I bought my first home in 1984 when I was twenty-four-years-old. It was a pretty bold move on my part, considering I really had no money to work with. But through some creative financing I somehow managed to close the deal on a really nice sixty-year-old English Tudor. The place was in excellent condition, but needed some updating. This turned out to be one of the smartest investments I ever made, since the profits from this home enabled me to upgrade over the years.
The first thing I did after moving in was to renovate the basement into an apartment for myself. Once completed, I planned to rent out the main house to cover my expenses. This allowed me to save a nice sum of money over the next few years.
My biggest challenge in fixing up the basement was the plumbing. The main sewage lines were four feet above the basement floor, which meant I had to figure a way to pump water and sewage upward. At the time I had very little knowledge of plumbing, so one of my friends recommended a handyman he was using. This guy was supposedly a jack-of- all-trades, and -- best of all -- he was cheap.
I forget the handyman's name. I remember he was tall and thin, wore a ponytail, and was into the Grateful Dead. He was also very friendly and seemed to know what he was doing. He recommended using a submersible sewage ejector pump. This involved sinking a large poylethylene basin -- about the size and shape of a wine barrel -- into the basement floor to collect water and sewage from the kitchen and bathroom waste lines. The ejector pump is submerged inside the basin and is controlled by a mercury float switch. Once the water in the basin rises to about two-thirds full, the pump would activate, ejecting the water and sewage upward into the main septic line.
As the handyman did his work, he explained to me how everything operated and what I needed to do in case of a problem. Once he finished up, my apartment was basically complete, and I moved my stuff downstairs. A few weeks later a young couple moved into the main house with their young son.
Since I was single, basement living wasn't so bad. I had fixed the place up nicely and kept it neat and clean. Although I have to admit: I was a bit skeeved over the idea that my own feces would literally be "stored" inside my living quarters for an indeterminate period of time. You see, normally it would take four or five flushes before I would hear the sewage pump engage and "whoosh" all the water and little floaters out into the septic system. That was way too infrequent for me. It really irked me that these unpleasant guests would only leave when they were good and ready to do so. As a result, I came up with creative ways of making sure they left the premises when *I* decided.
And so whenever I flushed, if I didn't hear the calming "whoosh" noise, then I simply turned on the shower until the water level in the basin reached the "whoosh" level. Not exactly the most conservative approach -- but well, tough crap on those loony water conservationists anyway. What do they know? I needed peace of mind. There was simply no way I was going to sleep ten feet away from a flotilla of dookie logs bobbing around in a subterranean shit-vat.
And so, for the next two-and-a-half years, I wasted more water than a typical family of five. Eventually I decided that basement living was no longer for me. At that time I was making enough money to afford living in my own home. Besides, my tenants upstairs were planning on moving soon anyway, so I decided it was time to move up in the world. Since the basement apartment had potential to earn some nice side income, I decided to rent it out.
The new tenant in the basement apartment was a guy named Fred. He didn't have too much in the brains department. In fact, after a few conversations with him, I came to realize he was downright stupid. But at least he was quiet and kept mostly to himself. He had a job that required him to leave the house early, and I barely heard him come and go. Plus, he never had any guests downstairs, and that was fine by me.
For about six months we had a very pleasant tenant-landlord relationship. Until...
"Excuse me, Poopster39? Could you take a look at that pump you told me about? You know, the one that pumps up the... you know."
"Okay," I said to myself as I started to hyperventilate. "Just calm yourself. It's probably nothing. Just an overloaded circuit or something." I walked downstairs and went straight for the breaker panel. Crap. None of the circuits had blown.
"Fred," I asked. "When did you realize the pump wasn't working?"
"Okay, well, usually it turns on after four or five flushes."
"And how many times did you flush?"
"Mmm hmmm," I said casually, nodding my head, the neurotransmitters in my brain starting to short circuit. The lights in the room began flashing in different hues of crimson. I followed Fred to the laundry closet in the living room. Two double-louvered doors enclosed the space. The tank was buried in a corner in the closet. As I approached, I immediately noticed a familiar odor wafting through the louvers. My heart started beating faster. Fred pulled open the doors for me. The shower scene music from Psycho started blaring in my brain.
By now, anyone who's read any of my stories knows I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Things like hand washing, turning off lights, and locking doors are a ritual for me. Like many OCD sufferers, I also have a dread fear of filth and germs. Especially when they belong to someone else. So you can imagine the thoughts that went through my head as I looked down and saw a half-inch puddle of brown fluid on the closet floor. Fred's brown fluid.
In addition to having OCD, I'm an extreme introvert. As such, I tend to internalize my fears and emotions. In most instances, nobody will know when I'm going through a neurotic episode. I have the perfect poker face, and can usually keep my thoughts and feelings buried.
"Okay," I said. "This doesn't look promising."
"Maybe I shouldn't have flushed so much."
As I stared at Fred, I imagined plunging an ice pick into his eye socket repeatedly. It was a calming thought.
"Probably not," I agreed.
Before I did anything prematurely, I decided to try a little troubleshooting. The only thing I could think of was to check the electric outlet into which the pump was plugged. First I tested a small appliance to make sure the outlet was live. So far, so good. Then I plugged in the sewage pump. Then unplugged it. Then plugged it in again. Nothing.
I once read that a clear indication of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again with no variation, yet each time expecting a different result. I would have to say I was legally insane after the sixtieth attempt to unplug and re-plug the pump into the wall outlet. The water still would not go down. No happy little "whoosh" sound.
At some point during my futile plug-in, plug-out ritual, Fred decided he had something more important to do, like buying floor mats for his car or something. He'd been planning it all week. So he left me to deal with the barrel of shitmonkeys on my own.
My normal instinct at this point would have been to get in my car and drive to a nice safe-haven -- the beach, or some place equally soothing. In fact, if this wasn't my own house, I would have disappeared as soon as Fred admitted to flushing the stinkin' toilet nine freakin' times. But it was my house, and so I found myself torn between instinct and rational thought. Plus, I was beginning to envision the poo-puddle slowly seeping through the closet's wood framing and into the sheetrock. I looked down at the new carpet I had installed in the living room and knew I had to act fast.
At this point an override mechanism went off in my brain and I went into survival mode. In this mode I'm able to function in an otherwise hostile environment without immediate danger of having a full-blown panic attack. At least, that's the theory.
I ran up to my kitchen and grabbed a bucket and sponge mop. I held my breath and gagged as I sopped up nearly two buckets of slop, which I carried up the basement steps and dumped outside into the woods. Next, wearing rubber gloves, I got out my tools and removed the bolts from the basin cover. Then I disconnected the vent pipe and the check valve.
In my haste, I forgot the purpose of the check valve was to prevent sewage from flowing back down into the basin after a pumping cycle. It was a one-way valve, which meant that a column of sewage water would always be sitting directly above the valve inside the waste pipe. I pulled apart the two sections of the check valve and immediately a half-gallon of brown sewage splashed down, soaking my jeans and shirt. A few stray drops also landed on my face.
Let's put things into perspective here. I admit I'm a sick neurotic. Little things that don't bother others eat away at me. For example: if I were ever to get anything sticky on my hands, like pancake syrup, I couldn't function again until I got to a sink. If I was driving and dropped some bagel crumbs in my lap, I'd have to pull over to the side of the road immediately. This is the nature of my illness. And so imagine what went off in my brain as I sat there, drenched in something that originally slid out of someone else's buttcrack.
The psychotic episode that followed should probably have been caught on tape. America's Funniest Home Videos would have paid a fortune for it. With lights and sirens blaring in my head, I became completely disoriented and lost all sense of bearing. I ran around in circles in a frenzy for a while, and then groped about for the stairwell. I must have bounced off a dozen walls and furniture pieces in my crazed rampage up two flights of stairs toward my bathroom. From an overhead view, I probably resembled Pac-Man. I believe I actually did scream three or four times, which is completely unlike me.
Forty-five minutes later, after I had showered, scrubbed, brushed my teeth, and swallowed half a bottle of Listerine, I was back downstairs. I simply had to get this nightmare behind me. This time, in addition to the rubber gloves, I wore goggles and a facemask. I knelt down on the floor, steeled my nerves, and hoped for a miracle. Then I lifted the metal lid off the basin and found myself staring at a full bushel of crap-apples bobbing around in a putrid foaming stinkwater frappe.
There are simply some things in this life you never need to know about. Fred's shit certainly made that list.
I dry heaved for a minute or two before calming down. I knew I had very few options at this point. There was no way to get this vile, contemptible mess out of my house except to bail it out by hand. I gagged and retched as I carried fifteen buckets full of the foulest effluent on the planet up the stairs and out into the woods. To this day, the occasional memory of this experience makes me shake uncontrollably with the creeps.
Once most of the poo-water was out of the way, I was able to troubleshoot the problem with the pump. This was no fun task, since it was completely coated with poo-slime. I discovered the mercury float switch had gone dead, which was a relief because this was an easy replacement. It also saved me over three hundred dollars on the cost of a new pump. I went to the hardware store and spent less than thirty dollars on a new mercury switch. After putting everything back together again, I flushed the toilet five times and heard a "whoosh." It was like music to my ears.
Afterwards, I discarded anything remotely associated with this disgusting incident. I went back upstairs to my tidy little world and showered and scrubbed myself raw. I called my girlfriend and told her I needed to be alone that night. Then I proceeded to drink a six-pack of St. Pauli Girl's. Maybe two sixes, I don't remember. That night I vowed never to rent to anyone again. Happily, Fred moved out a few months later, and I've kept my vow to this day.
The following Monday morning I took the seven o'clock train into Manhattan. When I got to the office, my co-workers asked me how my weekend was.
"I was dipped in shit," I told them.
Note from Ginger: I have no idea what kind of idiot would have permitted having a shit pump in the corner of your kitchen. Anyhow...I guess I'm stuck with it. No wonder I have a shitty outlook on life.