There is absolutely no greater panic in suburban life than when the toilet, finally fed up with your shit (literally), starts backing up.
When it happened to me a few days ago, I tried to talk my way through the situation, which quickly turned into me trying to convince the toilet to stop backing up, first through diplomacy, then through threats and profanity, the pitch of my voice rising as fast as the water level in the bowl.
“Oh, fuck me, no, toilet! Don’t do that! That’s the opposite of what I want you to do! The water is supposed to go down, not up! Look, just stop! If you stop now you won’t get anything on the floor, and we’ll just call it good. No hard feelings! What- No! God fucking damn it, it’s all over the floor now! What the hell, toilet? I thought we were friends! Why are you doing this – do you think you’re better than me or something? You think you’re too good for my bodily functions? Fuck you, toilet! I don’t need you! I can crap outside! Oh, fuck it, my shoes! Shitting cockfucks!”
But really, what else can you do? We sort of take for granted the idea that the toilet is the one place in the house that we can put things we never want to see again – from body waste to dead spiders to as much cocaine as possible before the FBI breaks down the door. I never really considered that the toilet might spontaneously decide to bring all these unwanted items back up, because the thought of a human excrement geyser in your house about eight feet away from your toothbrush is one of those things so horrible you try not to think about it until you have to.
So I was watching the water rise, yelling at my toilet, wracking my brain in search of a solution. All I could come up with was ‘Call a plumber’, because that’s The Thing You Do when the toilet breaks, just like rolling on the ground is the go to solution for catching on fire and calling 911 is the thing to do when a hobo attacks your front door.
Of course, calling a plumber is really sort of a long term solution, and by my own estimate I had about four seconds to convince the toilet to quit backing up before I had to make Sophie’s Choice regarding which of my bath towels I was going to sacrifice to the cleanup effort.
It just doesn’t seem right. When your lamp breaks, it doesn’t shine uncomfortably bright – it just quits illuminating the room. When your car breaks, it doesn’t automatically drive off a bridge into the river and lock all its doors – it just refuses to turn on or go anywhere. But when your toilet breaks, rather than simply not flushing it actually reverses itself and promptly creates more problems. Now not only do you have a broken toilet, but you’ve got to clean and disinfect your floor.
I had a vague recollection of a time a couple years ago when something similar to this had happened at a friend’s apartment, and while we dithered and yelped in confusion her roommate shoved past us, leapt into the line of fire, and heroically turned a small knob behind the toilet tank, which, as she later explained to us, shut off the water flow to the toilet and prevented outright disaster.
I called up that little memory an instant before doomsday, and a moment later I was bent over the toilet, my chin less than six inches from the rising water, my hand wrapped around the knob set in the wall behind the tank. I made an executive decision and started twisting it to the right as hard as I could.
“Righty-tighty!” I whimpered, a waterfall cascading down the side of the porcelean. “Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey! RIGHTY-TIGHTY LEFTY LOOSEY!”
Whether the toilet quit overflowing because of my cranking or because it had grown tired of the game, I’ll never know. What’s important is that it did stop – but not before coating the floor with water.
I threw some towels down and called Dad at work.
“Hey Dad,” I said. “Have we got a toilet plunger at the house?” I did my best to sound nonchalant, as though I wanted a toilet plunger for some innocuous, non-plunging oriented task, or perhaps because I was just making an alphabetical list of all the things that we had in the house and had just reached ‘P.’
“Yeah. There’s one in the garage, by the refrigerator.”
“Great! Cool. So that’s… Where that is.” I was hoping to wrap up the conversation quickly lest he question me and find out that even with a bachelor’s degree I still can’t be left alone in the house without fucking something up. “Garage it is, then.”
“Yes.” He was silent for a moment, choosing his next words. “…is there a problem, Truman?”
“Uh,” I muttered, looking over my shoulder and seeing that a trail of water had escaped one of the towels and was working its way across the tile toward the carpet. “No. Well, yes. But it’s nothing I can’t handle. I mean, I’m handling it now, as we speak. The plunger will help me handle it.”
“Great.” My Dad said, probably while shaking his head. “I’ll see you in a couple hours.”
I went to the basement and fetched the plunger – a plastic, accordion looking affair – and then returned to the toilet, which had mostly drained by now. I set to work plunging, but the rigid plastic plunger didn’t seal right and didn’t so much plunge the toilet as it created massive, frothy air bubbles that splattered more toilet water onto the floor, which was just what I needed at that point.
Dad returned a few hours later, produced a far superior rubber plunger from elsewhere in the garage, and had the toilet running smoothly again after only two solid plungings.
What’s the moral of this story? One, happy Father’s Day. Two, toilets, like the environment, are systems of incredible power that we should not take for granted lest they rise up and destroy us.
Truman Capps is happy to know he can always rely on his old friend potty humor for a few laughs.