The Armstrong Plumbing Disaster

Jon and I are in the middle of our own personal hell as the outside of our house is swarmed with city workers and plumbers and loud machines that have little regard for children’s nap schedules. Our sewer line replacement didn’t begin until Monday morning because certain city permits had to be filed including one that would allow the plumbing company to block off the entire street and dig a swimming pool right in front of our driveway. I asked them if they could throw in a diving board considering how much this is costing us, and one of them scowled at me for trying to make light of such important work. If you ask me, dude takes shit way too seriously.

Jon has been taking notes through every step of this process while I’ve been inside reviewing the finer points of an anxiety attack. I have the excessive nighttime drinking part down, and the incessant pacing while gripping the hair on the back of my head, but I haven’t yet had the chance to throw a heavy object at someone who doesn’t deserve it. I keep waiting for Jon to open the door with a heavy sigh to bring me the bad news that they’ve found something else wrong, that it’s going to cost us more than the incomprehensible estimate they gave us last week, that they’ll take our house plus a down payment of one kidney.

But he says the lead plumber working on this problem is an expert in the field and everything is going as textbook as possible. There is a very sick part of me that feels a sense of pride in the fact that a Sewer Line Expert found objects in our pipe that he had never seen before. You can imagine the things he’s pulled out of the ground during his tenure, he’s an expert after all. Think about all the things you’ve flushed down your toilet: that dead goldfish, an old Steely Dan cassette tape your husband thought he’d lost, a neighbor’s cat.

But until last week he had never been confronted with a seemingly impossible violation of physics. HOW DOES SOMEONE FLUSH A BEACH TOWEL? I have no idea, but for the rest of my life I will brag about the fact that it happened here.

Jon posted about everything he’s learned here and here, recommended reading if you live in an old house and like to use a lot of toilet paper (raises hand and feels a bit ashamed considering the relative smallness of my ass, admits it does seem a bit indulgent if not totally unnecessary, but doesn’t want to know if you are the type of person who skimps on toilet paper, that type of information wouldn’t damage the friendship but would definitely determine whether or not we could eat at the same table).

  • Heather

    A towel. Wow. That’s better than the G.I. Joe my son tried to flush last month. I will do now what I did then. Pour myself a double from the bottle of 20-yr-old single malt we got for a wedding present and salute you!

  • Dave

    As long as the beach towel and the cat were two unrelated flushes, I’d say you’re okay.

  • wealhtheow

    You know, it’s hard to sympathize with your money woes when the answer is so obvious–Chuck and Leta need to stop being so lazy and get jobs already.

  • Wonked

    Metadoocil – a steady diet of Dooce is good for the soul and the colon.

  • Pammy


    Thanks for opening up the comments. Your site is more entertaining than ever! Best of luck with the plumbing disaster.

  • Vaguely Urban

    If memory serves, a few months back you made the connection between eating more and being able to poop. All this megaplumbing seems an awfully high price to pay for regularity.

  • Snickrsnack Katie

    It seems odd to be me that someone that never poops would have a problem with a backed up sewer. What a twist of irony! As for the beach towel in the sewer line, are you serious? Someone actually flushed a beach towel?!? I can imagine a hand towel, or maybe a maxi pad, as I have seen some stupid people trying to do both of these things. But a beach towel? That is impressive!

    Now I am scared. I would think that something like sewer would be the city’s responsibility. Don’t they pay for any of this for you?

    I was just thinking – if Leta is anything like my niece, maybe she is into flushing weird things. My niece once attempted to flush a tube of lipstick and a bottle of Kandoo soap. Maybe Leta has been sneaking beach towels out of the hall closet and has been flushing them. Just for shits and giggles.

  • blondeinthemidwest

    Oh that seriously sucks…I am so sorry!!

    BUT, I love the Komatsu “advertisement.” I have worked for a heavy equipment company for almost a year and would have not known what that “big ass machine” was a year ago!! Gotta love a hoss of an excavator sitting in your lawn!!!

  • Real Susie

    Hrm. Thinking I can never live in an old house now. My ass is WAY too big.

    Oh and sorry about the beach towel. It was the only thing that would keep the cat down.

  • Stefanie

    This is the type of shit (no pun intended) that makes you want to go back to seventh grade where the only problem you had was to check the yes or no box and send the note back. Hope everything gets wrapped up quickly for you! Oh, if you find my 6 carat diamond ring, I’d really like it back.

  • BabyKEsq

    What is it with men and that God awful band, Steely Dan?

  • vegasandvenice

    Don’t tell me you have still got the milli vanilli casette… isn’t that something you would be wiping off your ass in the first place? Yeah… I’ve still got mine to… it can be tough to let go of “Girl you know it’s true.”

  • Annie

    I can’t believe I am listening to Steely Dan today for the first time in a long while. Then I read this post.
    Happy Pooping Armstrongs. But I’m not flushing my Dan.

  • Stefanie

    This is the type of shit (no pun intended) that makes you want to go back to seventh grade where the only problem you had was to check the yes or no box and send the note back. Hope everything get wrapped up quickly for you! Oh, if you find my 6 carat diamond ring, I’d really like it back.

  • Sunni

    For future reference, when Leta starts potty training; those kiddoo wipes that are advertised as flushable…….are NOT flushable. I learned this the hard, and expensive way. Consider yourself warned.

  • marian

    This whole epidsode is really scaring me. That’s all.

  • marian

    episode, episode

  • Nifle

    For record, I have already noted that I read your blog toasted in the evenings. Also, to remind the precious readers of Dooce, that it was noted by another reader, that I was drunk before 8 pm CST. So, Heather, drink on to your plumbing problems…just think of it as practice for when Leta starts to date!

    As for the toilet paper melee, you must always use enough paper to clean your bottom (no matter the size) because, lets face it, no one wants a runway in their undies!

    PS…You should set up a Pay Pal account for the sewer..I’d send you a dollar!

  • kate gee

    God Heather, I’m sorry that you guys have to go through this. Yay for beach towels though I guess? ugh.

    And total compulsive wiper over here.

  • madison52578

    I am a long time Dooce lurker, but I had to come out and comment on this one…We could be friends and eat at the same table because I also use huge amounts of toilet paper. I feel it is only right to cushion and pamper my ass, no one else is going to do it. Of course I also have a two and a half year old daughter that repeatedly beats on the bathroom door while I am trying to find my sanity…so I feel it is only right that I rip off sheet by sheet to delay the inevitable of opening the door and facing her. That is why I go through half a roll of TP per bathroom visit.

  • Allie Cat

    Ok, so I am dying to know how much it is really costing. Are we talking tens of thousands? Gimme a hint!

  • blurb

    Substitute the Steely Dan tape for a Milli Vanilli one and we’ll be set. Glass houses and stones, baby.

  • AndreaBT

    This is my husband’s worst nightmare. This is the reason he refuses to buy an old home next time (which should be in the next few months). He actually used old pipes and plumbing as an example.

    I love old homes *sniffle*. If only he would be willing to do what Jon recommended, and get the lines bladed every year, but that’s doubtful.

  • Anne Glamore

    Now that I think about it, another piece of advice they gave us during Septic Tank Disaster 2003 was not only to limit our use of toilet paper (resulting in the “Five Squares Per Poop” rule at our house, applicable to all males), but also NOT to use any of that tp with aloe and stuff on it. So it’s plain ole Cottonelle over here.

  • Martin

    My pleasingly large glass of particularly potent Italian red wine is raised in sympathy to you. Hope everything is sorted soon!

  • Mack’sMom

    I am actually feeling sad that we just recently moved into our new house. On the last day of living in our apartment I would have SO tried to flush a towel just for the sake of DOOCE!

    Have you actually seen the towel?? Does it look familar or is it from before you owned the home????

  • Piglet

    I overuse toilet paper every, single day. When I lived with my birth father, he would make us use ONE SHEET from the roll, and then we had to put it in the trash after we wiped rather than flush. He is on a septic system and VERY ANAL. I am certain this is where my over-use came from.

  • Amanda B.

    Heather, dude. Steely Dan is one of the best bands of all time, amen. Deacon Blues? Yes, please.

    Gratuitous tp usage is a necessary evil. I have an 10 ply minium before I “go in”. I hope that you are able to poop in your house, because not being able to poop in your own house is intolerable. Here’s hoping the plumbers work mucho magic.

  • elephantmama

    I’ll bet your neighbors are just LOVING you right now!

    It took some serious dedication to flush a beach towel. It would never go down in just 1 flush. The mystery flusher had to stand there for a good 5 or 6 flushes to get that puppy down there.

  • Donny

    Toilet paper. Ick!

    After photographing nude bodies for more than 8 years I have a pet peeve about toilet paper. I’d tell you the stories but now is not the time or the place. Let’s just leave it at this:

    Does anyone ever stop to think that moisture is usually necessary for proper cleaning? I mean, think about it… would you clean up any other sticky substance with a dry towel? Why would you clean your ass with dry toilet paper? If you really want to be clean, invest in some flushable baby wipes! I have some sitting on the back of the toilet in every bathroom in my house.

    I guarantee you, after you’ve done your duty and then done your best with TP, take out a cottonelle and run it across yourself once. You’ll never ever ever have the cottonelle come away perfectly clean.

    Think about that one for a moment. :)

  • feep

    When considering TP, it is not always the quantity but the quality. Basically, 2-ply or not 2-ply… that is the question. I insist on 2-ply. Mind you, it won’t cut down on your usage of TP, but it certainly makes you feel better about wiping.

  • jes


    You TOTALLY have to contact the previous owner. That’s a story worth telling.

  • marymuses

    I once new a guy who had a two square rule. TWO! Needless to say, not many people wanted to eat at the same table he did. In fact, I think he may have been required to bring his own dinner and eat in the yard.

  • Amy D.

    one time on a flight home from Vegas, there was: no TP, no Kleenex, AND no paper towels in the airplane bathroom….AND no water in the tank for the sink! The stewardess actually giggled at me when my friend gave me some Burger King napkins she had in her purse from lunch when she saw me heading back there. I’m thinking ‘no, thanks’ to the beverage service…because their hands were just spanking sanitary, right? fucking EW!

  • moonrattled

    There’s no way a beach towel got flushed down the toilet. It probably got there via an open manhole during sewer surgery.

    Kind of like the way surgeons sometimes leave sponges in people’s abdomens.

  • Amy D.

    or you could just smoke a bowl…? that one’s still my favorite!

  • Amy D.

    um, YAH…..if I’ve ever heard of a good reason to go out and put an overpriced lunch (with too many drinks on the side) on a credit card, THIS would definitely be it! Daytime drinking is for emergencies, and this totally qualifies…, rilly ;-)

  • WhateverLola

    I can’t believe my first comment is going to be a confession. When I was in my heyday of going to frat parties and convincing mathematicians to sell me 6 $2 shots for a $1, I also found myself attending to strange bathroom configurations such as toilets being across the hall from bathrooms in dark and dank frat houses. In such a situation, my well lubricated self sought out a urination location and found my way to the “water closet” (quite literally) which was supplied with absolutely no TP…therefore, I used a nearby bath towel. I know, I know. It’s gross and a bit disrespectful of the young men who hosted such grand galas…but a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. So…it was with these fond memories I offer a possible answer to the beach towel mystery. I imagine crazed Mormons drunk on Sprite and dry humping running out of TP…maybe not?

  • Gretchie

    Maybe the towel went down an open man hole in the street and found it’s way into your sewer line? It just sounds more likely than someone sitting there, very patiently with thinly rolled up towel flushing and flushing and flushing…

  • Karen Rani

    Jon wrote that you’ve only been there three years. Perhaps the previous owners loved their shit tickets too. You cannot be held responsible since you have had your own personal plumbing problem, thereby not pooping nearly as much as the people who shat before you in this house. Do you have their number? :)

  • DRMPro

    Now I know why all our beach towels disappeared.

  • zitsmom

    I can top any of the posts here~~when I was in highschool my best friend was known for launching enormous poops at my house.My step father said that she was causing plumbing problems so he insisted that she “chop up” prior to flushing and he kept a teeny garden shovel in the bathroom for her to use….I was horrified~he is long gone now and no, I do not miss him.

  • Nothing But Bonfires

    What a waste! To flush a large piece of steak down a toilet! I’d prefer to think that it fell in accidentally. Perhaps someone was trying to multi-task by combining the eating of the dinner with the pooping of the breakfast, and didn’t have a good enough grip on the steak, what with trying to balance the plate on their knees and all. Still, what a bugger for it to be the steak that fell. I bet they cursed the gods that it couldn’t have been the peas.

  • Tiggerlane

    I am still amazed that it is possible to flush ANY kind of towel. Wow.

    Also, my friend at the water department said not to use the “double-ply” tp. She said since we live in an old house, that double-ply will clog those lines real fast, as well all those tps with lotion, etc. Of course, I don’t know what difference it makes, when I have to use TWICE as much single-ply to prevent the “poke thru” – but there’s your tp tip o’ the day.

  • PixieMegh

    Oh! I’m just sick for you on this entire mess. However I commend you on the ability to find a moment to collect some fantastic photos, despite the ickyness.

    Todays POTD is fantastic! I love yesterday’s as well. Baby toes are the cutest things ever!!

    Sympathy and crossing fingers that there is no more bad news to come!

  • sandienotsandy

    Aw Heather… if you’ve only been doing the excessive drinking in the nighttime, you’re not QUITE there yet.

  • kidsmom

    When the plumber pulls up in a $50K car, you know you are in trouble.

    Raise hand if you’ve had a back hoe in your front lawn because your blue pipe broke. Raise other hand if you wanted to blame the smell on the neighborhood dogs.

    My sympathies.

  • LeafGirl77

    I’m still astounded by the beach towel.

    And yes, dude DOES take things way too seriously. A little humour goes a long way my friend.

  • Jerri Ann

    Just think if you had been a regular pooper and had a child that was a regular toilet user….they tend to use more toilet paper than even the extravagant of all tp users…I bet my husband uses more than you do….I still think the “he takes his shit too seriously” comment was the rocker…I’m still cracking up over here

  • http://dooce dooce

    this is probably not surprising, but these comments are some of my favorite yet. i will think all day about how someone flushed a large piece of steak down their toilet and it will make me happy.