Septic issues: The circle of dirt at the bottom of the picture defines the pump chamber; the septic tank is under the circle of dirt at the top.


It’s happened before and I’m sure it will happen again. The house septic system had a “moment” last weekend. I knew it couldn’t possibly be full because the next scheduled service date is November 2024. But a certain odor was wafting up from the basement Sunday morning. When I investigated a (fortunately) very small pool of wastewater had accumulated near the cleanout in the furnace room.




You said it, 9. I will add that you and Lily are very fortunate to exist in a house that is on the city sewer line. For my neighborhood that’s not an option.


I keep up with routine maintenance recommendations for the septic system. I’m not sure how old it is, but the house was built in 1948 so septic is one of many systems that benefits from TLC. Last time (December 2019) the culprit was the galvanized pipe in the pump chamber. It had rotted and fallen off, too short to take in water from the pump. A few weeks before that, there were issues caused by a running toilet:


I remember it well!


You were definitely there, Lily. 9, you were spared since you didn’t join us until May 2020.


This week’s incident happened on a Sunday. That’s the day of the week Roto Rooter charges double or more for their services. I left a message with the person on-call, gritted my teeth and waited for their office to call me on Monday (fortunately they don’t treat Presidents’ Day as a holiday for billing purposes). In the interim I’d brought my occasional ally, the commode, up from the basement and had arranged with an extremely kind neighbor to dump my “bucket” if needed at her house.


The first appointment available was on Tuesday. I didn’t have to work at all to sound pathetic when I talked to the dispatcher. She said she’d do what she could to fit me in earlier if they had any openings. Happily, Paul the Roto Rooter guy finished another job early on Monday and arrived at my house at 2 PM.


I felt extremely lucky to have Paul on the job. He was here in December 2019 to replace the galvanized pipe and the nearly burnt-out pump, efficiently and with no fuss. Why? Because he’s been doing this kind of work for thirty-plus years and has excellent diagnostic skills as he’s seen just about every way a septic system can misbehave.


Plus, he’s darn cheerful.


And he gave you a $25 discount because you had the Roto Rooter magnet he gave you the last time on the refrigerator.


Now, for the gross part (if you are a septic-sensitive reader consider this a “trigger warning”). The cause of Sunday’s issue was (drumroll, please) a giant hair ball in the connecting pipe between the septic holding tank and the pump chamber.






Indeed. People who have met me in person know I have short, fine hair, hair incapable of creating enormous hairballs that clog septic systems. When Paul held up his hands to illustrate the size of the mass it looked like he was holding a super-sized softball. I can only conclude it must have represented decades of occupancy and septic system use.






I know! It’s bad enough to think of my own hair doing the evil deed, but the hair of complete strangers? Just. . .no.


And that’s not all. Roto Rooter sent me a link to the video of their camera’s return journey from the repair site, through the pipe and back into my basement. I watched the entire five minutes in horrified fascination. It was a cross between a long, narrow tunnel to a slimy subterranean monster’s cave and those color photos day surgery centers give you to document your colonoscopy.


Your what?


I’ll tell you in fifty years, 9.


The septic issue ended happily. Plumbing was restored for less than $500 (a third of what it would have cost to have it done on Sunday) and I did not have to use the temporary flushing privileges offered by my kind neighbor. I’m done (for now- -fingers crossed) with the adjunct adventure of brushing my teeth on the deck, glass of rinse water in hand, and spitting what needed spitting onto the lawn.


Householding is a complicated and demanding business. But for now, all’s well that ends well.


We hope all your householding adventures have happy endings, too.


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