Last night I decided to sit in the hot tub for a bit and relax, and when I came back inside and dried off, I heard the thing nobody wants to hear right before they are about to get into a nice soft bed: My wife, yelling from the basement. "Are you up there? Something's wrong with the washing machine. There's water all over the basement floor!"
I muttered an obscenity under my breath and grudgingly donned my underwear and my boots and headed downstairs. (What? It's a good look for me.) It didn't take a genius to see that my wife's suspicions were correct -- The ancient washing machine sitting in the corner had decided to expel 20 gallons of water directly outside of itself, one gallon for every year it has been resentfully doing our bidding. I'd call it a piece of shit, but any appliance that can go 20-plus years with only some routine maintenance probably doesn't owe me anything. The bad thing was, I had no idea which washer-orifice it had come from, since the clothes had spun dry and weren't telling any tales.
That meant that not only did I have to fix the washer, I had to make another damned mess to see exactly what it was that I had to fix. The first thing I did was look down into the drain pipe from the top. It's just an open hunk of pipe with a trap about six inches down, then it runs about 20 feet down a 1.5" pipe to the sewer pipe. The only thing is, it's directly behind the washing machine and flat against the wall, so it's not exactly easy to look down into. Picture me in my tighty-whities, squatting on the top of the washing machine like Spiderman with my face mashed up against a dirty basement wall, holding a flashlight, looking down into an empty pipe. On second thought, don't picture that. I don't even want to picture that, and I was there. My relaxing hot tub soak was nothing but a distant memory.
No water in the pipe, so I figured that was a good sign. I transferred the clothes into the dryer and started an empty cycle. About five years ago, something had gone wrong with the sensor that determined how full the drum was, and the water just continued to pour over the side. That was fun. Luckily we were home and heard the splashing noises, so there wasn't a ton of damage. It was a pretty easy fix, too.
Since the spin cycle had finished, I figured that wasn't the issue this time. My guess was that something was up with the part of the cycle where it pumped the water out of the drum. I sat there for five minutes watching it fill up, and holy crap, five minutes is a long-ass time. This thing put the watched pot to shame. I just wanted to go to bed, but instead I stood there in my underwear and boots watching this giant Kenmore shitbucket fill up with ice-cold well water.
Once it was full, I manually spun the dial (that's how old this thing is. It has clicky dials) to the little * symbol that someone over at Kenmore who is probably dead by now thought would be a good representation of "Spin." It's a top-loading washer, so there's a little safety pin on the door that goes into a hole on the top of the washer itself and determines whether it's open or closed. Presumably, this is so it won't spin up with the top open and take your arm off or something. So this obviously means that you have to jam something into the hole to make it work with the top up. I jammed the pinky of my right hand into the hole, and pulled the dial out with my left to engage the spin cycle. Immediately, the pipe behind the washer started spraying high-pressure, freezing cold water all over my half-naked self, and I knew instantly what the problem was; the drain pipe was somehow plugged.
Now that I was soaking wet and sure it wasn't the washing machine itself that had shit the bed, I dried my face, arms and legs, and went upstairs and got ready for bed. I figured I'd diagnose the pipe today after work. I went up to the bedroom and told my wife, "Well, best case, it's a plugged up drain pipe. Worst case, the septic system isn't draining properly and there's nowhere for the water to go, so it's backing up into the basement."
I fell asleep, and dreamed of chocolate water.
Fast forward to this afternoon. I've been thinking about this all day. I have a washing machine full of water, and two other hoses that drain into this same open-topped pipe -- the dehumidifier pump and the water-softener backwash. So I have to fix this today. It's 3:01 pm, and I have to make this quick because I want to finish a chair in the shop.
I have a drain snake, so I decided to try it. The only problem is, it won't go past the trap. Then I notice that there's a little nut on the bottom of the trap to drain it -- it's maybe three-quarters of an inch wide, if that. So I take that nut off, and shove the drain snake in. The snake has this little screw auger on the end so you can sort of chew through the hair blobs and then extract them. I ran it all the way down to where it met the sewer pipe, and I feel nothing. I can't feel a clog, I don't hear anything out of the ordinary, just this drain snake rattling around in an empty pipe. So I pull the snake back. Right when it was about to come out of the hole, I see this big clump of hair on the end of the auger. Hey! Success! I must have snagged the hair clog. I grab onto it and pull. I can't really get a grip on it, because it's pretty slimy, and this thing isn't budging. It has to be big. For a second, I think it's maybe a hunk of material, like panty hose or something, but it looks like washer lint, hair, some slimy crap…typical drain clog stuff.
I grab the auger and screwed it back into the hairball, and I'm really hauling on it. Finally a piece of it tears loose and a bunch of nasty water hits me in the face, and the auger hits the floor. I pick up the hunk of hair ball, and there's this stuff that looks like a Twizzler or some kind of flexible plastic mixed in with it. I poke at it a little, and suddenly I realize that what I'm holding in my palm is a piece of meat. I drop the meat, and immediately start thinking about the water I was doused in a second ago. Meat water.
Guts. I was poking at guts. I can feel the bacteria climbing up my arm already. I grab a towel and wipe my hands, and I get back to work. I can't get the mouse or whatever it is to come out. I try poking it from the top with a broken aluminum arrow, pulling it from the bottom with the auger, but I'm having zero luck. It just keeps moving back into the pipe. I can't really make myself dig into it with the auger after I realized what it was, so I'm trying to figure out another option. I figure that maybe I can pull it out of the top. I have to see what position it's in to do that, so I climb back up on the washing machine with my flashlight and look down into the pipe.
And there is a fucking EYE looking back at me. And this eye belongs to something that is definitely not coming out of a 3/4" hole. Not without being blended first, anyway. It's huge. And it doesn't belong to any mouse.
At this point, I am done. I have no idea what this horrible THING is inside my drain pipe. I go get my saw, and I cut off the last eighteen inches of pipe, trap included, and I bring the entire thing out to the back yard. I knock it on the ground a few times, and finally, with a sound like "THOOMP!" something shoots out. I look at it, and for a second I think it's a rat. Then I see that it has a furry tail, so it can't be. I poke at it with a stick and I'm pretty sure it's a partially decomposed chipmunk.* (If you really, really need to see it, it's right here.) They can't be happy with just eating my wife's Lily bulbs -- they have to go after the washing machine too. Little bastards.
I tossed the carcass into the woods, cleaned the pipe under the hose faucet, and went back inside to finish fixing the drain pipe. Luckily, I had a spare connector and some PVC cement.
I had the pipe completely repaired in about five minutes and life was good again, except for the mental scarring. I went upstairs and practically bathed myself in the kitchen sink. In retrospect I probably should have just taken a 30 minute shower under scalding water. I think I can still feel microscopic pieces of chipmunk meat on me.
I was thinking about it later, and it occurred to me that the only way into this pipe was from the septic tank side. I couldn't even imagine how horrible this chipmunk's trip had been. It was like Andy Dufresne breaking out of Shawshank, only with more fabric softener and less success. He crawled through a leach field, a tank full of excrement, six feet of 4" pipe, and twenty feet of 1.5" pipe that dead-ended at my washing machine trap, where he probably died trying to turn around. Then he was hooked with an auger and partially pulled through a hole smaller than his head. What a way to go.
Also, I think I am going to skip dinner tonight. Anyone want to join me?
*Someone more knowledgeable than I am about dead rodents said this is more likely a baby squirrel. What he was doing in the septic system is anyone's guess.