By Emily Chadwick

Issue #121 • January/February, 2010

Sometimes life requires you to climb in the toilet, and elbow deep in the bowl, you discover the path to self-reliance.

When I heard the flush, I knew I was dealing with something out of the ordinary. My toddler, waving as the sewer swallowed up whatever she tossed in the bowl, confirmed my fear. I quickly plunged and flushed; the water level just kept rising.

What does one do when faced with such a problem? Call the plumber of course. So I did and when the customer service representative quoted me the price of a service call, $100, I knew the self-reliant future I had always dreamed of was flirting with me to finally take the “plunge.”

The voice on the other end of the phone continued on. If an auger or a snake is needed to remove the clog, expect to pay $10-20 more. And if the job takes more than an hour, more money is required. I hung up the phone and began an Internet search for household toilet auger. I was thankful it was not quite the formidable beast I had imagined and only $9.99. To save this sort of money, I would gladly call myself plumber. I phoned my local hardware store. Yes, they had an auger and a snake long enough to go under my house, “but try a coat hanger first, if it doesn’t work, come see me,” said the kind man who acknowledged my initiative.

woman fixing clogged toilet
I unwound the wire hanger and took a few pathetic stabs down the hole. Nothing happened; this plumber needed “real” equipment to get the job done. A quick visit to the store and I was home with a 15-foot drain snake. I splurged. At $14.99 I was still saving more than $100 and filling my self-reliant bank with tools and experience.

Up to this point, I had avoided getting my hands wet. But no matter how I pushed and twisted the snake, I could not shake the object loose. I could tell it was near the opening. Self-reliance now required me to further “test the waters” and I plunged my hands into the icy bowl. My small hand nearly fit into the hole and I could feel something hard and round just out of sight. Using my fingers like tweezers, I tried to pluck the mystery from its holding, but I seemed only to push it back into hiding.

Knowing victory was at arms length, I grabbed the salad tongs from the kitchen but they were too big. My hands had acclimated and the water was comfortably warm. How long had I been in the toilet? Should I give in and order up the Roto-Rooter? In a last ditch, desperate attempt, I jammed in the coat hanger. To my amazement, out popped an eight ounce jar of bubbles. For a second I relished in my accomplishment, and then sprinted to the shower.

I didn’t need a plumber or his $100 an hour bill. I didn’t even need fancy equipment. All it took for this do-it-yourselfer was tenacity and the courage to get a little bit dirty.



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