Wednesday, February 04, 2009

snakes on a drain

As I had sort of implied with that earlier post, we have been having some problems with our downstairs toilet. (How weird, to have a "downstairs toilet." How weird to have stairs. Anyway.) Nothing broke per se, the toilet's not overflowing, there's no leak, the toilet just won't flush. I don't know if its a function of water pressure or too much toilet paper or someone's formidable and apparently capacious bowels, but it has been clogged for several days, defying attempts at clearance ranging from flushing again to plunging to The Old Coathanger Trick to being chemically challenged with Drano. At some point, we sort of called the code and Joe suggested that maybe we needed to call a plumber to snake the toilet.

"No!" I insisted, jiggling the coathanger into the toilet's murky depths, "It's fine! Just flush it again!"

Anyway, I called a plumber.

First, I called our building management as a courtesy to ask if there was a preferred plumber that they wanted us to use. However, as with every other occasion that I have called building management for any kind of problem (see also: SILENT BUT DEADLY, when we thought we were being killed by a gas leak from our fireplace), my call went directly to voicemail. Fine, I tried. So I looked online (apparently there is this very informative and useful site called! Write it down! I'm saying that as a joke but my mom actually e-mailed me once with a note to that very effect--e-mailed it, in fact, to my Gmail account) and found some plumber in our neighborhood that was called something enticing like, "Budget Plumber" or "Affordable Plumber" or whatever, something implying that they were cheap. So I called the economy plumber and explained the problem, asking them if I could make an appointment for them to come by tomorrow. Oh, and by the way, barring any unforseen complexities (a bezoar of toilet paper the size of China, perhaps), how much did they estimate it might cost to clear the blockage?

There was some rustling as the lady looked for her price list. "Well, if it's a simple [hmmm], and there's no [hmmm] to the main [hmmm], as long as the [hmmm] is confined to the [hmmm]..."

(Fifteen minutes of plumbing talk later, she said that it could be around $135.)

A HUNDRED THIRTY FIVE DOLLARS FOR YOUR EXTRA-LONG COAT HANGER POKING? I felt like I was going to have a stroke. But what can you do? It's like calling a consult at the hospital. Sometimes you don't want to go through all the trouble, and it's not anything you couldn't do yourself, but what are you going to do? You need the experts and their special toys. So anyway, they told me that the plumber would be by the next day, between 10am and 2pm (note the convenient and small time frame--that won't fuck up your plans for the day) and hung up.

About an hour later, I got a call back from building management. "Hey, got your message, and yeah, there is a plumber that we like to use who does a lot of work in the building. It's called Super Duper Plumbing [or whatever, I can't remember], here's their number. If you can, be sure to ask for Eric."

"Super Duper. Eric. Got it."

"ERIC!" the building manager repeated, somewhat frantically. She had a real boner for Eric, evidently.

Now, let me ask you this. If your management company has a SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP with a specific plumbing company, if they throw all their business towards this one group, wouldn't you expect that reciprocally, some sort of special discount should be applied for residents of this housing complex? I mean, that's just my understanding of how the world works. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. You snake my toilet, I'll...flush yours. I don't know. Stay with me here. I called Super Duper Plumbing, made an appointment, asking for ERIC (they tried to give me Steve instead but I said no way, Corky) and then called back the economy plumber to cancel.

However, after canceling with the first plumber, it occurred to me that I never asked Super Duper Plumbing for an estimate. So I called back, they hemmed and hawed, and fifteen minutes of plumber talk later, they said that at bare minimum, it would probably cost $235.

TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE AMERICAN DOLLARS TO SNAKE OUR TOILET. I mean, I know that these are troubled economic times and all, but I was under the impression that numbers still carried some meaning.

So then I cancelled my appointment with them too. And then I was going to call back the first plumber to re-set up the original appointment, but I was too embarrassed, like I had jilted them or something and now I was crawling back on my hands and knees begging them to clear the detritus of our human waste from our poor, pathetic downstairs half-bathroom.

And then Joe got home and asked if the toilet was fixed and I said, "Funny you should ask that," before telling him the whole story about the cheap plumbers and the building manager and Eric and TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY FIVE DOLLARS!!! Which is why I cancelled their asses!

"TWO HUNDRED THIRTY FIVE DOLLARS?" Joe panicked, completely skipping over the cancelling part. "WE CAN'T AFFORD MANY MORE PROBLEMS LIKE THIS!" This is usually his cue to start his gloom and doom pre-tax season financial projection, which--OK, I know, alright? I know times are tight, and some expenses inopportune, but do you and CNN need to point out how it's the End of Days every single minute!? It's not like I'm over here stuffing fur stoles and hundred dollar bills into the toilet, causing it to clog! I DIDN'T EVEN WANT TO CALL A PLUMBER, WE HAVE TWO OTHER TOILETS THAT ARE WORKING PERFECTLY FINE, I JUST WANTED TO KEEP POKING AT THE TOILET WITH A STICK.

Anyway, we soon realized that while we probably are not qualified to handle the nuances of fixing, say, a cracked water main, or even necessarily a leaky faucet, the act of jamming something down a toilet to break up whatever unspeakable substances are clogging it does not amount to rocket science, and that they sell toilet snakes (or "augers," for you fancy folk out there) at Home Depot for, like, $30. And so...

And now, we can flush our toilet.

(And the point of my telling this story was...what? Hilarious domestic antics? Appreciation for the plumbing arts? The revelation that someone in our house may be taking prodigiously huge shits or using an unholy amount of toilet paper, possibly both? An attempt to sabotage any chance I may have of ever becoming Surgeon General? Take your pick.)


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