Travis Smith: my resume, bio and photos back to the main blog page

It’s been a while since I blogged.  I’d like to blame it on poo, but that’s not really fair of me.  I’ve had numerous excuses and sewage has a bad enough reputation as it is, without me piling it on. (giggle)

No, the pipe problem that “affected” my rented basement is only part of the story, and it’s a part my life I even considered not writing about: who really wants to go back in these archives years from now and be reminded, why yes, yes, that did happen.  But you all seem to like these kinds of stories, and I do nothing if not pander. So.

My friend Jason was staying with me after a long canoe trip, and that night he went downstairs to use what we affectionately call The Prison Bathroom—no fixtures, bars on the windows, single lightbulb—and came back upstairs to ask ever so politely and Canadianly if we knew if there was maybe anything wrong with the bathroom downstairs, by any chance.

I told him not to be a wuss, to man-up and just go do his business like the prison bitch that he was—no, just kidding, I said, “uh, no, why,” and we went downstairs.  Then he suggested I put on shoes first… and that’s when I instantly knew this was NOT GOING TO BE GOOD.

The bathroom toilet looked like someone had set off a mud-based cherry bomb in it, and the floor was filthy.  The rug in the hallway made that “sklortch” sound when you stepped on it, the one that could have meant there was quicksand underneath but the natives would hear you if you tried to run away.

“Sklortch, sklortch, sklortch” went the rug as I ran away.

From the safety of the stairs, we mulled the situation.

“I think the sewer backed up,” I said.

Jason is a professional, smart, experienced mechanical engineer who designs heating and plumbing system for major commercial buildings all over Canada.

“I’m pretty sure you’re right,” he assessed.

So I called the owner’s lackey, who speaks only Chinese, and I pantomimed my impression of a sewer backing up into a basement, and he said “What?” in Chinese because I was on the phone and he couldn’t see me and I couldn’t understand him, but he got a Chinese plumber to come over and that communication was much more successful, because I could actually show him the poo.

So Mr. Wong Loo, whose name I don’t know and will call Plumber #1, though at the time I just called him The Plumber because I didn’t know they would multiply, looked at it and said, “I can’t fix that,” in Chinese, and the lackey called for a bigger plumber.

Plumber #2 showed up and snaked the pipe, which means essentially that you stick a big solid metal version of a kid’s pipe cleaner into the sewer—hey, wait a minute, is THAT why it’s a called a pipe cleaner? Huh.

Anyway, down the pipe it went, and went, and went, and went, and went, and then it stopped, and he said “I can’t fix that” in a singsongy tone that meant we were crazy for even asking in the first place, and he went away, and the lackey told us we shouldn’t finish the laundry we had half done, or shower.  Oh, or use any sinks or the toilet. Oh dear. It was a long night, and Starbucks bathroom opens at 6.

Next day, a new plumber came out, in a red van that ACTUALLY had the name of a plumbing company on the side and I thought to myself, this is promising.  And he had a bigger snake, and he snaked and snaked and then it stopped and he wrote “I Can’t Fix That” in English on the invoice, but he said he could look at the pipe with a camera and I thought, looking at this with a camera is not going to improve things even a little, in my opinion.

Anyway, fool me once, he didn’t actually have a camera, so Plumber #3 went away and from the same company that afternoon, Plumber #4 came and he had a camera and an attitude, and he knew that every one else was wrong and he could fix it and I thought, “Good.” Or, “better,” at least.

The camera showed that exactly 86.333 feet away from the toilet, there was a thing that you couldn’t see on camera because the pipe was blocked and the water was very cloudy—and I remember thinking to myself, isn’t that pretty much WHAT YOU WILL FIND EVERY TIME YOU USE THE CAMERA?—but he seemed to think this meant the problem was very very bad indeed and he said we’d need to dig up part or all of the sewer line at a cost of $4,000-$15,000.

And I thought to myself, for that price I’d much rather have 15 - 50 new iPhones. And I thought I was glad I was renting, and then I thought I was sad to be renting a house filled with poo, and I got confused about how to feel, and then the lackey came by again, and I remembered something and told him,“Well, the city did come by about a month ago and dig in the front yard and put in a new water main. Maybe that’s related?”

So lackey called the city and they came out—I call them Plumber #5 though there were four of them and they weren’t exactly plumbers, except that they had a gas-powered snake. Heavy duty and loud. And they doubted everything but they doubted Plumber #4 even more and they snaked and snaked and snaked and snaked and stopped and said, “Well, golly.”  And they called in air support on their walkie talkie and within AN HOUR, our street was blocked off and a HUGE back hoe was in the yard digging a hole.

The hoe itself was Plumber #6 and it didn’t need a snake, it was already DRAGON and it dug right down and soon discovered that the city people who had changed the water main valve on a 30-year-upgrade plan last month for no reason, had also, kind of, you know, broken the sewer line and stuffed a rag in it and covered it all back up and went away. The city people there NOW were very MAD at the OTHER city people and said, HOW could they do that and how can they be so UNPROFESSIONAL and (and this was the best line) how much they HATED it when THOSE city people DID THIS.

And I thought to myself—YOU’RE THE CITY PEOPLE!  And if they’ve—YOU’VE—done this BEFORE, maybe you should have a POLICY MEMO or a STAFF RETREAT or make them sleep one day in the basement of every place after they replace the water main in front of it, and they’d probably be a little more careful.

Because if I built Web sites that occasionally filled my clients’ basements up with POO, I’d look into that repeating problem, like, the very day I learned about it, or at least by the end of the week.

Anyway, the line’s fixed, the plumbers is gone, the carpet and bathroom are SUPER cleaned, the lackey paid for it all, and every time I have a burrito and a cup of coffee for breakfast now, I say a tiny thank you to the Romans, who invented modern plumbing, and to Dragon #6.


“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?




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