It’s raining today, which has my mind turning back to the memorable events of earlier this year, forever enshrined in my #Sewagepocalypse2011 hashtag. It was an event that reminded me of the stark urban/rural divide in the United States, and the hazards of romanticizing rural life.
I’ve lived in rural communities for most of my life, and I’m always kind of bemused when newcomers try to turn everything happens into a quaint experience when it’s just a fact of life for the rest of us.
It started when I was taking a shower one evening, and I noted that the shower wasn’t really draining. These things happen, especially when you have a lot of hair, which I did at the time.
“Oh bother,” I muttered, wrapping my half-washed body in a towel and grabbing a screwdriver so I could pry up the drainage plate. Lo and behold, a truly disgusting snarl of long hair and soap and other unpleasant things was dangling from it. I tossed it in the garbage, but with the drainage plate removed, the shower still wasn’t draining.
“Double bother,” I said, reaching for the plunger.
Sometimes there are things in the line, you know. So I plunged, and the toilet made a merry sloshing noise, but the shower still didn’t drain. And I plunged again and more things sloshed around, and then a thin, blackish swirl rose up in the pool of water sitting in the bottom of my shower.
Then I said a very bad word indeed, and called my landlords.
Of course, the very next thing I did was get on Twitter and announce that all hell was breaking loose, because really, what good is the Internet if you can’t tell people that sewage is bubbling up into your shower? All the rural people on my feed went “Oh no, septic tank problems!” and all the urban people were just sort of puzzled.
The thing is, when you live outside of town, you use a septic tank for handling your, ah, waste needs, if you get my drift. Septic tanks periodically fill up with, uhm, you know. Which then backs up the path of least resistance.
Also, sometimes their lines get blocked. I’ve opened up a few septic cleanouts in my day, but I prefer to punt this delightful activity to the people I’m paying rent to, one of the many, many benefits of being a renter: Someone else has to deal with your shit. Literally.
It was evening and my unsuspecting landlord was happily drinking a beer, little knowing what was coming when his phone jangled. Much to his dismay, I was not calling to announce that he’d won the lottery or I’d generously volunteered to pay the property taxes for the year, but he was a good sport when I pointed out the biohazardous conditions in my bathroom. He duly tromped over (they live next door) and investigated the situation, which required much thumping about under the house.
“Septic’s full,” was his gloomy prognosis.
He called the septic service1 bright and early the next morning and they promised to come by in the afternoon, which of course triggered the next great adventure in Sewagepocalypse2011: Finding the septic tank.
The thing is, you spend a lot of time not thinking about septic tanks. You remember roughly where the darn thing is, but knowing where it is and easily accessing it are two different things. First, we had to clear away a monumental amount of blackberries2 away from the target area, and then there was much digging to find the tank.
The markers my landlord had placed the last time it was pumped with the thoughtful goal of avoiding this very situation had, of course, settled over time, so first he was digging two feet to the right, and then we got things straightened out and hit paydirt with a lovely “clang” of shovel on concrete.
When the septic service arrived, it was the work of a twinkling to get the hoses hooked up and start pumping, and we discovered that a root had wormed its way right across the inlet, effectively blocking the tank. Once the septic man pulled it out, there was a delightful sploshing noise as everything backed up in the line raced for the tank. We didn’t even mind the odor of sewage wafting around us in the breeze. Well, maybe we minded a little bit.
And thus, Sewagepocalypse2011 concluded, and I’m happy to report that things have remained quiescent since then, as well they should.
If I was a city transplant hired to write a column about the quirks of rural life for the Times3, I’d conclude this revolting anecdote with a saccharine statement about the wisdom of sewage and rural life and how it’s all so magical, but, let’s face facts here, people. Raw sewage exploded into my shower and I had to sit around and watch while a man in wellies pumped my poop out of a giant underground tank. There’s really nothing to sugarcoat there. Sometimes, rural life is just gross.
1. A lovely man with a giant tanker truck who comes, collects all your poo, and takes it away somewhere. Return to where you were.
2. Fun fact: Blackberries love hanging out above septic tanks, because there are all kinds of lovely nutrients there. Another fun fact: Blackberries that grow above septic tanks are extremely delicious. Additional fun fact: Some people are oddly squirrelly about eating my blackberry pie, which is, for the record, very tasty. Return to where you were.
3. Isn’t it interesting how major publications assume that no one actually from a rural area is literate enough to write about rural life or communicate in a way that might interest readers? Instead, it’s all rural life viewed through the lens of someone from an urban background. Return to where you were.