The transplendent adventures of Bill living an ordinary life, Part 2: That sinking feeling

This morning, I dreamed that I had to go to the bathroom.

Bill, we all love to hear details about your personal life. But maybe this is a little too personal?

Perhaps, but it’s relevant to the story.

My “DO NOT WET THE BED” instincts, developed in childhood, kicked in. I woke up, got off the bed, and started towards the bathroom. It was then I realized that, contrary to past experience and childhood instincts, I did not actually need to go to the bathroom.

It was then I heard the sound of water pouring. My first thought, a perfectly natural one based on past experience, was, “Oh no! What have the cats done now?”

Following the sound, I saw that it wasn’t the cats (this time). My kitchen sink was overflowing:

As described below, I took this photo after I thought I had things under control. I was wrong.

No, I hadn’t left the water running and the sink stoppered up! Shame on you for thinking it!

This sort of thing had happened to me before. It’s been a feature of my apartment for decades.

I live in a basement apartment. The kitchen pipes from the apartments above me run through the walls and link up somewhere beneath my kitchen floor. From there the pipes merge with the bathroom pipes, then empty out into the apartment complex’s sewer main.

When one is designing a network of plumbing pipes, one normally has pipes of a smaller diameter feeding into pipes of a larger diameter. According to my superintendent, somewhere in path of pipes leading from my beneath my kitchen, a larger pipe is butted against a smaller pipe. (My building was constructed in the 1970s, I think; maybe standards were different then.)

The consequence is that detritus, including fats and grease, builds up at the junction between the larger->smaller pipe. Eventually you get a clog. I’ve gotten clogs every year or so since I’ve moved into this building over thirty years ago.

The effect of this clog is that I can run water through my sink indefinitely and not see any backup. However, if an upstairs neighbor dumps a large amount of water into their sink drain (for example, pulling the plug on a full sink after doing the dishes) the waste water backs up into my sink, then oh-so-slowly drains through that clog.

In the past, level of backed-up water never got to above half-way in my sink, and usually much less than that.

When this happens, I call the building’s landlord, who contacts the superintendent. His solutions have varied. Sometimes he pour a large quantity of commercial main-line pipe cleaner (about two gallons worth). Other times he snakes my pipes. He knows from the length of the snake that the clog develops ‘way down the pipe, almost at the limit of his longest snake.

In order to spare him visits, I’ve sometimes used an enzyme-based main line cleaner on my own. I don’t use the commercial “industrial strength” cleaners, because they contain lye. If a plumber has to be called in, they’ll usually refuse to work on any pipes filled with lye, because of the reaction it has with water.

This time is the first that it’s been so bad that it overflowed the sink. I went to my closet, grabbed a bucket, dumped its contents on the floor (sponges and mops and whatnot), and rushed back to the kitchen. I carried buckets of sink water from the kitchen to the bathroom, and dumped it into the toilet.

Of course, I was none-too-careful about pouring the water from the bucket into the toilet bowl. So my bathroom floor got wet with dirty sink water as well.

I made several trips. Once I thought I had the problem under control. It was then that I took the above picture.

Then the sink started overflowing again, as my upstairs neighbor continued to send water down the pipes.

Finally, the water stopped flowing.

I got dressed, put on a mask, and went to visit my neighbors upstairs. Only two answered their doors. I explained the situation, and asked them politely to please not pour any large quantities of water down their sinks. They nodded, said they understood, and also said they hadn’t done anything like that recently.

According to the superintendent, one of them may not have told the truth. Oh, well.

One of the neighbors was kind enough to tell me that the superintendent was working in the building next door, which is part of the same apartment complex. I was surprised that he was working on a Saturday during a Labor-Day weekend, but that’s the kind of work ethic he has.

I went outside and found him immediately. He was just outside the building, cutting a piece of something that looked like marble for a kitchen counter.

He put aside his other work to inspect my kitchen sink. (Yep, that’s the kind of superintendent I’ve got! When people ask me why I’ve lived in this apartment so many years, that’s part of the reason why.)

He and his assistant started working in my kitchen, using a plunger to try to loosen the clog, then running his longest snake through the pipes. Finally things started flowing again.

I moved on to the next (and, of course, the most fun!) part of the process: Cleaning up. The superintendent had wiped the floor and the cabinet under the sink. But I felt I had to go further than that. After all, this was waste water from someone else’s apartment; I didn’t know what bacteria they might have washed down the drain.

Out came the mop and the Pine-Sol. It was about time that the kitchen and bathroom floors had a good mopping anyway. I also used disinfectant cleaner on the kitchen sink and any other surface that had come into contact with the waste water.

I didn’t get everything. The bathroom rugs were “contaminated.” I’ll let them dry, of course. But if I die from a disease contracted from a dirty carpet, you’ll know why.

All of this panicked the cats, of course. As I’m typing this, Shuba has come to me many times to be petted and reassured. Jiku hasn’t come out at all; normally he emerges as soon as the Evil Strangers have left.

However, in an hour or two they’ll be pleased. The superintendent asked me to leave open the doors underneath the sink, so the area could dry out. From previous adventures, I know the cats will appreciate this as a new place to play.

I’ve obviously spun out this story to make it sound more dramatic than it actually was. (That’s what “transplendent” means, after all.) Still, I’m grateful that I got through a plumbing emergency with so many kind people for support.

Now I’m thinking of getting all my upstairs neighbors a drain strainer for Hanukah; if it doesn’t go down their pipes, it won’t clog mine. Do you think that will go over well?

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