A Broken Toilet

I didn’t know this was part of my job description. I teach martial arts. You would expect that to mean, among other things, teaching. This I largely do. There’s also a large amount of cleaning, as a workout facility that brings in nearly 100 students a day can get dirty rather quick. In general, if I’m not teaching I’m cleaning, and if I’m not cleaning I’m teaching.

There’s also a few minor details, such as mentoring, answering parents’ questions, setting things up, lots of little things. I’ve done this most of my life, and most of it is instinctual at this point. Today, though, I did something completely new, something I’ve never done before.

I cleaned up a malfunctioning toilet.

It wasn’t this, but this image flashed in my mind more than once. Well, maybe not this exact image, but similar. More graphic. Much more graphic.

Here’s where I point out I have no experience with fixing toilets … ever. I’ve never done anything. As a kid my parents always fixed any problems, and as I got older I made sure to take care of my bathroom. I also lived in residence at university and several small apartments, and in every case I had a cleaning staff there to handle any problems.

As an aside, university cleaning staffs do not get paid near enough. They could be making millions of dollars and would still be underpaid. I have seen things that I cannot unsee, and these cleaning personnel have to deal with it everyday. Seriously, I once avoided the residence common bathroom for a solid week. I walked to a different building to relieve myself; you couldn’t pay me to use that bathroom, let alone clean it. Cleaning staff, you have my undying respect.

If I’m honest, toilets scare me. Waste goes down, and if you do something wrong then waste comes back up. That’s not good. Rather than risk that possibility, I always use the least amount of toilet paper possible, and if I’m having an … unpleasant bathroom experience, I make sure to flush several times, rather than try to empty everything at once.

Thankfully, the latter hasn’t happened much lately.

If something goes wrong, there’s nothing I can do. Literally nothing. I have no knowledge of plumbing. I don’t even know where to turn off the water. Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure I have a mop at home. Everything’s carpet, so I don’t need one. Hmm. I hope I’m not tempting fate with that.

This is a fairly accurate image of what happened. Why people do this is beyond me. Seriously, what do you expect to happen? Are you offering a sacrifice to the toilet gods or what?

Anyway, long story short, I don’t know how to fix toilets. My strategy is to not abuse my toilets so it’s never an issue. It’s worked for the first 30 years of my life … until today. Class was about to start for the night. It was just after school, and the first wave of kids had just started to arrive. I welcomed them in and got ready to enter teaching-mode.

And then a little girl came to me, all flustered, saying that a toilet in the women’s bathroom was overflowing. She was still in her winter gear, boots and jacket and all, so clearly it wasn’t her fault. I checked the bathroom, and sure enough it was now a miniature lake. Hmm. This might be interesting.

My head was doing cartwheels. I had no idea what to do, not the faintest inclination. Given a choice I would have simply closed the door and left, but that’s not possible. The girl looked at me, simultaneously non-plussed that she couldn’t use the bathroom but also somewhat proud that she did the right thing, getting me, ‘a responsible adult’, to handle the situation. Her expression, her mannerisms, everything she did, she knew she made the right decision. I would make it all magically better. She expected nothing less.

And that’s what I did. I fixed it. Mostly.

It’s incredible. As a child, I always thought my parents could do anything. If I had a problem, no matter what, my mom could fix it. She knew how to spell every word I needed help on, she knew how to cook and sew and clean. When I was sick she knew exactly what would pick me up. When I hurt myself she knew how to make it better. When I told her something wasn’t working, be it the VCR, the microwave or the fridge, she knew how to fix it. She never didn’t know what to do.

I remember marvelling one day at how she knew virtually everything about anything. I don’t know how she did it, but she did. Now that I’m an adult myself, I think I know the answer. My mom likely didn’t know most of this stuff, but as a parent, you need to bluff. You can’t destroy that parental aura of invincibility, definitely not when the child is younger than 10.

That’s what I felt right then. This young girl got me. Up until that point, I must have looked invincible to her. As an athletic adult, I could do just about anything. I regularly won push up and burpee contests with the kids. I can jump and kick and do all sorts of things. Because of my education, I can also answer homework questions. I’m an adult, so clearly I know everything about anything, so she thinks.

I didn’t have a choice. I smiled, I told her thanks and to leave me alone. She did that. I then immediately checked the toilet. Yes, it was full, looking like someone dropped an entire roll of toilet paper in it. Charming, but at least it wasn’t yellow or brown. Positive. Also, though it was full, the water had stopped filling up, so the problem wasn’t getting any worse. Second positive. The main problem was the mini lake, but I knew how to fix that.

This is not what it looked like, but that’s what my brain first interpreted it as.

I grabbed the nearby mop and bucket and went to work. I also needed to grab my cleaning flipflops, as I didn’t want to stand in the water. It’s interesting, as though the half inch of water or so all across the flow looked clear and fine, it went black as I drained the mop. That was sobering, but I guess toilet water. It didn’t take long until most of the water had been picked up, though the floor remained slippery.

It would have been faster if people hadn’t kept walking in. We share the building with a tax place, and more and more students were also showing up. Again, this was the women’s bathroom, so it was somewhat awkward. A girl would walk in, see me and looked confused. She would then look at the mop, look at the floor and then back to me, still confused. One asked me, “Why did you make a mess in the girl’s bathroom?”

This was my unimpressed face.

When I finally got to the toilet, a strange sight greeted me. All the water had drained out. There was no water in there at all, just a heaping load of toilet paper. This is exactly why I use as little paper as possible. Seriously, why would anyone do that? Not knowing what else to do, I tried flushing. Water poured in and some of it got flushed away, but much more built up. Much more. It neared the very top, on the cusp of overflowing, and then it stopped. The toilet went back to idle, threat diverted, and slowly, very slowly, the water again drained out.

There was obviously a clog somewhere. Well, I say obviously; I have no idea. I’m assuming. My plan would have been to just keep flushing and waiting until eventually everything gets flushed away. Seemed foolproof. It might also have simply pushed the blockage further and further down the pipe, simply making it worse. Fortunately, a better plan soon presented itself.

Namely, my boss arrived, and he had some plumbing experience. He said he would take over, and I left that bathroom as fast as humanly possible. I later heard that everything was fine, the bathroom was back to normal, crisis averted.

I never knew this was part of my job description. Really, today, I learned not so much about plumbing but about how adults need to save face in front of children. I just pray that bathrooms never go haywire with me near them again. I’ll be keeping extra special care of my own toilet from here on out.

One thought on “A Broken Toilet

  1. Tucson Plumbers

    Hey, great post! Sometimes in situations like these, it really is best to just call in an expert. Trying to do it yourself can end up costing a lot more, if you damage your equipment or plumbing. It can also take a lot of time, and since time is money, you might still end up paying more even if you are able to fix it yourself.

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