When people ask what my greatest fear is, I usually say failure or something just as uninspired, but that’s not entirely true. I actively avoid failure, but to say that I’m terrified of it would pose logistical problems because there are mirrors everywhere. What really haunts me is my ever-present fear of clogging the toilet.
I mean, when you’re using the bathroom at someone else’s place, does the thought never cross your mind that your fate hinges on the press of a handle, which determines whether you spend the next half hour panic-surfing WikiHow and hoping no one notices your suspiciously long absence? Now it will.
Because that scenario has no easy way out, I’ve always taken pains to avoid such situations by going to places where I can poop in peace. My apartment, for example, has served me well, at least until circumstances changed. Now I don’t even feel safe in my own home.
Over the past month or so, my apartment’s toilet would clog about once or twice a week. The clogs were nothing unmanageable—the water would be clear, just not draining, and a couple plunges would do the trick—so I didn’t bring it up with my roommate.
As it turns out, though, both of us had been quietly plunging away, and Wednesday was when things came to a head. The toilet refused to drain, and this time nothing worked. My roommate had already tried hot water, to no avail, and I opened and closed the shutoff valve. Roommate and I, standing by the toilet and sitting on the bathtub rim, respectively, watched the water level rise to the seat and… stay there.
Me: This… is not ideal.
Roommate: Let’s call it a day and submit a maintenance request?
Me: Yeah, better now that the water’s not disgusting.
I submitted a high priority request, figuring maintenance would show up the next morning, and pushed the incident to the back of my mind. But of course it wasn’t over—it’s never over.
Several hours later, at 11:30PM, someone started knocking on our door. Given the way I usually answer doors is to pretend I’m not home, I don’t know what impelled me to look through the peephole. But I did, and the girl in a pink bathrobe didn’t look too threatening, so I opened up.
Pink: I’m your downstairs neighbor. There’s water leaking from your apartment into my ceiling. Do you have your water on?
Me: I’m so sorry. It’s probably the toilet. Lemme see if I can shut the valve.
Pink: I’m on the phone with my landlord, and she wants to talk to you.
The landlord (Downstairs Landlord, DL) asked me for our landlord’s contact information, which I agreed to give and then realized we didn’t actually have. I had our landlord’s email address but not a phone number, and the agent on our lease had left the realty.
Me: I already submitted a request this afternoon because the toilet hasn’t been draining all day, and they’ll probably be here tomorrow morning. I’ve only got his email, but I do see an after-hours phone number for our realty.
DL: Okay. Call that number now. Send an email to your landlord. Give me his email and that number. And then go submit a maintenance request.
I called the after-hours number. The voicemail suggested I call back between 9 to 6, namely… during operating hours.
After giving Pink and DL my number and wishing them luck, I collapsed into bed and had begun to doze off when my phone rang. 12:20 AM. It was DL.
DL: Did you call the number and have someone come take a look?
Me: *yawning, hoping she’d take the hint* I submitted a request in the afternoon, so they’ll come tomorrow.
DL: Did the water stop?
Pink hadn’t said anything to me, and a couple reasons that came to mind were a) the water had stopped, b) it hadn’t stopped but she understood there was nothing more I could do to help, or c) I wasn’t her landlord.
Me: I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t been hearing any water in the last hour, but we don’t usually—
DL: Yeah, because it’s all flooding into my apartment below.
Given that it was nearing 1AM, I’d contacted everyone I could, and I wasn’t a plumber, I wasn’t sure what she expected me to do. I also wasn’t sure handling all this was even my responsibility. So I reassured her I’d get back to her in the morning and wished her luck once more.
1:30AM, my phone rang again, this time from an unknown number because apparently everyone had my number now. And again. And again. An indefinite amount of time later, someone started pounding at our door. I stayed put, partially because I had to draw the line somewhere and also I wasn’t even sure if I was dreaming. (I wasn’t; later, I listened to the voicemail, which was just the last thirty seconds of knocking cut off by a “CAN YOU NOT” from some glorious neighbor.)
Maintenance did show up the next day, lifting the toilet and, for all I knew, performing voodoo magic over the bowl to vanish the clog. At this point I knew enough not to question anything. I wasn’t contacted again by DL, the toilet resumed functioning, and all was well.
Until this morning, when I flushed the toilet and it wouldn’t drain.
(A cup of detergent and two pots of boiling water later, the toilet unclogged. In sheer joy, I actually fist-bumped myself, alone in the apartment. It’s the little things.)
((Of course, then the toilet stopped draining again.))
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