Poo Be Gone…Please!

Poo Be Gone…Please!


Cognitive Dissonance

(And now for a little humor.)

For countless millions of families in the US, there are certain inalienable truths. Food comes from the super market, water comes from the faucet and poo goes away…somewhere, anywhere.

Just make it go away……I’m begging you. Please!

The average homeowner knows precious little about the mechanical subsystems in their home…let alone how to affect simple routine maintenance and repairs. Our modern consumer culture teaches us one thing in life, how to beg, borrow or steal the money needed to hire someone else to do what we can’t, or more likely won’t, do.

I know just enough about plumbing to make me a danger to myself and everyone else around me. While it’s true I can solder a copper pipe and plumb a modern home all the way from the well to the septic tank (and have even installed a few septic systems over the years) my plumbing magic is almost always accomplished when the components are new and the working conditions reasonably clean.

I don’t particularly like to play with, or in, the poo nor wrestle with pipes, especially while shoehorned under the kitchen or bathroom sink. I am 6’4” and well north of 250 lbs. If you wish to be supremely amused, come by my house and watch me stuff myself into that small box under the sink while handling cumbersome (and at times sharp) tools. Just make sure you bring some earplugs and a thick skin because the language gets a bit colorful at times.

At least in my old age I’ve learned to remove the cabinet doors before attempting to test my flexibility inside the water torture chamber. Although the last time I did this I managed to hurt my back and I am still recovering from the injury, both to my back and to my pride.

Mrs. Cog has a much better way of dealing with these problems. She takes the high (meaning exalted) road and claims household princess status (“Not my area”) then assures me I can handle it. If I show significant reluctance to raise to the challenge, she just cozies up to my ear and whispers “You’re a magnificent beast”, which pretty much settles the issue in her favor. Clearly her mother didn’t raise no dummy.

It’s only much later I realize she says the same damn thing to the cat.

I must admit a slight aversion to germs, though Mrs. Cog will claim to anyone within shouting distance it’s a full blown phobia. In my defense, all I ask are a few sensible household rules when dealing with colds and the flu. Wash your hands before emptying the dishwasher, preparing meals and setting the table; completely reasonable requests in my book.

Sometimes if the plague is particularly severe I will wipe down common household surfaces, such as door handles and cabinet knobs, with a disinfectant wipe. If the infestation is persistent, my trusty flamethrower might be employed to reach those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

When the child unit returns home from school (now college) the cell phone and computer are handed over for a simple screen cleaning to remove the school’s accumulated crud. And anyone who’s sick moves to the (unheated) barn until they recover or until the ground thaws and we can bury the body.

At the very least, I wrap them from head to toe in plastic wrap and lock them in their room with some water and a few scraps of stale bread. If they have been good, I’ll even give them a bucket to pee in. These are all perfectly rational requirements any reasonable adult would require of their germ infested household.

As you can tell, it’s not a phobia.

But let me return to the subject at hand. In the four years we have lived up here on the mountain, we’ve had a few poo issues to deal with. It’s always amusing and instructive to observe how they tend to work out, particularly who is prodding the poo and who is keeping a safe distance from the ick.

Three years ago, in the dead of winter (February to be exact) the house suddenly filled with the wonderful aroma of home grown poo. Even Mrs. Cog, who has a notoriously insensitive olfactory organ, couldn’t help but notice the stench. Using my nose GPS (because the nose always knows) I narrowed down the offending location to a hall closet.

What? There ain’t no stinkin’ pipes in a closet. What the hell’s going on?

Only later did I realize the stink accumulated in the closet simply because the closet door was nearly always closed, while the air in the other rooms was circulated by our home’s central air handler, also known as the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system aka the stink and stench spreader.

Exhausting all possible sources of infiltration, including making sure water had been run in every sink, shower and tub to be certain the ‘S’ traps in the drains were filled (which prevents septic tank gases from seeping into the house via the drain pipes) we contemplated abandoning our home and moving to the local hillbilly roach motel until the ‘professionals’ could figure out the problem.

Mrs. Cog was not a happy camper at this point, and I really couldn’t blame her. Trapped in the middle of winter in a house that stunk to high heaven is not the way to keep a marriage vibrant. Since I was the man of the house, by default poo was my area regardless of whether or not I knew what the hell I was doing. And clearly I did not.

After a suffocating night attempting to sleep amongst the odorific emanations, I requested of Mrs. Cog one more chance to fix the problem before being banished to the dog house, a not altogether bad place to be sent considering the state of the stench.

Returning one last time to the basement, where instinct informed the problem would be found, I just happened to notice some plastic piping exiting the air handler and disappearing behind the freezer situated six feet away. Peering behind the freezer, which had not been moved since we occupied the place, I notice a jumble of pipes in the darkness. Grabbing a flashlight to better illuminate the situation, I restrained the impulse to shout “Eureka” and run naked through the house Archimedes style.

I had found a previously unknown ‘S’ trap hidden behind the basement freezer. I quickly surmised the water level in the ‘S’ trap was low enough to allow septic tank gases to seep in via that trap into the air handler and throughout the house. The solution was simply to fill the trap with water, thus sealing away the putrid smell.

It seems the pipe running out of the HVAC air handler, which also housed the heating/air conditioning exchanger (as well as the water wood stove boiler heat exchanger) drained away excess condensate rather than let it accumulate on the basement floor.

The only time water was produced was when the air conditioning was running in the summer and humidity in the air was precipitated out as liquid H20. We’ve all seen the steady drip coming from a window air conditioner. That is the humidity being removed from the room.

The water kept the ‘S’ trap filled and the stink in the stank…er…tank. In the winter humidity levels are greatly reduced, thus no water is produced to keep the trap filled. Natural evaporation eventually lowers the level of water in the trap enough to release the stink to then scamper throughout the house.

Having successfully sealed off the offending yuck, I was the apple of Mrs. Cog’s eye, the conquering hero worthy of a specially cooked meal, followed by snuggles on the couch. Life was once again grand.

Cognitive Dissonance sans the night vision googles.

A year later, this time a few days before Christmas, the offending smell returned. I smugly descended into the basement, certain I knew both the illness and the cure. The force was strong in this one.

Only it wasn’t.

Even with the trap properly filled, the smell remained. A sickening feeling overwhelmed me because I suspected the source was an overflowing septic tank. In conversations with the previous owner I had learned the tank had never been pumped. While I knew approximately where the tank was buried, I was not privy to its precise location.

Worse, because it was the day before Christmas Eve on a mountain 25 miles from the nearest town with a company that pumps septic tanks, I frantically plumbed the phone book for someone willing to make the trek up here. It didn’t help matters that the region had just suffered its first heavy snow, quickly followed by a brutal ice storm.

Two of the three places I called informed me their equipment was frozen in place and would not be dispatched until Mother Nature freed them from their frozen state. The third company, perhaps moved by my desperate sobs and crocodile tears (completely wasted since there was no video) offered to send their truck out the day after Christmas. But since they were short handed from the holiday, I would have to unearth the two buried concrete covers on the septic tank if I wanted it pumped.

Oh joy!

Thankfully, up to this point we had experienced a mild winter, so the frost was only an inch or two thick in the area above the tank. Wielding a six foot long steel pry bar, I probed the soil where I believed the tank to be and quickly located the boundaries of the concrete structure.

Naturally, the tank just happened to reside under Mrs. Cog’s petunia bed. But that’s a story for another time. A few hours with pick and shovel liberated the two covers. Now I faced a difficult decision. Do I lever out the covers and take a peek, or leave the mess alone for the professionals to handle in a few days.

The smell inside our humble abode was coming from poo backing up into the house. The wash basin in the basement was particularly pungent, which meant several other drains down there in the dark were close to spilling the poo.

Glancing up to the sunroom window on my right, I saw Mrs. Cog and the child unit peering out the window, gas masks firmly in place and tears in their eyes. Eyes, I might add, that were now nearly swollen shut from the continuous gas attack. While I was tired from my physical exertion and cold from the freezing temps, I realized it could be much worse. At least I wasn’t trapped in the warm stench of our lovely log cabin.

I assumed the septic tanks’ outlet pipe was plugged, preventing the ‘gray’ water from flowing out into the leeching field. What can’t exit the septic tank backs up into the house. Wishing to remain happily married a little while longer, I bravely donned hip waders and plunged back into the task at hand; removing the septic tank covers.

Before doing so, I created a path for excess water to flow away from the buried tank and down the hill out back. This was a smart move, for as soon as the first cover was lifted fetid water came gushing out of the tank. Can you say poo pressure? If not for the previously planned escape route, I would have been knee deep in poopourri.

Clearing the clogged outlet, a process I refuse to describe (let alone remember) I cleared the septic system and restored poo service to our little corner of nirvana. Once again the hero, after burning my clothes and bathing in bleach, I fell into Mrs. Cog’s arms where she soothed the savage (and now thoroughly deodorized) beast.

Three days later reinforcements arrived and made our pile of poo go away. If you ever want to know what that giant sucking sound is, it’s probably a nearby sewage pumping truck. Hands down (or at least safely in your pockets) that must be the shittiest job in America. I made sure to tip them well in addition to their fee, if only out of mercy for their filthy souls. However, I did not shake their hands for obvious reasons.

A few days later I reburied the tank covers, though first I took careful measurements from various buildings so I could precisely relocate the tank covers when the problem re-occurs. Notice I said when and not if. I am an optimist at heart.

This brings us to our most recent close poo encounter of the third kind; when unconstrained poo threatens to stampede from the disposal device and rampage all over your bathroom floor. A few nights ago, after I had descended from the throne, having thoroughly enjoyed the privacy of my privy, Mrs. Cog informed me my poo had gone rouge and was about to break out.

Hands on hips, with that look on her face all married men know quite well, she demanded I do something about it, then vacated the room to seek shelter on the other side of the house. I had just been demoted from snuggle bunny first class to a purveyor of poo junior grade. Life is a slippery slope, particularly when it’s greased with yucky poo.

Hitching up my pants, then donning a hazmat suit left over from the last Ebola breakout, I marched into the master bath and commenced to do battle with the uncooperative porcelain throne. I am the man of the house and master of all I survey, though it was difficult to survey the poopy potty properly because I had failed to recharge the night vision batteries and the gas mask goggles kept fogging up. I refused to commence repairs without my full body armor.

The clog was clearly petrified and wasn’t budging without a liberal application of dynamite, let alone a puny plunger. Considering the lateness of the hour, I concentrated on decontamination, praying the 50 gallons of bleach I had on hand would suffice. Thank God we have two bathrooms or we would have headed to the local motel for the night.

After setting the sand bags and firing up the bilge pumps, I retired for the night dreaming of fairy turds and sugar plum floaters cresting the top of the dam to ravage the valley residents below. I awoke every two hours to reapply the disinfectant while preventing the cat from walking in the mess. Any other night he had free range in the bathroom and was perturbed he was locked out.

The next morning I steeled myself with coffee, then was lectured by Mrs. Cog. Seated directly across from me, she looked me square in the eyes and informed me she wanted nothing to do with the proposed poo operation. When I reminded her of our wedding vows, that stuff about better or worse, she informed me the prenuptial specifically mentioned no poo. A quick check of the original document revealed an entire paragraph devoted to avoiding the subject.

I should have read the fine print before I signed the damn thing.

In a direct challenge to my manhood, she uttered those six dreaded words. “Perhaps we should call a plumber,” she cooed, being as gentle as possible with my fragile ego. Throwing caution to the wind, I turned on the water works and began uncontrolled sobbing, begging her to give me one last chance. Reluctantly she gave her blessing, then abandoned me to my fate as she mumbled something about a backed up backlog of crafting creations she needed to work on.

Hoping there was a softer, more fluid way out, I decided to attack the problem by the butt and headed to the basement to check out the potty plumbing. Grabbing a hammer, I tapped on a few pipes to assure the Mrs. I was hard at work while I inspected the drain pipes.

Based upon the pipe configuration, I suddenly realized if the shower drain worked, the main line was free and the clog would be easily reachable with a rotary snake. A quick check of the shower confirmed the problem was manageable. Suiting up one last time, I pulled the newly installed airlock closed behind me and dove right in.

To my surprise and utter relief, ole rotor router cleared the clog in minutes once I ascertained the proper depth of the plug. Resisting the urge to dispose of any tools that came within 10 miles of the bathroom, I used the last 20 gallons of bleach to clean everything, then dashed into the shower and huddled in the corner while the near scalding water scoured me clean.

Now clean as a whistle and red as a lobster, I dragged the overstuffed hazmat bag of clothes, towels, rugs and cat out to the woods and, after quickly crafting various occult symbols out of vines, tree branches and poo contaminated articles of clothing, burned the toilet in effigy. I’ll be damned if the porcelain gods get the best of me. At least I get the last laugh…for now.

There remains one problem though. Similar to the hesitation one has when approaching a dog who has previously nipped at your hand, I am reluctant to plant my posterior on the porcelain accommodation. I just know Satan himself waits within the commode to bite the butt that feeds it. And I would prefer it not be mine.

Give me a few weeks and some heavy medication and I’m fairly certain I’ll get over being leery of the loo. If all else fails, Lowes informs me I can replace the offending head for less than $300. Then again, all the new environmentally correct potties are low flow flush. That does not sound very promising.



Cognitive Dissonance

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