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).

  • BigA

    As a junior league constipator I’ve found a miracle in those adult baby wipe things that I’m sure are aimed at the elderly and infirmed. I dread to think though of what these soft saviors might be doing to our sewer line. They’re made of some sort of cloth-like (one might even suggest beach towel-like) substance.

  • Meg

    This happened to me last spring. They ripped up my entire front yard (including my very first garden ever!) to replace the broken pipe that ran between the street and my house. All I can say is thank heavens we DO rent! The massive cost was absorbed (ha!) by our landlords.

    The best thing to do is simply be in complete and total denial. Forget the anxiety attacks. Just pretend it all isn’t so. ;o)

  • seppukuqueen

    Hello inappropriate, but this still made me think, dooce.

    “We understand that many people harbor negative ideas about diarrhea, but our aim is to change that. When people see just how luxurious our open-plan bathroom designs are, with marble tiles, built-in plasma screen TV connected to 57 cable channels, and even a mini-bar, they’ll soon come to realize that a week with diarrhea can actually be a enjoyable experience,”

    Here’s hoping I can make someone smile.

  • sasha

    My heart goes out to you and your family…the horror!

    I don’t know how you flush a beach towel, but I do know a labrador who ate (and subsequently vomited whole) a pair of bicycle shorts. Sometimes physics doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it.

  • Shalini

    I am sorry.. I can’t stop laughing. I know the situation is not funny, but you make it seem funny. I hope it gets resolved soon and cheep!

  • lq

    I live in a brand new house for the first time ever – it has low-flow toilets, also a first for me. I had to replace a sewer line in my previous house (built in 1928), but the problem with the low-flow toilets is the toilet paper. I’ve learned you can use all the paper you want, just flush after two wipes. The beauty is it’s low flow, so it fills up fast for the next flush. Oh, and have the plumber’s friend handy. And bleach – oh yes, bleach!

  • thisbearbites

    I’ll bet the beach towel required a courtesy flush.
    Maybe it is a “If yo don’t pee in our pool – we won’t swim in your toilet!” Karma thing. :)
    Nothing wrong with using too much paper, but please don’t try to flush it all at once. I’m still trying to teach my 20 year old that. Except now the toilet in his home runneth over!

  • Kelly S.

    This has nothing to do with plumbing, since nothing I say will ease the pain. But, something that might have a similar effect as cookies is Pancake Mountain. It is a kid’s show hosted by various bands like Arcade Fire, Henry Rollins, Shonen Knife, etc. The bands play songs usually found on their CDs while wee-little kids jump around and dance. Blueberry Boy on Pancake Mountain (.com) is also pretty cool. Check out their web site – it will totally put a smile on your face.

    Remember to take deep breaths and know that (watch out, cheese ahead) that God (or whoever is pulling the puppet strings) gives us nothing we can’t handle. But I really can’t blame you for freaking out, either. There is really only so much bad news that one person can handle.

  • right brained gal

    Sounds as bad as when we needed a new septic tank in the back yard. Like throwing money down the toilet.

  • Lauren McMahon

    If things are gonna go bad, they might as well go remarkably bad so it’s a good story.

  • mayberry_blonde

    my husband used to pump septic tanks and repair sewage lines and the like. dude came home one day and told me a brown penny loafer shoe had turned up in a clogged line they were “snaking” out. i was like wtf? a shoe?

    anyway he always told me that eventually enough “shit” will clog up a line over time regardless of what it is where it came from.

    hang in there!

  • Rusty

    Oh, Heather! It seemed slightly awful at first, but as I’ve been reading about all this crap (pun intended) that’s been happening with your sewer line, it sounds like it’s escalating into the disaster of a lifetime. I really, really feel for you. But as a faithful reader who knows you much better than a complete stranger should, I can say that it seems like you’re taking it better than I ever would, and I don’t struggle with depression! I guess those cookies, ice cream, and M&Ms are working their magic. By the way, the construction (destruction?) pictures are incredible! Today’s Daily has an amazing amount of detail. Great job, as always.

  • RandiRed

    That is quite a find, a beach towel. You do have to tell us who gets the flying dishes.

    I know your frustration and I really do feel for you. I seriously do not think that heavy drinking and violent fits are enough to ease your pain. Take a few days and go to a spa and get the royal treatment. You will get to use a nice clean toilet that you dont have to worry about, even if it does overflow. Walk out and just say ‘Hey, theres a problem with your toilet.’ while the water gushes behind you.

    2 words: Scott Tissue

    Never use anything else! And never flush anything but that in a sewer line. Use a covered garbage can if you have to. Oh, and please keep the towels at the pool. We dont need you going through this again.

  • Babs

    Oh my.

    I had no idea you were this famous.
    But that was before Wikipedia!

  • Jeff, the film prof

    Does Jon know what you did to his Steely Dan tape?

  • carson

    When we had our plumbing problem during my Week from Hell (detailed in off-topic rudeness in the comments of Leta’s singing) the worst thing was how green our lawn came up after we seeded it. Because everyone wanted to know what we did.

  • Shanni O

    Hi Heather, I’ve been reading all about you and your VERY NORMAL family since I found you while searching for “kitchen remodel” photos late one night. My husband couldn’t figure out what the hell I was laughing so damn hard for !!! But with all the perfectly palaced swearing, I thought I’d stumbled across my cyber twin. With your current plumbing fun I thought I just had to comment this time. My husband and I bought a 52 year old home about 2 years ago. Young by some standards but we had some fun surprises too. It’s currently on the market, all fixed & fine of course, so I won’t divulge the nightmare here. Small town and all that, you never know…

    Anyway, we feel your pain. The home before this, I was on a first name basis with several plumbers in town. We’d take who ever could get there the fastest. We ended up w/a full re-plumb of the entire house. That was a narcotics moment if ever there was one. They say it could always be worse, and just think… they could be INSIDE your house. Best of luck and hopefully you won’t have to sell Leta to a caravan of gypsies passing through town to pay for it.

  • Shelley Bonnechance

    Years ago, some comedian (Eddie Murphy?) did a funny bit about how if you don’t use enough toilet paper, you run the risk of your fingers coming through the paper as you…er…clean yourself…. and really hurting the opening of the poopchute. It’s best to get a big, soft, squooshy wad of paper and avoid senseless injury.

    There should be a PSA about this.

  • Elise

    It really is amazing what objects end up in inapproprate places. I work in a building that’s about five years old and one of the toilets in the women’s washroom never flushed properly. When they finally took it apart they found a pair of safety eye glasses wedged inside that had been left there from the initial build.


  • Saron

    Beach towel from sewer + corn dog stick from Chuck’s intestines = Evidence that the Poop Family has issues.

    I hope shit gets better for you guys.

  • Bird Lover

    Holy crap! I was not going to comment today but katy66 made me laugh with her tampon story. It’s not often that you can combine the words poo, tampon, and the phrase “mom sauce” all in one story.

    I am still laughing. See, Dooce, tragedy brings people together. In a weird, twisted sort of way.

  • DeniseTN

    A beach towel? Dayum! That must been some nasty poop! LOL

    I’ve flushed food down the toilet…my husband’s cooking sucks.

  • Karla

    Some tips the roto rooter guy gave me for keeping the lines flowing:
    If you use a lot of TP, flush before and after wiping.
    Hold the handle down when you flush so the maximum amount of water goes down the pipes.
    If you live in a place where you aren’t required to have low-flow toilets, don’t get one! They are to blame for a lot of clogged pipes.

  • Me

    Didn’t Leta have an anti-pooping campaign going a while back? Maybe she’s a psychic little baby, if I believed in that which I don’t but if I did…

    then maybe she KNEW.

    How’s her eating going amongst this chaos? Some people eat more when they’re stressed, so maybe this is good for her, eh?

  • Me

    Didn’t Leta have an anti-pooping campaign going a while back? Maybe she’s a psychic little baby, if I believed in that which I don’t but if I did…

    then maybe she KNEW.

    How’s her eating going amongst this chaos? Some people eat more when they’re stressed, so maybe this is good for her, eh?

  • MommyofOne

    OMG, Heather. I’m nearly crying at the witty insights of your readers. These comments are cracking me up! I hope they’re making you feel better and better.

    And seriously, as a previous commenter noted, you should set up a Paypal account. I would also totally send a few bucks your way!!

  • Deb

    I say smoke a bowl with the drinking in the evening for the anxiety works better…..

    Altho now that I think about it, I remember a friend of mine freaking out once when she got stoned b/c she had an anxiety/paranoia attack. Hmmm, maybe not…..

    Anyway, joining the ranks for those who use copious amounts of TP when wiping…..skid marks are just gross and as my husband calls it, who wants “sweaty cheeks”.

    We moved to Oregon about three yrs ago and have found that we have had to plunge practically every poop….wow great alliteration without even trying…
    you must bring it out in me!

  • RDZ

    Aw, Dooce, that’s such a shitty thing to have to deal with. Good thing it’s April and not January, eh?

    I would like to meet the person who successfully flushed a beach towel. Are we talking about a $10 beach towel from Target or one of the swanky $75 Calvin Klein ones that can also double as featherbeds?

    [raises hand] I, too, over-use the TP. Having grown up with an ancient septic system that necessitated the use of the 1-ply foulness, I revel in my 2-ply Charmin Ultra. I dare anyone to take it away from me. Oddly enough, every time I see it’s time to buy more TP, it’s on sale at Target AND I have a coupon. Sweet.

  • Toyfoto

    Shit. Why does it cost so much?
    I’ll be clicking on your ads as fast as I can.

  • capello

    Why ask for a diving board when you could install one of those big super-huge tubular slides that go in circles and upside down and then you can charge admission from all the nosey neighbors and end up making a HUGE profit off the whole ordeal?

  • ameridutchmama

    Replacement of sewer line: $6,453.24
    Diving board for new drive-way pool: $229.95
    Alcohol-induced therapy: $34.99

    Recovered beach towel from toilet: Priceless.

  • kierewalker

    Things I have learned from reading THE BEST EVER DOOCE! comments:

    Nothing made by the “Kandoo” people can be put down the toilet.
    Drinking before 8pm CST is completely acceptable (Susan, you’re my hero).
    Everybody wants to see a picture of THE BEACHTOWEL.
    When your dog has a mysterious string sticking out of his asshole, don’t pull it. It just may very well because he ate what you think he ate.
    It is nothing but a bad sign when your plumber starts talking about being able to buy his summer home outright.
    There are quite a few fans of Steely Dan still hanging about.

    So, the question I have is this: Would you prefer a case of bourbon or a sizeable PayPal contribution? I’m offering either. You guys hang in there.

  • Deb

    Speaking of poop, check this out, it KILLED me and made me think of you guys!! It is on my fellow Portlander’s blog

  • Nifle

    Thank you Kierewalker for supporting my drinking habit and inducing Heather’s!

    Also, all in favor of PayPal fund for Heather, say AYE! (Though, she may veto it – depending on the state of sobriety)

    Second movement, picture of the infamous towel, YES…what a splendid idea

    Thirdly, I would love to get Leta’s take on all the comotion.

    Fourth, as always, I LOVE DOOCE!

  • Vicky

    Aye to the Paypal thing! (And if you refuse Heather, I’m sure Jon will agree. Heh.)

  • whiterockgirl

    After I read your 1st plumbing post, I cannot flush worry free. I feel compelled to stand and watch the swirl. Our house is 65 years old and it’s sewer line has probably never been bladed. First thing when I get home from work….ask spouse about blading, then go to the bathroom.

  • HDC

    One thing to be thankful for in all of this? The line decided to wait until spring to give up the ghost. This would have been far worse if it was frozen outside and snowing!

  • elfmama716

    As usual, I love your post. As for the plumbing – I have THREE daughters and myself plus my mother has an apartment in our downstairs. However, the biggest TP user is my hubby. We have some serious plumbing issues. Our house is new, but within the first 6 months of our living here, the plumbers had come out at least 3 times. We now have the “wipe three times, then flush” rule. I also have a couple of OCD girls who have to use wet wipes after pooping AND peeing. So… the plumber says NO flushable wipes in the plumbing. We also have very happy trash people. Good luck with your plumbing problems.

  • elfmama716

    P.S. I have already had the drinking rule – if it is 4:00, I’m having a glass of wine. I’ll drink to you now.

  • Kaymadmom

    I think you need to take a picture of the towel. Perhaps a Paypal contribution sends you to a link of the pic? Seriously. PICTURE. How disgusting and sad is it that I want to see this towel? Makes me feel all icky like the time I went back a second time to see the stick Chuck shit out.

  • anneelizmary

    Poor dear. However, consider that there is some sort of heroic, karmic rightness about this, this transfer of unplungeable solid waste, from your own personal plumbing to your plumbing in the greater world.

    I’m just saying, since it is a fait accomplit, that you have more cosmic power through constipation than you’d imagined. Cheers!

  • Faith

    I stopped flushing my tamps after the first back-up into the backyard (through the hole in the main line the former owners previously called the “clean-out valve”) because I had to clean them all up along with the sludge that I’d been flushing so freely into the yard for about a month without knowing it. Half of the stoppage were my “feminine products”, so I smartly started keeping a ziplock baggy under the counter behind the trash-can where I place all of my used tamps now in an oh-so-glamorous manner. It’s my fave part of living in a 60 year old house. Dammit.

    And I still wanna see a picture of the beach towel they pulled out. Even if seeing it going down would have been a more interesting video to observe, since we can’t go back in time, and all, I could settle for just the pics of it now…

  • anneelizmary

    P.S. After reading the comments, I’m thinking that in these times of high gas prices, and people vowing to carpool, that nobody seems to be planning on skimping on t.p. The last of the affordable luxuries, I guess.

  • happy

    Owning your home can be a nightmare sometimes. A few years ago, found out the seal on the upstairs toilet had come loose just enough for a slow leak every flush. I found out by the dining room ceiling falling down in one corner. We didn’t see it coming because there was a suspended ceiling in that room. Have a nice new expensive ceiling now.
    Oh, by the way, if you’ll look under the ads up top on the right side…paypal link.

  • MsMamma

    Sheesh, just have another cocktail and thank your lucky stars there’s no newly discovered and now DISTURBED sacred indian burial mound down there. Nice shots, BTW.

  • Silliness

    What I find ironic in all of this? One of your ads on the right…”Find a Plumber
    Get connected with a local, qualified plumbing professional.” I’m clicking away, baby!

  • gorgeoux

    Bragging is cool. Years ago fire broke inside my studio due to unwise combination of summer breeze and lit candles. I was at the time just a bit over foreplay and into real action when the poor chap at my back started screaming that the house was on fire. I first thought it a rocking compliment of previously unheard cheekiness.

    His expensive London-bought clothes burned to the ashes within seconds, together with his brand new artsy business cards. It was easy to put the fire off and no notable damage came upon my shelter (although I treasure subtle marks that stayed). It was not so easy to make him see the light side of the event, or stop myself from laughing for that matter. It was easy to send him home in boxers and my only T-shirt from London, which spelled London–a wise sacrifice. His best friend picked him up and I’ve a feeling he sees me as a major menace to the day. My partner in crime still wears the London T-shirt.

    The past Friday I’ve met him in a club and, since he was seemingly high, thus honest, I found out (out right) that our fire-consumed night is the best thing so far in his life that he can brag about.

  • Shannon

    On plural occasions in my lifetime, I have been chided for using TOO much toilet-paper (in relationship to the relative smallness of my ass). My philosophy has always been that there is no such thing as too much toilet-paper. And now — sniff — I know I am not alone. The veil of shame has lifted. Thanks a heap!

    … wonder if the flusher of the beach towel was at a more advanced stage of the same idea; as in, “Toilet-paper, schmoilet-paper – I’m using a freakin’ towel!” Just imagine how clean that crack was. ;)

  • Jennifer

    I live in a house that was built in 1938. I have a huge maple tree in my back yard that is eating into my sewer line. Within the next few years I will either have to A) sell the house and leave the problem for the next owners or B) do exactly what you are doing. You have my condolences.

  • KevinCharnas

    Maybe you should’ve told that plumber if he didn’t have a wrench stuck in his ass, it would’ve probably been easier to have laughed at your “diving board” joke…Actually, maybe wait until the job’s done and you’ve paid…yeah, that.