Plumbing Problems, Part I: Toilet Trouble

Poor Chew.

 It all began one winter, a few years ago, when he decided to use his holiday bonus to make some much-needed repairs to our home. He started by replacing damaged flooring in the main bathroom and the teens’ bedroom, installing a new toilet, and replacing the tiles in the front entryway. He “winterized” the chickens, by revamping the egg boxes and roosts and building an enclosure and doors for the main coop. Finally, he splurged on some new carpeting for the living room and foyer, and new floor tiles for the main bathroom.

 We welcomed in the New Year with a beautifully revamped and ready-for-winter abode, content and proficient egg-layers, and the addition of Chew’s 16-year old, “Bop,” who would be spending the winter as one of the resident “Chewables.”

 Following the purchase of a television set and the rearrangement of furniture, we were able to get the teens into their room, and the youngest to her own. At last, we THOUGHT we were finished.

 At least, until we heard a cry from the main bathroom.

 “DAD!!! The toilet won’t flush!”

 Sure enough, the water in the commode was dangerously approaching overflow. Chew plunged, but to no avail. Rushing to the hardware store, he purchased a new, top-of-the-line plunger. With the cardboard tag still dangling from the ergonomically-designed handle, Chew began to churn like an Amish woman in a butter-making contest.

 From the bathtub, a six-inch geyser erupted. As the water level in the toilet receded, the water in the tub grew deeper.

 “This ain’t good,” muttered Chew, philosophically eyeing the situation. As he continued to plunge the commode, he set me to work plunging the tub. Eventually, the water drained from both the toilet AND the tub… and spouted out of the bathroom sink, splattering the counter and floor.

 The next day, Chew purchased some Clog Remover, and set to work battling the drain. Miraculously, our teens reported that the sink and tub were working and draining just fine. Only the toilet was stubbornly refusing to drain.

 We drove into town with our laptop, and did some online troubleshooting. Everything confirmed Chew’s initial diagnosis: “Gonna’ hafta’ run a snake through them pipes.”

 He returned to the store, and purchased a “snake.” Removing the toilet, he ran the new gadget through the hole in the floor. It crawled along the drainline, completely unhindered by any obstruction.

 Another trip to the hardware store, and Chew returned with a new wax ring and reinstalled the troublesome potty… only to discover that it still refused to flush. Unearthing the septic tank revealed that it was neither frozen nor full. A trip to the roof confirmed that the vents were unobstructed. Baffled, we called an expert in these matters… Chew’s Uncle Dick, in Florida.

 Several cell phone minutes later, Chew announced that the plug must be somewhere INSIDE the toilet, itself.

 So, he took the toilet off of its base again, and we set to work running a variety of objects through the coiling draining system hidden within the base of the porcelain demon. The “snake,” a wire coat hanger, and a small length of tubing each made their way through the coil without deterrence… from either direction. Puzzled, Chew returned to the store AGAIN for ANOTHER wax ring, reinstalled the commode, and flushed.


 Thoroughly frustrated (and twice as baffled), Chew decided to phone another expert. This time, he called the guy at the Hardware Emporium. Actually, he had ME call the guy at the Hardware Emporium. (Chew was apparently suffering from a stress-induced speech impediment, that caused every other word out of his mouth to contain four letters.)

 After several more cell-phone minutes, during which I valiantly struggled to hide my ignorance concerning all things technical, I handed the phone over to Chew in defeat.

 “He wants to know the diameter of one thing and the adjustment setting of another,” I said, helpfully. “Also, he was asking me about some kind of valve-flap thingamajiggy.”

 Chew groaned and took the phone. Within minutes, he announced the verdict.

 “He says Uncle Dick’s probably right, and it must be a clog in the toilet itself,” he said. “They sell a special tool there at the store. I’ll go pick one up in the morning.”

 Just then, our youngest daughter (Bird) came into the room. “Hey, Dad?” she asked meekly, “While you are fixing the toilet, I just wanted to know if you were going to fix the bathtub, too?”

 Simultaneously, Chew and I turned. “What’s wrong with the TUB?” we groaned in unison.

 “Well, I noticed a crack in the floor when I was in the shower today. Actually, I was CLEANING the tub, BEFORE my shower, in case there was any…STUFF… from where the toilet backed up. I thought it was a piece of hair, but then I saw it was a crack…”

 Sure enough, there was a four-inch long hairline crack in the base of our fiberglass tub. Groaning, Chew hit redial to inquire about a fiberglass repair kit, and I ran water into the tub to see if the crack was leaking.

 “About 20 bucks,” Chew announced. “I can pick one up tomorrow, when I get the… why is there water in the tub?”

 “I was checking the crack. It doesn’t seem to be leaking, but it will if anyone steps here or here…”

 He picked up a round rubber disk. “Here is the stopper, right? Why isn’t the tub draining?”

 Bird and I exchanged glances. She announced that she was going to clean her room, and vanished. I swallowed hard and gave Chew’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’m going to go make some coffee,” I whispered.

 Chew sat on the side of the tub. With a sigh, he slipped the plunger over the tub’s drain and began to churn. Suddenly, the room was filled with the gurgling of water, rushing down simultaneous drains.

 The tub was empty. He tentatively turned on a faucet. The water drained immediately. Moving to the toilet, he cautiously pressed down on the silver lever.


 Victory! Three… eight… twenty practice flushes later, and everything was operating like new! (Yeah, our water bill will be higher this month, but the feeling of victory was WORTH the price of a few extra gallons.)

 Once again, Chew had proven himself to be a “REAL handyman” (as my ex mother-in-law calls him). We could flush with freedom… the two of us rejoiced in the moment!

 “I’m so proud of you, Baby!” I cooed. “That whole thing had me bumfuddled!”

 “Yeah, it was pretty weird, all right,” said Chew. As he walked toward the coffeemaker, he continued. “I couldn’t figure out what in the… where is all this water coming from?”

 From the wall, where the washing machine drains out, a cascade of sudsy water splashed onto the utility room floor, spreading into the kitchen.

 “Just shut the !@#$ off for tonight,” Chew sighed. “I’ll get on it after work tomorrow.”


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