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The man in the navy blue sweatshirt gave us the bad news: our house had failed the domestic equivalent of a colonoscopy. All I could think about, though, was how much plumbers and doctors have in common.
Delivering grim diagnoses, for one: “I can’t say how much time you have,” he said, with the thinly-veiled cheerfulness of a man who is about to receive a very big cheque, “It could be a day, a month... a year. It’s hard to know.”
Which brings me to the second characteristic shared by plumbers and doctors: They know gross. When you think about it, the aforementioned mega cheque is small compensation for having to deal with other peoples pooh.
And plumbers may have a slight advantage over doctors in the foulness department, dramatically-speaking, because they unpack the nastiness of your situation right in the comfort of your own home, versus in a sterile hospital or clinic environment where discussions about human excrement can, to some extent, be expected. My dining room may never recover from the indelicate conversation and the sheer variety of unmentionables that were mentioned.
The plumber minced no words: “Babies and women!” Such was his Joan Rivers-esque “Don’t get me started!” exclamation. Apparently these reckless demographic groups assure plumbers will always turn a brisk bit of business. The flushing of baby wipes, toddlers throwing foreign objects in toilets, and women, well, flushing women things on occasion. (Enough said on that subject.)
In our case, though, it was one of our trees that cracked the sewer pipe at 3-foot intervals, and it was that same tree that was sentenced to die for its crimes against municipal infrastructure. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, tree: it tolls for thee.
It’s sad to look at the poor, condemned thing, watching squirrels haul their plump haunches across its branches. The chainsaw will rev its mighty engine in a few days and they will scatter.
The plumber spoke of a legendary client who’s been gambling with her plumbing for years because she refuses to commit arboricide. I got the distinct impression that he’s quietly impressed by her devotion. We love our tree, too, but not enough to give it a stay of execution. Twenty-four hours of potty-buckets was enough. Even our son, who enjoys some disgustingness now and then, felt we’d gone rather too Victorian. “Maybe this house is too old!” he said.
In addition to expert knowledge of bodily fluids, plumbers and doctors also have a mutual interest in honing their bedside manners. This plumber was particularly skilled. He gave us time to absorb the findings of his sewer pipe inspection camera before painting a vivid picture of the war zone that will be our front lawn: a fallen tree, a massive trench, a closed street, and men in orange vests all over the place. When it’s all said and done we’ll have a hump of dirt to remind us of how badly home ownership sucks sometimes.
And, just like a doctor, the plumber warned of complications, too: “Digs can get expensive,” he said. Apparently they might find rocks and other primitive garbage that was used as landfill once upon a time. I can only pray that in and amongst the debris will be some valuable artifact that we can hock to help foot the bill to get our solids flowing in the right direction again—which brings me to the goriest bit of this whole business: the price tag.
This is where plumber and doctor part company rather dramatically. Sadly, I cannot pull out my OPIP card and make the pain go away.
Eventually, he talked numbers. And when he did, the plumber mentioned a number that was so large it hung in the air like an ominous cloud. His estimate was based on “Worst case scenario.” My husband remained composed, but I knew Mark was mourning the screened-in porch we will, once again, not be able to build. For my part, I have blown a kiss goodbye to the dream of owning a burled walnut Victorian sideboard in my lifetime... unless, of course, the plumber’s crew happens to find one conveniently buried under the tree in the front yard.
Just to be clear, though: The price tag—alarming as it is—is worth it. I could have been arrested for stunt-driving Monday having barely made it to Tim Horton’s for my morning constitutional. That can’t happen again. Porches and sideboards be damned! Keeping the family flushing is a steal at twice the price.
“My secretary will call you,” said the plumber. He was headed for the door—the house call was over. He might as well have been wearing a white coat with a stethoscope draped around his neck, “You folks have a great day now... if you can!”