By Jason Rohan
July 10, 2007
A toilet is one of those things you never really appreciate until it refuses
to cooperate, a bit like a spouse. In fact it's quite a surprise that a
toilet goes on as long as it does, carrying out its thankless task without
protest when you consider it always sees the worst in people. On the rare
occasion it isn't getting mooned and finally does sees a friendly face, it's
usually to do with food poisoning or excessive alcohol consumption and merely
precedes another in-your-face delivery.
Our toilet, though, recently burped, coughed, spluttered and then threatened to blow, which prompted me to do the unthinkable and open up the manhole to take a closer look.
We're newly moved in and one thing the brochure didn't tell us was that the house had a history of sewerage problems, namely the system backing up regularly. I'm sure a creative realtor could have made that into a selling point, such as "luxury whirlpool-style flushing toilets with added climate-change simulators: feel genuine concern over ever-rising water levels" but no, this was an unexpected bonus for us.
After multiple call-outs of various friendly drainage chaps to unblock the sewer all of whom helpfully said that they would have checked the drains before buying a house I decided there had to be something more going on than, say, my kids flushing Teddy down the loo. Besides, I'd have noticed if Teddy had gone missing.
So it was that a camera crew showed up to perform the equivalent of a Colonoscopy. In went a camera on the end of a tube, ostensibly to film whatever it was that was upsetting our toilet. I had visions of tree roots or maybe a smiling alligator waving at the camera but, unfortunately, no one had given us a "nil by mouth" instruction concerning the toilet so the camera crew couldn't see anything down there due to the murk.
They did point to clay on the end of the camera and said that this indicated that the pipe had collapsed. Excitedly noticing a patched-up piece of asphalt on the road, they declared that that must be the cause of the problem and whoever had patched the road must have damaged the pipe. Thank you and goodbye. Having paid for this, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Instead of having a clear picture of what was causing the problem, I'd ended up with Scooby and Shaggy solving the case by pointing at the pavement.
Next stop was our insurer, who initially dodged the claim by citing non-accidental damage. "But how do you know the damage is non-accidental if you don't even know what the damage is or what caused it?" I asked. "What if the road works were done to fix an earlier problem of the same type and this is a recurrence?" At this point they hid behind the report saying that the road scarring was the cause. Evidently, I would have to find out who had done what to the road if I wanted this fixed, and the sight of our toilet filling up ominously every time we flushed was a constant reminder, like one of those multiple cliffhangers on 24.
One trip to City Hall and a whole lot of phone calls later, I was able to explain to my insurer that it was the water company that had dug the hole in the road back in April 1999, and it was unlikely that they would collapse their own pipe or that it would wait six years to throttle our toilet, so it must be something else. It's at times like this that I'm tempted to bluff that I'm a lawyer and that they had better sort it out or else, before deciding against it in case they put a real lawyer on the phone to discuss legal action with me.
Fortunately, my powers of persuasion prevailed, they sent out a repair crew. They opened up the road to find that a gas company had punched a gas pipe right through our sewer and that this was the cause of our problems. The gas company duly paid for the repairs and our toilet is happy once again in spite of continuing to get a bum deal. Still, at least it no longer has gas.
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