Why is it looking at me?
On the day before Thanksgiving, after chopping up onions and celery and apples for my “world-famous” bread stuffing, I decided to do a few loads of laundry. I was feeling energetic and productive and when I’m on a tear like that, it’s hard for me to slow down.
So I’m whizzing around the house, doing chores, taking the occasional sip of wine, and actually feeling pretty good. My husband had gone out for a “breather” and I had my music cranked while I prepared for the holiday.
While I boogied around the kitchen cleaning up, I realized that I’d forgotten to put the laundry in the dryer. In fact, I totally spaced on it. That’s what happens when you try to do too many things at once. You forget shit.
I trundled down to the laundry room which abuts our finished basement, switched on the light, and to my absolute horror saw “The River of No Return.”
Water, everywhere. Enough to make a sloshing sound. Talk about a buzz kill!
My stomach sank into my wet feet. My first thought was that the washing machine had leaked as that’s happened in the past. It’s old but I’ve been resisting replacing it, as well as the dryer because…well…I don’t want to pay for a new one! My husband keeps telling me to bite the bullet and loosen the purse-strings, but it’s almost like a game for me at this point. I want to see how long the old guy and gal can hang on.
I’d bought this set from my sister over thirty years ago and it’s still going relatively strong while she’s had to replace her washer and dryer at least three times. According to our plumber, who knows about these things because he makes a gazillion bucks an hour, “They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.”
But back to the river in our laundry room. There was so much freakin’ water that I could neither mop it nor sop it, up. The towels and rags I threw down quickly soaked through. As did my socks and the bottom of my pandemic pants.
Luckily, the water just reached the carpeting in the basement, dampening only a couple of inches in, so that particular nightmare was avoided.
Near tears, I called my husband at the bar where he hangs out in the afternoons, to get the hell out of Dodge for a couple of hours, and gave him the “news.” (Yes, they socially-distance there so all is well.)
He immediately called our new handy-dude who he conveniently met at said bar and the guy was nice enough to come over, like right away on the night before Thanksgiving.
It turns out, the river had nothing to do with the washing machine and everything to do with what I think of as the “hole in the floor.” In other words, the drain, which was backed-up like a mofo.
Now, I should break here to explain something. I know that there are many homeowners on this site who are probably Johnnies-on-the-spot when it comes to keeping up their property, both inside and out.
You're the folks who are on top of things 24/7. You know that drains and sewer lines and gutters and air vents and the like have to be, you know, properly maintained, so as to avoid catastrophe, later on.
Here at the McGuinn manse, we are not like that. You might think of us as “post-active.” I’m not trying to imply that we’re a couple of brainless morons, but normally, the way things work around here is, we tend to attend to stuff after it fucks up. Then, it’s hair on fire time as we try to find someone to resolve the issue.
The good news: This new guy is great. He quickly determined that the river was the culmination of a long-backed-up-drain. General sludge, tree leaves, and whatever schmutz was left behind after years of washing clothes were the likely culprit. And also, a drain cover that was so old, it rusted and cracked, sending pieces of metal into the hole, blocking it even further.
He did what he could to suck up the water with his special water-sucking vacuum and then told us not to shower or run any of the faucets in the house for anything longer than a couple of minutes. Now, I love my long, hot, steamy showers but I figured I could stand anything for a night. And, considering the next day was Thanksgiving, I also figured we’d be ordering Chinese since rinsing the turkey in the yard with a garden hose wasn’t an option.
Amazingly and thankfully, our guy came back the next morning, on Thanksgiving, mind you, with a special thingy that digs deep into a blockage and clears it out. I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s big and it’s loud. And, it works.
Full disclosure: This guy is cute and there was something vaguely sexual about watching him work this mechanized penis up and down in that hole. Vaguely arousing, but in a repellent sort of way.
So I left the room and did my part by Googling to see what other methods would unclog a backed-up drain. What I found: Boiling water, followed by baking soda and vinegar and more boiling water.
Handy-dude was up for it, so I boiled a teapot full of water and gingerly stood over the hole. Effing ugly, that thing. I swear it was looking at me. Without the cover, it was ringed by nasty sludge and rust and twenty years' worth of crap. That’s how long we’ve lived in our home. And that’s how long we’ve never given a thought to that ghastly gash.
On the whole, the drain looked like a rheumy eye. Or a glory-hole gone horribly wrong.
I think it growled, “Feed me,” but I can’t be sure. Slowly, I poured some of the hot water into the schmutzy opening, waited a minute or so, and then watched as the guy added the baking soda and vinegar. It bubbled up like a cauldron and there was something so satisfying about the “hiss” the thing gave off.
More hot water followed, along with a sucking sound. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What the hell is down there?”
After a lot more digging around, as he was there for hours, our handy-dude cleared the drain and saved the holiday! My husband and I considered ourselves lucky because he told us that, at the worst, the problem could have been attributed to a ruptured pipe underground, the fix of which could run upwards of ten grand.
So now, I regularly feed the hole in our floor with boiling water, baking soda, and vinegar. It’s called “maintenance” and I believe I learned an important lesson: Things will fuck up if you wait long enough.
I’m no longer disgusted by the hole as the schmutz is gone along with the broken, stainless steel cover. We replaced it with a new, heavy-duty plastic one and I think the hole appreciates the effort. I am, in fact, becoming a bit fond of the thing as I believe it is, of me, as well. I think I saw a wink, the other day.
Once a week, I give it the boiling water/baking soda/vinegar treatment, which may be a little over-the-top as a monthly “feeding” would probably suffice, but I’m not taking any chances.
With a hole that old, you never know. It could turn on me at any time.
© Sherry McGuinn, 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.