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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

You Won’t Believe This, But ‘Impromptu Metal Snake’ Is the Name of My Black Oak Arkansas Tribute Band. But I Digress

Sewer 101: Wear all the gloves in the house. Then drink the bleach.

And so now we must get on with it. We sent an impromptu metal snake down the cleanout we’d discovered. It’s just a metal wire we use to “fish” electrical cable through wall cavities. I have a metal snake that’s made especially for sewer drains, but it’s much bigger, so it’s harder to clean off after you pull it back out. The wrong thing is often the right thing under the right circumstances. The poopoo porridge showing in the pipe was vile, and I wanted to keep it under control until I made it go away completely.

The metal snake hit a solid obstruction at seven feet in. I knew immediately what that was. The vitreous clay pipe must make a 90-degree turn just outside the house, where it went either left or right and headed off to the town’s sewer main. At this point, it really didn’t matter which way it went. I had to make the turn and keep going. There’s no sense worrying about things that don’t matter. There are more important things to keep you occupied when you’re mucking about in what amounts to a toilet that saves everything like a demented Christmas Club. I still don’t care where the poop goes. I just want it to go there and leave me alone. I have the same opinion of the guys that sell frozen steaks door to door.

The first ten-foot section of sewer auger cable will easily reach the T fitting where the pipe turns and runs away. I know it’s a T fitting, and not a sweep, because that’s probably the only fittings the pipe installers had back in the day. Vitreous clay pipe is great stuff, and it’s plenty durable, but it’s like a Model T. It comes in one color and a few different shapes and sizes and that’s it. I’ve never even seen a sweep fitting out in the wild. They probably used the T fitting to allow a cleanout at the turn, which is good plumbing practice, but someone’s buried that one, too, sometime over the last hundred years. Or maybe they knew that putting the cleanout inside the house, just before the tee, was smarter for winter work. Whatever. I can deal with it.

The sewer drill came with a battered metal case filled with medieval torture devices disguised as end fittings for the sewer cables. I chose the goofiest-looking one from the bunch. It was a bendy one-foot spring with a nasty-looking spike on the end shaped like a spade on a deck of cards. I clicked it onto the first length of auger cable, and then shoved it by hand into the pipe until it hit the turn. Then we hooked it up to the machine, said a poopy prayer, and turned it on.

The machine is quiet, which I appreciated. I sat on a pilfered plastic milk crate next to the pipe while my son operated the machine according to my various grunts. After a while I just pointed. The machine is so simple as to defy description. It has a switch right on the motor that reads FORWARD and REVERSE, and a button on the end of a cable that you depress to turn it on and off. That’s it.

I was unable to wear any form of waterproof or insulated glove, because I was the man in the hole. The cable consists of an outer, spring-like sheath, and an inner cable that looks like BX cable sheathing. Both the inside and outside cables spin when the motor runs, and if you don’t hold onto it it begins to whip around like a robot that wants you to jump rope. If you wear any sort of rubberized, form-fitting glove, the outer spring cable will immediately grab it and crush all the fingers on your hand that it can’t remove cleanly before you can tell your son to lay off the button. You’re required to wear leather-palmed, loose fitting gloves, and let the cable lay in the crook between your thumb and index finger. When things are going well, you can tuck the cable under your boot in the void of your arch. I’ve been writing for two weeks about mucking out a blocked sewer line in my frozen basement, so if you don’t mind, I’ll just skip over any mention of things “going well’ for the foreseeable future. Thanks for your understanding.

While you’re advancing the cable, you need to hold on to the cable or the whipping motion will knock out a tooth or two, which wouldn’t be so bad, I guess. I’d finally fit in at the checkout line at the Walmart if that happened. However, when you put the machine on REVERSE and start backing it out of the primordial soup, the simple dentistry it offers comes with a hepatitis shower instead of the complimentary lollipop that most DDS offices hand out. I held on to that cable like grim death while it spun, I can assure you.

The vitreous clay pipe pipe is like baked concrete. It’s really tough stuff. I wouldn’t have been able to use the nasty-looking flail attachment if the pipe was made of less durable material. After the cable bottomed out at the T, we hooked it up to the auger and let it rip.

The Electric Eel is like a lawn mower. You turn it on, the cable spins, and you and push the machine forward to keep pressure on the line. The cable just spun for a good long time, flopping this way and that inside the pipe. My son kept even pressure on it while I tried to hang on to the cable. It was another of those moments when I knew that I’d be beaten if it didn’t find its way around the corner. My sewer repair was like trying to hit on a roulette wheel seventeen times in a row. This was something like the thirteenth successful spin at this point, and I began to wonder if the big croupier in the sky was going to reach under the table and press the “you’ve won enough button” that casinos seem to install on all the tables.

Waiting to see if that cable would find its way around the corner was as nerve-wracking as any procedure that doesn’t end in uttering, “I do.”
[to be continued]

7 Responses

  1. This is usually the point where one starts making rash promise's to the gods.

    "Son, I have good news. We fixed the plumbing. The other news is that you report to the seminary next week to begin training for the priesthood…".

  2. I was SO shocked by the relentless depravity of your plumbing purgatory, I uttered a small profanity. Apparently "Holy Shite, that's bad" is blasphemous on multiple levels in this situation…

  3. Here in rural PA the standard is "turkey mound" not drain field.
    Scrape off the sod from the area- sized according to number of bedrooms- say 30 ft by 100ft for our five, pile up sand to a thickness according to the perc test you did on the site, say 3-5 feet. lay down the perforated pipe grid include cleanouts- usually 4- that will extend upwards about a foot, cover with landscape fabric- splash out for the good stuff, cover with 6 inches of clay, cover with 3 inches of soil apply grass seed.
    With the new septic tank, pump and connecting lines it cost me $17 grand three years ago to replace the old Cess pit that had served for over a century.

  4. Hopefully it is obvious, but as a public service I would like to add that the eel and its brethren are extremely dangerous. He's not kidding about taking off fingers, but at least you can see and understand that hazard easily. The real danger is that if it catches on something while it is running and there's any slack in the line to speak of, it will run a loop back up the line — something similar to the way a phone cord gets tangled, except it is big enough to catch your whole arm and happens in an instant. I got a nasty bruise and was glad to have it.

    Be careful.

  5. Mr. Sippi, I hate to sound obsequious (not having had the opportunity to use that word before), but I do believe if you just sat on the ground and watched the clouds go by, your description of the clouds, the blue sky, the ground, the wind, and any thing that passed you by would fascinate all your readers.

  6. I just came around the comments to see if anyone made a joke about the "I do" part. Apparently your readers are of a higher caliber (except me, apparently).

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