wish I had thought of it.

    Here’s hoping next week will be better…


  • http://kissmycrisis.blogspot.com/ Kim E

    We just bought our first house and you’re scaring me.

  • erin

    You should have a little mail. I hope this resolves for you soon. Take care.

  • http://papernapkin.typepad.com Sheryl

    I never ever click ads, but I’m clickin’ now!

  • E

    This brings back squirmy memories of when I was living under my desk for nine months in my office in my new town and my tenant from my house in my hometown rang – you know its bad when someone asks if you’re sitting down. She told me the wall had fallen off. I asked what she meant and she said “E – the wall has literally fallen off”.
    In New Zealand we have a nasty wood eating critter called a Bora Bug (I used to joke that the only thing keeping my house up was them all holding hands) and the bora had eaten all of the support structures holding up the outside wall. When my father went around (bless his goureous mental-health-saving soul) there was only big piles of sawdust on the ground.

    In these times of everything all at once I say “Bring it On!!” and get it all out of the way now cos when I finally do get to sit down with my glassasomething, I don’t want to have to get up for a week!

    Please let us know if the Click-Dooces-Ads campaign has any effect and I’ll do it more often…

  • belletoes

    Oh Ma Gah! Sorry, sistah. That totally sucks but, I could not help giggling, thinking of you and Leta and your poop issues. Irony bites. Hope it all works out!

  • mbm

    FWIW we had to do this awful sewage line replacement thing a few years ago and since some of the backed up sewage (a little water from the toilet) made contact with our carpeting, our homeowner’s insurance covered a chunk of change to ostensibly replace the carpet. Though it really went to the plumber – shhh don’t tell anybody… You might check with your agent just in case.

  • statia

    I hated my last landlord and we had something similar happen in our house that was split into two apartments. The lines get so clogged over the years that eventually, you have to dig them up and pull the beach towels out that the other people flushed.

    You should have seen the mountains of tampons that he pulled out. It must have been 20 years worth.

  • twest

    Oh Lordy that digs up some bad memories for me. Last Christmas my wife and I spent our life savings on a new drain pipe. It turned into 2 weeks of work in our basement. This was just after moving in in November. Then we had to fly away for Christmas whereupon we all go terrible colds. We have recovered and our bank account is recovering slowly too…

  • http://www.grace-filled.net jen

    Renting is easier until your landlord refuses to fix the problem and decides to stick you with the bill. You then spend quite a bit of time getting familiar with the landlord-tenant rules for your state and have the state’s public interest research group tattoo their logo on your shoulder to show your solidarity.

    (Not that this happened to us. Noooooo…)

    And for the record, the Orthodox have waaaaaaay better food than the Mormons do. Their food is only surpassed by the Episcopalians on the West Coast who have sushi at their potlucks.

  • Mindola

    I’m going to quote my husband (who’s not always known for his eloquence but his big heart)

    “Don’t worry we’ll get through this, we always do and we’ll look back on this and laugh”

    He’s had to remind me of that quite a few times in our two year marriage and has saved my sanity through a disastrous wedding, purchasing a lemon of a house, no hot water for 3 weeks during winter (and by winter I mean a -49F Canadian winter) ….

    You guys will get through and look back and maybe not laugh but be friggin’ glad it’s all over with.

    Good Luck!! Keep your chin up!!

  • vegancat

    Clusterf*ck, plain and simple. Ugh, hope it goes away soon.

  • http://bloodsugarmagik.livejournal.com SilverSeraphim

    Hey at least it’s just the three of you in a house with an out of commission toilet system. We had NINE PEOPLE IN ONE HOUSE. It was my inlaws house, and out of the kindness of their hearts they had let not just me and my hubby and our kidlet stay there, but also the hubby’s brother, his girlfriend and her two kids stay there. Having the city come out to flush the lines did squat, so eventually the menfolk had to dig up half the front yard- and discovered that the line did NOT go straight out, but instead took a turn, and that’s where it was broken.

    Can you imagine 7 people (2 kids were still in diapers) who have no pooping issues in a house with plumbing issues?

    And how the hell does one flush a BEACH TOWEL down a toilet???

  • http://lemidden.blogspot.com/ Kahli

    The EXACT same thing happened at Chez Nelson a little over a month ago. It was disgusting and we were, for the first time, glad we were renting. I am sorry to hear about the fact that you guys have to deal with it. It sucks and sucks and eggh. But then it’s awesome once it’s fixed.
    If you need a beverage of the adult persuasion, please drop us a line. We understand and have sympathy and empathy for your troubles, bein’ tax payin’, sewage troubled, bad brakes in need of a changin’ sinners ourselves.

    k and p

  • Folklore

    Ouch. I feel your pain, being a relatively new homeowner myself.

    Psychotic neighbors and/or landlords that will drive you crazy


    The endless parade of improvements/fixes/random acts of destruction to your home that will drive you crazy

    Hang in there, Heather. Any way we can help? Clicking, paypal, whatever? You’ve more than earned a few bucks from me, having helped me kill many a corporate workday reading your archives. Thanks

  • saywha?

    Maybe you guys should poo in ziplock baggies, and put the white mice in there as well. Only liquid down the toilet.
    I have been completely paranoid of this experience since two of my friends have had basements full of sewage this year. That is nasty.
    I am investing in baggies for the whole family.