The Poop Diaries
© Copyright 2018 by Abby Ross
On a chilly, Wednesday evening, I clogged our toilet. Refusing to wait until the morning to fix it, my husband called a plumber. Around 9 o'clock p.m., Jon showed up at our door. He was the chattiest plumber I had ever met. After unclogging the toilet, which took about fifteen minutes, he stood in our kitchen chatting away about anything and everything. Instead of pushing him out, I embraced his extroverted personality, and asked him the top five craziest things he had seen while on plumbing calls. What came out of his mouth was hilarious. The stories were so funny, I knew I had to write a book about him. And that's how "The Poop Diaries" came to be.*
Jon, Chicago, IL--This Plumber Has Seen and Smelled it All
As a plumber with thirty years under my belt, I have met all kinds of poop from all kinds of people. And it doesn’t stop at poop.
I began working in plumbing when I was 13-years-old. A neighbor asked me to join him on jobs. Instead of money, he paid me with free hot dogs and fries, which at that time was better than money. I went to a few colleges but didn’t graduate. I am not that good looking so modeling wasn’t going to work out. I was in the Navy for five years, and was a professional lifeguard but neither of those jobs paid the bills. So plumbing it was. It paid the bills and made me get my head out of my butt (no pun intended).
If you think plumbing is only about poop, you’re wrong. I have seen people during their most vulnerable, naked (literally), and embarrassing moments. I have rescued people from showers, pulled snakes from pipes and gone head to head with an army of rats. As a plumber, I get to skip peeling back the onion. From the rich to the poor, famous to the everyday Joe, black, white, Indian, Asian, every color and culture out there, I see people for who they really are, inside and out.
I am Jon, and these
are my poop diaries.
THE COSMO MODEL
On a sunny day in Chicago, I got a call from a plumbing company asking me to respond to a call. A woman said she had poop in her basement. No biggie. These kinds of poop calls are run of the mill.
I went to her house and knocked on the door.
“Hi. I am Jon,” I said.
“Hi. I am Amy,” she replied.
She gestured for me to walk inside and follow her to the sight of the crime.
Whenever I meet a new customer, I like to make small talk to break the ice, especially because situation tends to be personal.
“So what do you do for a living?” I asked.
“I used to be a model for Cosmopolitan Magazine. Now, I am a mom,” she said.
She must have repeated the model part at least five times during this conversation, telling me stories about her modelling days, etc. etc. etc.
I assumed the poop in her basement would be an easy problem to solve. Just a backed up toilet that overflowed. Nothing I hadn’t seen before.
I was wrong. Turned out her sewer was backed up for weeks, to the point where there were layers upon layers of feces caked on the floor, walls, everywhere. And it wasn’t all from humans. She had dogs that she would never let outside and cats that forgot how to use a litter box, if there even was one. Kids’ clothes were piled up everywhere, also covered in feces. She didn’t take out anything from the basement, letting poop cover it all, like frosting on a cake.
As I spent hours on my hands and knees, scraping off poop to fix the sewer, she wouldn’t stop talking to me, telling me more stories of her modelling days. Finally, I finished the job and did what I normally do, found the closest table, and started writing up the paperwork. And that’s when things got weird.
When I turned around to ask her to confirm the information on the bill, she was standing there stark naked. I froze, not really sure how to proceed. She wasn’t hitting on me or anything. She just stood there, waiting for me to continue confirming her information, as if she were fully clothed. After a few seconds, I snapped out of it.
“Ugh. Hello?” I said.
“What?” She nonchalantly replied.
It was like she had no idea she was standing there au naturel. I said I was uncomfortable and asked her to please cover up.
She looked down, almost like she was checking herself out, and giggled in a way that made me realize I was definitely the only uncomfortable one in the room.
“Oh, sorry. I am used to being naked from my modelling days,” she casually explained.
She put her clothes back on, signed the paperwork, and walked me out.
Believe it or not, customers – men and women – stripping in front of plumbers is not a novel happening. My buddy, who is a very good looking guy, has been on a few calls where he would finish the job, go to his truck to drop off his tools, and head back inside with the bill only to find the customers standing there, naked.
“Add it to my bill,” they would say.
I once went on what seemed to be an ordinary call that ended up far from ordinary.
The woman’s kitchen sink broke. While I was shoulder deep inside the cabinet fixing the pipes, she said, “Want to see something?”
She then shoved an entire Corona bottle into her mouth, down her throat and back up again to her lips.
“Want to go out Friday?” I instantly blurted out.
I had never seen
anything like that before. Hell, I wanted to marry her right then and
there. We ended up going out on a date, just once.
MR. CLEAN (BUT NOT THAT BALD GUY YOU ARE THINKING OF)
This is definitely the strangest call I ever received, and poop is not part of it.
A woman called me from Michigan. She said her son, who lived in Chicago, “had issues” and needed help.
“M’aam, we all have issues,” I replied, trying to lighten up the conversation.
“No seriously,” she said. “He really has issues and needs help.”
The urgency in her voice in addition to her evasiveness made me concerned. What could possibly be the problem? My plumbing alias is “The Plumbing Doctor,” but maybe she meant to call a real doctor.
I asked which day worked best for her son for me to go to his house.
“Can you go right now?” She asked anxiously.
It was 7am on a Tuesday morning.
“What’s the urgency?” I asked.
“He needs to go to work but his shower is broken,” she said. “Please, please can you go now?”
I really didn’t understand the problem. Admittedly, although my line of work lends itself to being dirty, I have definitely gone a day without showering. However, I wasn’t going to argue with the woman. She sounded worried and as a parent myself, I understand that when it comes to your children, even the most minor problem is major to you.
She gave me her son’s address and I headed over to his apartment. When I knocked on the door, the guy didn’t even check me out through the peep hole. I heard a “come in” from inside the apartment. Alarm bells in my head were screaming. What is wrong with this guy? Why won’t he answer his own door?
“Sir,” I said. “Please come to the door and let me in.”
“I can’t,” he replied.
I cautiously opened the door and slowly headed inside. The apartment was clean and empty. No signs of a leak. No smell of feces. I was confused. Where was this guy? Then I remembered his mother said his shower was broken. I headed down a long hallway toward the back of the apartment. Low and behold, I heard a shower running, and he was in it.
The guy was standing in a foot of water, clutching a shower curtain wrapped around his private parts. The shower was still running.
“Sir, please come out of the shower so I can see the problem,” I said, trying to hide the frustration in my voice.
“No. I cannot come out. I need to shower and get to work,” he replied stubbornly.
“Sir, seriously, you need to get out of the shower. Not only is this making me uncomfortable, but I can’t do my job unless I get full access to the shower without you in it,” I said.
Again, he refused. He said he was halfway through his shower and did not want to get out until he finished.
Wow. That was the only word that ran through my head at that moment.
I threatened to leave unless he got out. I explained in more detail why he being in the shower made it tougher for me to figure out what was wrong. He begged me to stay yet still refused to get out, and still would not turn off the shower.
A change of heart struck me. Clearly, this guy had some sort of issue (as his mom said) that he could not leave the shower for ten minutes so I could fix it.
“Okay, I will stay. But please keep that shower curtain wrapped around you and move over slightly,” I said. “I don’t want your junk on my head.”
The guy obliged, relieved he didn’t have to get out.
I stuck my head in. At least six cases of Irish Spring soap bars were stacked up on a shelf in his shower. The boxes nearly hit the ceiling. One of the soap bars was stuck in the pipe underneath the drain – an easy fix. I carefully extended my arm past where the guy was standing, still wrapped in his shower curtain, and popped out the soap. The water drained instantly.
I thought I saw a slight glimpse of “Thank you, you are my hero” in the guy’s eye, until he said,
“Okay, please make sure on your way out your tools do not touch my floor, and don’t touch the washer and dryer.”
“Are you kidding me?” is what I thought but did not say. Obviously, this guy had much bigger problems than I did for that day and beyond. At least I fixed one of them. I lifted up my tools, glanced at the washer and dryer on my way out, envisioning my foot slamming into them, but restrained myself and left.
When the owner called she did not say one word about rats. She just said she had an “issue.” When I got to the restaurant she was standing outside, looking flustered and stressed. She refused to talk to me anywhere near the dining area of the restaurant which had about a half dozen customers chomping away on orange chicken and Chow Mein.
When I initially walked in, I didn’t smell anything outside the norm. The Chinese restaurant smell is always pungent, overshadowing all other odors in the room. The owner took me to the back of the restaurant, down a wooden staircase that must have been a hundred years old. At the bottom, a plastic sheet hung from the ceiling to the floor, which frankly freaked me out. It looked like a scene out of that Showtime show, “Dexter.”
“Is this woman going to kill me?” I thought.
She pulled back the curtain, and boom! The smell hit me like five hundred tons of bricks. Poop was everywhere, and it wasn’t from humans.
“We have a rat problem,” she said, in a voice so soft I could barely hear her.
Judging by the amount of feces it was more than a problem. It was an infestation. She must have had twenty to forty rats pooping on take-out Styrofoam containers and boxes scattered around the room. I took out my flashlight, terrified they were going to jump out and maul me. I looked for eyes and teeth, bracing myself for the attack.
At that moment, a distraction entered the room. One of the employees came downstairs and asked the owner for more carry out containers. She pulled out one from under a pile of rat poop, briskly wiped it off, and handed it to the guy to take upstairs. I stood there, full of judgement and shock. How could she put customers’ food inside the same containers that were covered in rat poop? Who does that?
“You know that is a health hazard, right?” I asked.
She didn’t reply.
I was about to walk out and report her to the Chicago Department of Public Health, but then remembered I had not even seen why she called a plumber versus pest control.
I pointed my flashlight towards the sewer and sure enough, I spotted giant holes that were so big I could fit my fist through them. She may have well laid out a welcome mat for the rats. I pictured them walking through the holes, into the restaurant, “Hey, what’s up? Beef and peapods tonight?”
I told the owner the fix was easy. It entailed breaking open the ground and plugging the holes. But, she didn’t want to spend the money, offering to pay me in food versus cash. I politely declined.
She called me a couple times days later, still trying to haggle. The image of rats pooping on take out boxes haunted me. I declined again.
Despite my deep hatred for rats, I don’t turn my back on all rat calls. One time a dog walker called me to fix her sewer. She would come home every day and flush doggy bags full of poop down the toilet. Not the smartest thing to do. She had seventy feet of piled up sewage, a mountain of doggy bags and poop. I had to break open the sewer to fix it, and when I did, two rats came scurrying out. I jumped, holding back a scream.
Thankfully, I was not alone on this job. My buddy chased the rats into her yard and killed them with some kind of gardening tool. We fixed the pipe and backfilled it that same day.
The saddest rat infestation I have witnessed happened to a nice couple who just bought a new home. The woman was pregnant. She and her husband bought the house when it was in foreclosure. It looked a hundred years old and needed a lot of work. The entire structure was leaning to the side, Chicago’s very own Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Their plan was to have the baby, live in the house for a year or two, and then tear it down and rebuild. Unfortunately for them, things didn’t go as planned.
She called me because her washing machine was not draining. The water would seep out onto the floor into a basement that was half finished. Part of the floor was dug out. I shined my light on it and saw a hundred pairs of eyes staring back at me. I nearly crapped myself right there.
“Uh, ma’am, sorry to say this but you have rats really bad,” I said, in a slightly higher pitched voice.
“Noooo,” she yelled, and started crying.
Knowing the army of rats could emerge and attack any minute, my body kicked into flight mode, but my mind chose to fight. I felt really sorry for her. I asked if she ever noticed at least one or two rats running around the room. She told me she had no idea.
They ended up tearing down the house a couple months later.
On this job, every day is a learning experience but a couple jobs taught me a valuable, lifelong lesson that would behoove you to hear. If you buy an apartment building, make sure to do your due diligence in thoroughly understanding your potential renters. Background checks won’t cut it. Interview them, on the phone and in person. Take them out for drinks and see how they handle themselves. Talk to their friends and family. Call their employer or a professor if they attend college. As a party lover and semi socialite, I am not about to poo poo on partygoers. I only have the utmost respect for people seeking to have a good time. But, there’s responsible partying and then there’s outer space partying, where people drink so much they truly believe they are on another planet, and they don’t stop.
Those are the types of people I usually encounter. And I must say their creativity in toilet alternatives blows my mind.
On a Sunday morning my phone rings. An apartment building owner asks me to go to one of his three bedroom units. The renters, five college age girls, broke the toilet seat and tank after hosting a party the night before.
These calls never surprise me. They are the typical college campus plumbing stories. However, in this particular case, I saw something I had never seen before.
When I arrived at the apartment that morning at 10am, the party was still going on. A twenty-something girl let me in. It was pointless to make small talk. After staying up all night, partying the night away, she was not in the best mindset to tell me what she did for a living, or in this case, what she was studying. I could follow the smell to the bathroom. The toilet broke the night before so the stench of the communal poop was strong, to say the least.
The fix was easy. Drain the toilet and replace it, which is what I did. You would think the stink would go away but it didn’t. I was perplexed. I just installed a fresh, new toilet. Why did it still smell like crap?
All of a sudden, one of the girls pops her head in.
“The tub is clogged too,” she blurts out, and runs away.
Like most apartment bathrooms, the tub sat next to the toilet. The shower curtain was closed, the end of it tucked inside the tub. I pulled it back, expecting to find a foot of water since the drain was broken. Nope.
“Holy crap,” I accidentally said out loud.
The tub was filled with at least four inches of pee and poop. Up until that moment, I had never seen anyone crap in a tub. It was definitely different, and disgusting of course. Fortunately, since I had already spent quite a bit of time with the stink permeating, I was used to it.
I called the landlord and said, “This is going to cost you extra.”
THE BUILDING THAT JUST DIDN’T GIVE A CRAPSo much for being neighborly. A building management company on the north side of Chicago called me one day, asking for assistance. To be honest, I was their second choice. They called one of my plumbing buddies first, but he refused to do the job. He gave the guy my name knowing I take pretty much anything.
The company managed a seventy unit condominium building that backed up against an alley. To put it nicely, both the company and building owner were “conservative” with their finances. The building was a mess. Three out of its four elevators had been broken for months. Their go-to fix for anything broken was Duct tape. They called me because the building’s bathroom pipes broke and the hot water went out. When it first happened months ago, they hired a “handy man” to fix it. Instead of connecting the pipes to the line meant for toilets, he connected them to the kitchen line, creating an unsanitary mess.
The kitchen line connected to a catch basin in the alley which was about eight foot deep and four feet wide. It’s not unusual for condominium buildings to have these types of basins. They are supposed to catch food particles and grease, and must be skimmed once a year.
This particular basin had another purpose – to catch hypodermic needles and sewage. Many of the residents in the building used drugs, and would flush their needles down the toilet. The needles flooded the basin, pushing the sewage up even further. Imagine a giant four by eight garbage can filled with needles, feces and urine. That’s essentially what the scene looked like. It was like a toilet that had not been flushed for months.
The sewage rose above the water heaters, causing the hot water to go out. Instead of rodding out the line, the “handy man” pumped out the sewage into the alley. One hundred gallons of pure sewage flowed straight down the alley, a river of poop. It was revolting and the building management thought nothing of it.
Eventually, a neighboring apartment building that shared the alley spoke up, threatening to call the city if they didn’t fix the problem quickly. The ultimate solution required me re-routing the line, which would have cost the building around five grand. But the management company and building owner didn’t want to pay that amount. They said they had other priorities such as remodeling parts of the building. Besides, according to them, only certain bathrooms on the southeast side were affected. Everyone else’s toilets worked just fine.
So they went with temporary fixes, calling me three to four times during the next couple months to suck out the needles so the sewage wouldn’t spill over and need pumping. They also called every time the water heater went out, asking me to stop by and relight it. I refused because I didn’t want to walk through all the sewage.
THE COVER GIRL OF COSMOI am a pretty lucky guy to have real world Cosmopolitan Magazine models dialing me up, asking me to come over. Too bad it’s to clean up their poop, but hey, I’ll take it. Except for this one time. I could have been just fine if I didn’t take her call.
The woman’s toilet was clogged. I figured it was an easy-peasy, routine-type job. So I went to her house and knocked on the door. When she opened it, I felt like Roger Rabbit looking at Jessica. My lower jaw dropped down to the floor. My eyes bugged out of their sockets. I had never seen a woman so beautiful. She had flawless skin, an unforgettable smile and legs that went on for miles. She was phenomenal. I nearly forgot why I was there.
“Follow me. The bathroom is down this hall,” she said, snapping me out of my trance.
Cosmopolitan Magazine cover pages filled the hallway walls. Each one featuring this gorgeous woman looking back at me.
“Those are me,” she said matter-of-factly. “I am a model.”
I thought my legs were going to give out. I had to re-focus. I repeated to myself again and again, “I am here to unclog her toilet.” There’s nothing sexy about that. But she was so hot!
When we arrived at the bathroom, I asked her what was wrong.
“Oh, my toilet,” she responded, slightly embarrassed, which I thought was adorable. “It’s messy back there.”
“No problem. Let me take a look,” I said.
And then things went south. I lifted the toilet seat, and threw up right into the bowl. That’s how abominable it was. I will spare you the revolting details (like chunks of fava beans) but just so you get an idea, I have only vomited on a job three times in three decades. This was one of them.
She was mortified. I saw her from the corner of my eye slowly stepping back. I wanted to make her feel better. I thought about telling her I vomit all the time, but that would be a bold face lie. Besides, my eyes were burning so badly, I couldn’t get a word out.
Half blinded, I quickly used my air ram tool to clear the toilet. She walked away, leaving me alone to finish the job.
Up until that point, her toilet set the record for the worst one I had seen. Little did I know that record was about to be broken.
SIXTEEN YANKEE CANDLES
The call sounded like any other. A lady called me saying her toilet was clogged. She lived in a high rise in downtown Chicago. When I arrived, she opened the door, gave me a nod, and walked me back to the bathroom. Surprisingly, it smelled kind of nice. There were candles everywhere. Big, purple, Yankee candles. She must have had them lit for a while because when I looked up, I saw spots of soot on the ceiling. She also placed air fresheners in every corner of the room.
Once my eyes adjusted to all the purple, I walked over to the toilet and lifted up the seat. Without hesitation, I threw up in the bowl.
Her toilet was packed to the brim with dried poop. The smell of pepper and curry permeated the air. It was so strong my pupils would not stop burning.
“How long have you been without a toilet?” I asked, purposefully not hiding my angry tone.
“Three weeks,” she said.
“Three weeks! Why three weeks?” I asked.
She said she thought the longer she waited the less expensive it would be, and she was embarrassed.
The first part made no sense whatsoever but I understood the latter part. Embarrassment is a natural reaction from my clients and especially in this case, I could see why.
I stuck my air ram down the toilet. The poop was so hard it felt and looked like dried mud. I tried holding my breath but my eyes were watering so badly from the mix of curry, pepper and crap. And then there were the candles. The purple haze and scented smell only added to my nausea.
I tried holding my breath again. This was torture! Finally, I dug out all the poop and the toilet started working again.
“Will you clean the bowl for me?” She had the audacity to ask.
Clean the bowl??? I am a plumber, lady! I don’t clean toilets!
“No,” I politely replied and left.
I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHA**#*** SNAKES IN THESE MOTHA**#*** DRAINS!
This one is definitely on my top ten list of weirdest things I have seen. It was summer in Chicago. One of my regular customers called asking for help. He owned an apartment building downtown. One of his tenants, two girls and a guy who lived in a two bedroom unit, had a backed up sink. I went to the apartment, drained the sink, ran the water to make sure it didn’t back up and left. I thought it was fixed.
Two weeks later, he called me back. The sink was backed up again. He then dropped his voice to a low, muffled tone, and said, “One of my tenants said you have no idea what you are doing and asked me to hire another plumber.”
The nerve! I hate, hate, HATE when people do not trust me. I knew I fixed her sink. I tested it. It worked. Plumbing is not rocket science, despite what people may think. There are only so many things that can go wrong on just a few things – sinks, tubs and toilets. If the tub is clogged, you unclog it. First, rod it out, and if that doesn’t work use an air ram, jet or pistol rod. If the toilet is leaking, find out why. It’s either a broken toilet, seal or pipe. Whichever one it is, replace it.
If plumbing were rocket science, I wouldn’t be doing it.
Fortunately, in this case, the owner and I had a rapport. He trusted me. I went back that day and brought a couple guys with me. We did the exact same thing as last time but this time the sink wouldn’t drain. Did the tenants do something to it? What changed? We stood there perplexed. I tried rodding it over and over. We worked on it for a couple hours to no avail.
I told the owner we would need to remove the pipes and clean them out, which was a costlier, more time consuming job.
“Do you really have to?” he asked.
“Sorry, man. We have been working on this for hours and I can’t get it open,” I said.
He gave me the green light. My guy cut up one section of the pipe. He then took a grinder to the next one, and within seconds, threw up all over the floor. My other guy walked over, took a whiff inside the pipe, and ran out with a mouthful of vomit. And then I smelled it. Out of all the toilets I have unclogged, all the poop, vomit and every other bodily fluid I have smelled, this was the worst. It smelled like death. A rancid, acidic, rotten fish egg-like stench. Within minutes, it infiltrated the whole unit. Our eyes were burning. We couldn’t breathe. Our stomachs turned over and over. We frantically opened the windows and ran out.
It took two and half hours for the place to air out. We still didn’t know the root of the smell, and had to finish the job. So we went back inside. My guy cautiously approached the pipe, looked inside, and stuck his hand inside. To our horrific surprise, he pulled out a six foot long snake, along with two dead rats. It was disgusting. The snake was in pieces. We could see the greenish, brownish, yellowish skin. It must have eaten its dinner, crawled into the kitchen line and drowned. I couldn’t believe how it even got in there in the first place. The line was only two inches long. This was a six foot long snake. How could it possibly fit in the line? And with two rats inside?
My legs were moving faster than my brain, making a bee-line towards the door. But I knew I had to stop. The owner was a regular customer. He trusted me when his tenant doubted me. I had to stay and get the job done.
We could only work in twenty minute intervals because of the smell. When the job was done, we were about to leave when a tenant came home. It was the girl who doubted me. She didn’t acknowledge me, but started chatting with one of my guys, who frankly, is much better looking.
“Yea, I lost my snake about two weeks ago,” I overheard her say.
“What kind of snake?” my guy replied.
“It was about six feet long,” she said.
“Really?” my guy said.
“Yea. Sometimes I let it out. But it always comes back. It will come back,” she said.
We didn’t have the heart to tell her. We also didn’t want her to think we killed it. Based on the smell, that snake had died well before our arrival. Nonetheless, people love to point fingers, and she didn’t trust me to begin with so it was best not to say anything. We told the building owner who was fuming. Pets were not allowed in the building. The rules were spelled out in the lease. He broke the news to her and demanded she pay the bill.
I have found kittens
in sewers, rats in all kinds of places, even a squirrel one time, but
this was the first (and hopefully last) time I had ever found a
A MOMENT OF REFLECTION
The best and sometimes worst part about my job is that there’s always a surprise. While the unexpected may be horrifically disgusting, at least it’s unexpected. Keeps things interesting. If I may pass on some words of wisdom…Don’t ever think you know it all, or think you have seen it all because you haven’t. People will always surprise you. And I enjoy meeting every one of them, no matter how ugly it may get. I meet people who are too trusting, sometimes overly nice. Then I meet people who don’t trust me at all. Some are extremely smart and could easily fix the problem themselves but don’t want to. Others I am surprised can even open the door to get out of their house. People always surprise me in all kinds of situations, yet I find a way to treat everyone the same way. That’s part of the job, and it’s one I don’t plan on leaving any time soon.