Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

To Pee or Not to Pee: It’s Not Really a Question

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Life is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. -Tom Lehrer

You’d better stop gloating about the supposed superiority of humans over dogs, especially as it relates to marking territory with urine. Just stop. It’s not true.

Oh, it’s very true that dogs urinate to mark territory; it is also true that many other animals engage in such behavior. But don’t believe for a second that people do not. The bathroom on our ground floor demonstrates as much.

A couple of weeks ago, a relative got so fed up with the aroma of the chamber that she spent an hour cleaning every available surface. It mostly worked: only the faint odor of something disturbing remained, and I don’t mean the offensively flowery “air freshener” spray that I made the mistake of buying six years ago (we smell it across the house when someone uses it; we leave it out in the open hoping someone steals it, but they keep getting the wrong idea). The respite lasted perhaps a day.

Upon my next visit to those facilities a wall of urine stench whacked me out of nowhere. I hadn’t been so olfactorily assaulted since bailing out our subterranean cesspool a few years ago. That tank, you see, sits below sewer level, and therefore uses a pump to rid itself of its contents, directly into the sewer line, as soon as the depth reaches a certain point. Ah, but the vibrations of the pump’s operation, over time, caused the pipes leading to the sewer to disengage, and the pump spent a day or so simply churning the contents of the tank before I realized where that incessant whirring noise was coming from.

So I worked for a while to get the thing open, steeling myself for the aromatic experience. It was bad, yes, but not enough to cause fainting. I beheld the disconnected pieces of plastic pipe floating atop the black water, and realized that the pump sat at the bottom of the tank, and I did not feel safe or wise trying to lift it via the power cord. So I got the crazy idea to enlist professional help.

Sadly, the professionals charge hundreds of dollars to come by and snake various hoses through the house, dollars for which I had other uses in mind, such as food for the family, or perhaps gas for cooking. Well, there was plenty of gas present, but not exactly available for harnessing toward culinary purposes.

That left only the option involving buckets, which also required traipsing up the steps with each bucketful, to the toilet on the ground floor (remember that one?), where the goods could be disposed of. A good forty or so trips were necessary before the pipe segment extending up from the pump became visible. Success! All I had to do was reconnect the loose pieces and plug the pump back in. I did so, but not tightly enough to stay for more than a second. But if I held the pieces in place for long enough, I could at least empty the tank and then deal with it. So I gave it a shot, and it started working; about a quarter of the remaining stuff in the tank was pumped out before the connection gave way again, this time with my upper body extending  into the tank itself, just a few feet above the pipe coming up from the pump.

At this point I would like to say a few things about physics – specifically, about force. A pump’s job is to generate force, in our case exerted upon a liquid in a confined space, directing the liquid along a specific trajectory. When properly configured, this trajectory follows the path of the pipes leading from pump to sewer. The amount of force generated by this pump is sufficient to move the liquid along at a noticeable speed; the tank, about a yard by a yard in area, empties at approximately one inch every second or two, so you can imagine the force involved.

Thus, when the connection gave way, the only pipe segment remaining in position was the one leading directly up from the pump, directly at my face and upper body. I recall the sight of that sewage explosion coming toward me at high velocity; but my human reflexes were far to slow to get me out of the way. I ended up getting smacked in the face, chest and belly by a torrent of sewage.

Eventually, yes, I broke down and hired a plumber, who ended up lifting the pump out by its cord (of course), then replacing the rigid plastic pipes with flexible tubing much more likely to remain in position through years of vibration.

So back to the bathroom on the ground floor (remember?). Telltale streaks of water, or perhaps pee, led me to worry that something had backed up in the sewer line, and we had another expensive job on our hands (and floor. Duh), like the time the kitchen drainage got stopped up and we had sewer slugs floating across the floor. Mmmmm…slugs. But no, nothing seemed to impair the flow of waste down the drains and toilet. So I grumbled, cleaned again and kept my nose open.

Finally, yesterday, the same relative was visiting again, and she remarked on the still-pleasant atmosphere in those facilities (of course it sounded like she assumed this state of affairs had prevailed since her cleaning marathon). I disabused her of the notion that anything could remain thus in a house with four children under the age of ten, including three boys with questionable aim.

As if I were prophesying, later that evening one of the boys visited that bathroom, and my own entry there a little while later revealed urine everywhere but the toilet bowl. He had decided, so it appears, to urinate on the wall behind the toilet, as well as the one perpendicular to it (and no, he did not flush; is that good or bad?). My subsequent interrogation seemed to bear out the volitional nature of the act, but he was as much at a loss as I over the why part of it, but at least we solved one mystery.

Hey, stick around and I’ll tell you more about those slugs…

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Written by Thag

February 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm

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