Getting fired stinks, especially when you're a single dad with a mortgage and you used to work for the one horse in a one-horse town. But then a week later the sewer line at my East Central house fell apart and I had to prioritize. Hmmmn. What stinks worse?
In early January, I was abruptly ejected by the Spokesman-Review after a disagreement over when to name names in a story. "We print what we know when we know it," the man behind the curtain boomed as he punched the Ejecto Button. Wait! Can I tell that to all the folks involved in River Park Squaaaarrrrrre? Whoosh!
So I land out on the street (or, more accurately, in my dining room with the cat), but I can still write stories, I tell myself in my best pep-talk inner voice. Inner voices, of course, don't drown out much, and a few days later I hear a sound like it's raining in my basement. Hey, that's weird. I soon realize this is a different sort of storm. Being fired is one thing, but having a toilet I can't flush? That's a different load of crap entirely.
Happy New Year! All of a sudden I have no income. And no outflow, so to speak.
I went out on the porch to have a smoke. I went back in to grab the phone book.
Pretty soon, my new best friend Roy came over with his rooter tools and set up shop in the basement. He squatted in front of the mass of sweating cast-iron pipe (call it the waste stack if you want to sound "in the know"), and as he put his wrench on the cleanout cap, Roy shoots me a look.
"Is there going to be anything coming out of this?''
"Um.'' I just handed him a bucket. The biggest one I could find. We needed two.
Sh**! It's a word that pops up frequently in the next few days. The cutter goes out 61 feet and then hits a mass of something that stops it cold. Sh**! My new best friend Roy brings another new best friend, Scott, who has a really cool camera -- a glowing red lens like the Eye of Sauron we can shove into the Dark Regions and see what held up the cutter. But the camera goes out about 7 feet and gets stuck. " It's got a big head. There must be an offset it can't get through,'' my other new best friend Scott said. " We can dig it up or you can.'' Sh**!
By the time my daughter's school bus pulls up across the street in the afternoon, I'm out under the spruce tree standing up to my chest in what could be a cool scene in a zombie movie. Pile of fresh-turned earth. Long rectangular hole. Crazed-looking man with a shovel and a pulaski.
Nora and her friend Ashley stop at the back gate. "Uh, Dad," Nora asks, "are you burying something?''
It was finals week. I didn't say this aloud, but "That depends,'' I thought as loud as I could think it. "How did you do on your tests? Bwah-Hahahahahahahaha!''
A couple of days later, my new best friend Roy and another new best friend. Dale, come back with the camera and other cool stuff. "Let's try the jetter," Roy says. This is a nozzle that shoots out water at 4,000 pounds per square inch.
Roy and Dale cheer me up with jetter stories: "Remember that time the city crew was putting one in and we tried to tell them it was going the wrong way? The jetter blew the toilet off the floor and the hose was flying around and broke out the bathroom window.''
The jetter in my back yard was boring. It only shot water furiously around to the front yard. The clog was unimpressed. So that meant we had to get the digger, a really cool little rubber-tracked backhoe with two more of my new best friends, Travis and Matthew. It's getting crowded around here, but they have better stories than the cat.
Since they work outside, Travis and Matthew wear jeans and sweatshirts. My other new best friends, Roy and Dale and Scott -- who are on the, um, other end of the operation -- wear uniforms that look like Milkman Dan's in the cartoon Red Meat. And it's surreal when they pull on disposable gloves, kind of like surgeons, whenever they have to, um, "go in.''
Pretty soon the stubborn section of pipe is exposed and Matthew, the skinniest of the bunch, is in the hole feeding in the camera line. At last! The rest of us scrunch around the little TV, watching it like it was the Super Bowl. So to speak.
"Ya know, this is really cool in a creepy sort of way,'' I said.
Travis, the guy who runs the digger, gives me a beaming smile. "This allows us to go where no man has gone before.''
I couldn't say this out loud, either, but "Dude,'' I thought at the highest volume possible. "I've gone there.''
That's why we're all wearing disposable gloves.
That afternoon, I decided the pipe had to go. After nearly 90 years, I just couldn't trust it any more. The man behind the curtain said the same thing when he canned me: "I just can't trust you any more.''
Can't trust somebody who is compassionate and thorough? Flush that!
He gave me a check that I handed right over to my new best friends. I washed my hands. Now whenever I pee, I flush seven times. Just to get my money's worth.
Publication date: 03/03/05