Dave Barry

Classic '98: A big waste

Toilet Trouble, one of the items in the 2017 Dave Barry Gift Guide.
Toilet Trouble, one of the items in the 2017 Dave Barry Gift Guide. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, August 9, 1998.

Today's topic, in our popular ``Practical Homeowner'' series, is: Dealing With Common Plumbing Problems

Common problems can strike your plumbing at any time. For instance, I have here a Kansas City Star story that was sent in by alert reader Sam Fey, concerning an incident that occurred in a Jefferson County, Missouri, town called House Springs. This story, which I am not making up, states:

``A House Springs mobile home was damaged when a Civil War-type cannonball smashed through a window and two interior walls Thursday night before crashing into a toilet and lodging in a bathroom wall.''

The story states that sheriff's deputies were investigating two possibilities: (1) that the cannonball was thrown through the window, either manually or via a ``large slingshot device''; and (2) that the cannonball was ``fired from a small cannon up to a mile away.''

Fortunately, the bathroom was not occupied when the cannonball entered. But that fact, frankly, gives me little comfort. I think most Americans would agree with me that the greatest benefit of being a U.S. citizen, aside from having the freedom to change our long-distance company on a daily basis, is the sense of security we get from knowing that, while sitting on the commode, we are relatively safe from cannon fire. But now we see that security being eroded. We see an America with virtually no restrictions on the sale of cannons or large slingshot devices. We see an America sliding back into the ``climate of fear'' that gripped the nation during the Civil War, when the cannonball problem became so severe that ordinary citizens were afraid to use their own outhouses, which is why everybody in those old photographs looks so uncomfortable. * * *

REBUTTAL FROM NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT CHARLTON HESTON: ``Mr. Barry, like so many members of the so-called `news media,' has taken an isolated incident and twisted it into a bogus argument for tromping on the precious constitutional right of American citizens to keep and bear cannons or large slingshot devices for personal protection or legitimate recreational purposes. I, personally, when not pursuing my active show-business career of starring in movies released 47 years ago, enjoy nothing more than heading out to the forest with my authentic reproduction Civil War cannon and hunting for legitimate small game such as squirrels. Talk about a sporting challenge: YOU try getting those wily critters to climb into the barrel! I smear it with Cheez Whiz. Thank you.''

* * *

But the point of today's column is that common problems can strike your plumbing at any time. The question is, what should you do about it? For a description of one possible approach, let's look at another news item, sent in by several alert readers, from a Franklin, Mass., newspaper called The Country Gazette. This item, which I am also not making up, states, in its entirety:

``MILLIS -- Police responded to a suspected domestic disturbance on Nov. 2 at 9 p.m. after neighbors reported hearing screams. Officers found that the occupants' toilet was not working and that they were yelling at it.''

We can all relate to this. I certainly have yelled at my share of toilets. (My share of toilets is 23.) But yelling at a toilet rarely produces positive results. A far better technique, as any plumbing professional will tell you, is to speak to the toilet in a gentle, soothing voice, and then, once you have gained its trust, hit it with a hammer. This also works with VCRs.

If this technique does not solve your problem, you should check to see if a foreign object is clogging your plumbing. I have here yet another newspaper item, sent in by many alert readers of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, concerning an Alaska homeowner named William Keith whose plumbing backed up in February of 1995. Keith tried to unclog the plumbing via various standard methods, but nothing worked, so finally he called in a professional, who determined that the septic system was being blocked by -- get ready -- a dead moose. Yes. The story states that the moose, which weighed 1,000 pounds, apparently was wandering around, fell through the septic-system cover and went to the Big Tundra in the Sky. There was no indication that a cannonball was involved.

If you suspect that this type of problem has occurred in your plumbing system, the quickest way to find out is to carefully examine the interior of your septic tank and see if you spot anything suspicious, such as a large unexplained dead moose. If so, do not panic. Remain calm, get into your car, drive away at high speed and never come back. I say this because the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner printed a three-column color photograph of the deceased moose being hoisted out of the septic hole, and it is way scarier than anything I ever saw on The X-Files .

In conclusion, you can solve most common household plumbing problems with nothing more than ``plain old common sense'' and a hammer and a 12-foot armored steel wall around your house. Next week's topic in our popular ``Practical Homeowner'' series will be ``Your Household Electrical System: Is It Eating Your Brain?'' featuring a rebuttal by H. Ross Perot and his invisible friend ``Pokey.'' Until then, happy homeowning, and remember this advice from the American Plumbing Council: If you go, stay low.

©1998 Dave Barry

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