I flushed the toilet.
But it didn’t flush.
At first I was unfazed by the toilet’s rapid filling with water. We have a new toilet, but unfortunately it is a disobedient one. Far too often it acts rebellious when asked to flush. Sometimes it will fill threateningly all the way up to the top with water, and then suck everything down as if saying, “Ha ha, scared you, didn’t I?” Then, sometimes it stubbornly refuses to flush, and a person must resort to using a plunger.
This is all very embarrassing when visitors are in the house. The toilet, like some black sheep in the family, is something we don’t want to talk about and yet almost feel as if we should mention. When company heads toward the bathroom there is the temptation to shout out “Don’t mind the toilet if it doesn’t want to flush. It does that all the time!” That seems very crass, and socially awkward. I’ve always imagined the better solution was to hang a sign over the toilet that read something like this: “The toilet you see is a very evil toilet. If it behaves wickedly and refuses to accept your deposit, then assault it with the plunger which is situated on your left, until the toilet is beaten into submission.”
The toilet has caused trouble almost from the day it was installed. From long experience I have come to handle it with a certain long-suffering patience. When it begins to fill ominously with water I glare at it without any panic, and perhaps half the time it will complete the flush at the last second, and I am spared using the plunger. However, as the toilet filled up this most recent time everything did not go sucking down. “Oh argh,” I thought. “It is supper time. I don’t want to deal with this.” But there was no choice, so I took the plunger and went to work.
One plunge and nothing happened. Must be really stuck. I plunged again, very vigorously. Still nothing. There is absolutely no movement. “That’s odd,” I think, and attack it again, plunging repeatedly. There is no success. In fact, it seems stopping up the toilet with concrete could hardly have seized everything up any worse. I am disbelieving, or unwilling to believe, because after months and months of successful plunging I can’t believe it isn’t working. The stupid thing always flushes after a good plunging. It must be calling my bluff. So I try to flush again, hoping, willing, everything to go down with a big whoosh.
No such luck.
Acck! It’s going to over flow!
I leap to frantically plunging again, plunging, plunging, but no success. Water splashes over the floor. Dang. Exactly what I didn’t want. That’s torn it all. I grab some towels and throw them down to stem the tide, then begin plunging again. More water splashes all over the place and still there is no movement in the bowel. I pull the plunger out and the muddy brown water sits there, leaden and still. This can’t be happening. And yet, way back in my mind part of me is laughing away, saying “Yes, it is happening, and what are you going to do about it?”
So I try a third, tentative attempt at flushing, but quickly abandon it when the situation has obviously not improved. More plunging, and rushing around to grab more towels. Plunging again. At last I have towel dams all over the floor with water everywhere and I’ve reached the conclusion that plunging will do absolutely no good. We have a serious plumbing problem. Only the big guns will solve this problem.
At this point the laughter in the back of my mind is bubbling near the surface. I can’t help but realize how very much this is the fulfillment of one of my childhood nightmares. Perhaps most children, when they are first learning how to use the toilet, watch as the water swirls and swirls around before whooshing all down. And as they watch, if they were like me back then, perhaps once or twice they pondered about what would happen if everything didn’t go down but instead reversed direction, filled up, and then vomited all over the place, splashing across the floor. Then I would have to run from the room in panic, with a shrill voice calling out, “I didn’t mean to do it! I didn’t mean to! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I don’t know how I did it! I just tried to flush the toilet! The toilet’s broken! Dad, dad! Help! The toilet’s splashed water all over the floor and what are we going to do?”
The shadows of this thought may have flittered through the dark recess of my mind, buried far beneath my intelligence and maturity, and it was the recognition of this which first started the laughter inside of me. Certainly I am finding something exceedingly funny about walking into the dining room where everyone is happily and blissfully engaged in eating supper and informing them that we have a four siren plumbing problem.
Below carpentry, below electrical work, below painting–plumbing is below all of these things for Dad. I helped plumb and install the toilet and unlike my childish past self, it was no longer a mysterious and dangerous machine. I figured if anyone had some brilliant idea of how to fix the problem I would follow their advice, but otherwise we would dig up the plumbing snake, and Dad would oversee me using it. I had never snaked a toilet before, and though I thought it wasn’t a complex thing, I wasn’t sure.
First thing Dad wanted to do was try his hand at plunging the toilet. I tried to tell him it wouldn’t work, but quite understandably he didn’t want to believe it was anything more than a simple problem. He set to fiercely plunging the toilet, and with no more success than me. Nothing went down, and that meant all the force of his plunging shot backward, vomiting water up over the bowl and onto the floor. He leaped back to avoid being splashed and began plunging again. And again. He tries flushing. Nothing goes. More plunging then. By this time he has pretty well lost his temper, and I am no longer able to control myself and am laughing my head off.
This may seem like very sick humor, to which I must plead guilty. I like to blame my physical humor on having watched The Three Stooges when I was little. Somehow, all sorts of frustrating and painful experiences are viewed through the prism of the ludicrous. Someone else whacking their thumb with a hammer is funny. Halfway falling off the roof is funny. (I actually did this once, and had to lay on the porch roof, where I had landed, and laugh and laugh and laugh.) Trying to plunge the unplungeable toilet is funny. It’s not that I take gleeful pleasure in the frustrations or pains of others, but rather that at the worst of times I see what a farce and a joke life is. By the time Dad took his hand at plunging the toilet I figured everything had got about as bad as it could get. Filthy mess was already all over the floor. There was no graceful saving of the situation. It was a stinking debacle. The worse that could happen now is that we would have to unbolt the toilet and physically remove the obstruction. So what more was there to do besides laugh at the whole situation?
But Dad was not laughing, and I tried to laugh as quietly, and with as much restraint, as I could manage. Eventually, I felt I had to leave him to his plunging and splashing and get a grip on myself. I walked into the dining room, muffling my laughter as best I could. Everyone, of course, wanted to know what I was finding so funny, and Mom wanted to make sure Dad was okay. No, Dad was not hurt, I said, and I tried to explain how toilet filth splashing all over the place was funny. But everyone else was sitting around the dinner table, and none of them comprehended.
After a long string of determined attempts to get the toilet to flush Dad was forced to concede the plunger was not going to solve the problem. A check of the access pipe in the basement showed no blockage down there so the next step was to take the old rusty plumbing snake and try to break up the blockage. The snake was rusty, and hard to use, and the two of us trying to force this rusting thing down the toilet sent me into fits of giggles again. It was like material for some comedy or something. Finally, after much struggle, we got the entire length of the snake down in the toilet. We hauled it all back out again, to find no success. Nothing. (Dad, probably correctly, guessed that the snake had simply double back up on itself.) So Dad found a short length of rubber hose, and tried to force that down the toilet. Still nothing.
We were now plumb out of options. (Excuse the pun.) Filthy inch, by filthy inch, every choice was taken away from us until we were reduced to bailing all of the disgusting material out of the toilet, so we could unbolt the toilet and physically see what the problem was. Indeed, no sooner than the toilet was turned over than it was evident what our problem was. How can I put this delicately? Ah . . . sewage matter was compacted inside the toilet, bulging out from the bottom in one thick mass. The drain pipe was fine and clear, but somehow, some fateful turd (there, I said it) had become lodged, and it is unclear how many loads after it became stuck as well, until it was quite a compacted mess filling up a good section of the pipe. Apparently for a while there was just enough free space for the water to slowly leak through. Enough space until my batch came along.
In the end we had to haul the toilet all the way outside, hook up a hose, and power wash the thing to blast all of the blockage out. Then we mopped up the bathroom, and remounted the toilet. Only after that could I wash up and finally eat my supper. Dad spent a good deal of time afterward going around, spraying everything with disinfectant. Such plumbing jobs makes you want to do that.
Our toilet is now, officially, the most vile contraption. The exit chute isn’t big enough, and the toilet doesn’t have enough vigor in its flush. There are too many bends in the pipe work before everything gets out of the toilet and down the drain. Thus, I feel, with a certain stirring of dread, that it is only a matter of time before this whole escapade is repeated again.
There is no way it can be as funny next time.