I'm all plugged up.

Last night I decided to sit in the hot tub for a bit and relax, and when I came back inside and dried off, I heard the thing nobody wants to hear right before they are about to get into a nice soft bed:  My wife, yelling from the basement.   "Are you up there?  Something's wrong with the washing machine.  There's water all over the basement floor!"

I muttered an obscenity under my breath and grudgingly donned my underwear and my boots and headed downstairs.  (What? It's a good look for me.)  It didn't take a genius to see that my wife's suspicions were correct -- The ancient washing machine sitting in the corner had decided to expel 20 gallons of water directly outside of itself, one gallon for every year it has been resentfully doing our bidding.  I'd call it a piece of shit, but any appliance that can go 20-plus years with only some routine maintenance probably doesn't owe me anything. The bad thing was,  I had no idea which washer-orifice it had come from, since the clothes had spun dry and weren't telling any tales.

That meant that not only did I have to fix the washer, I had to make another damned mess to see exactly what it was that I had to fix.  The first thing I did was look down into the drain pipe from the top.  It's just an open hunk of pipe with a trap about six inches down, then it runs about 20 feet down a 1.5" pipe to the sewer pipe.  The only thing is, it's directly behind the washing machine and flat against the wall, so it's not exactly easy to look down into.  Picture me in my tighty-whities, squatting on the top of the washing machine like Spiderman with my face mashed up against a dirty basement wall, holding a flashlight, looking down into an empty pipe.  On second thought, don't picture that. I don't even want to picture that, and I was there.  My relaxing hot tub soak was nothing but a distant memory.

No water in the pipe, so I figured that was a good sign.  I transferred the clothes into the dryer and started an empty cycle.  About five years ago, something had gone wrong with the sensor that determined how full the drum was, and the water just continued to pour over the side.  That was fun. Luckily we were home and heard the splashing noises, so there wasn't a ton of damage.  It was a pretty easy fix, too.

Since the spin cycle had finished, I figured that wasn't the issue this time.  My guess was that something was up with the part of the cycle where it pumped the water out of the drum.   I sat there for five minutes watching it fill up, and holy crap, five minutes is a long-ass time.  This thing put the watched pot to shame.  I just wanted to go to bed, but instead I stood there in my underwear and boots watching this giant Kenmore shitbucket fill up with ice-cold well water.

Once it was full, I manually spun the dial (that's how old this thing is. It has clicky dials) to the little * symbol that someone over at Kenmore who is probably dead by now thought would be a good representation of "Spin."  It's a top-loading washer, so there's a little safety pin on the door that goes into a hole on the top of the washer itself and determines whether it's open or closed.  Presumably, this is so it won't spin up with the top open and take your arm off or something.  So this obviously means that you have to jam something into the hole to make it work with the top up.  I jammed the pinky of my right hand into the hole, and pulled the dial out with my left to engage the spin cycle.  Immediately, the pipe behind the washer started spraying high-pressure, freezing cold water all over my half-naked self, and I knew instantly what the problem was; the drain pipe was somehow plugged.

Now that I was soaking wet and sure it wasn't the washing machine itself that had shit the bed, I dried my face, arms and legs, and went upstairs and got ready for bed.  I figured I'd diagnose the pipe today after work.  I went up to the bedroom and told my wife, "Well, best case, it's a plugged up drain pipe.  Worst case, the septic system isn't draining properly and there's nowhere for the water to go, so it's backing up into the basement."

I fell asleep, and dreamed of chocolate water.

Fast forward to this afternoon.  I've been thinking about this all day.  I have a washing machine full of water, and two other hoses that drain into this same open-topped pipe -- the dehumidifier pump and the water-softener backwash.  So I have to fix this today.  It's 3:01 pm, and I have to make this quick because I want to finish a chair in the shop.

I have a drain snake, so I decided to try it.  The only problem is, it won't go past the trap.  Then I notice that there's a little nut on the bottom of the trap to drain it -- it's maybe three-quarters of an inch wide, if that. So I take that nut off, and shove the drain snake in.  The snake has this little screw auger on the end so you can sort of chew through the hair blobs and then extract them.  I ran it all the way down to  where it met the sewer pipe, and I feel nothing.  I can't feel a clog, I don't hear anything out of the ordinary, just this drain snake rattling around in an empty pipe.  So I pull the snake back.  Right when it was about to come out of the hole, I see this big clump of hair on the end of the auger.  Hey! Success!  I must have snagged the hair clog.  I grab onto it and pull. I can't really get a grip on it, because it's pretty slimy, and this thing isn't budging.  It has to be big.  For a second, I think it's maybe a hunk of material, like panty hose or something, but it looks like washer lint, hair, some slimy crap…typical drain clog stuff.

I grab the auger and screwed it back into the hairball, and I'm really hauling on it.  Finally a piece of it tears loose and a bunch of nasty water hits me in the face, and the auger hits the floor. I pick up the hunk of hair ball, and there's this stuff that looks like a Twizzler or some kind of flexible plastic mixed in with it.  I poke at it a little, and suddenly I realize that what I'm holding in my palm is a piece of meat.  I drop the meat, and immediately start thinking about the water I was doused in a second ago.  Meat water.

Guts.  I was poking at guts.  I can feel the bacteria climbing up my arm already.  I grab a towel and wipe my hands, and I get back to work.  I can't get the mouse or whatever it is to come out.  I try poking it from the top with a broken aluminum arrow, pulling it from the bottom with the auger, but I'm having zero luck. It just keeps moving back into the pipe.  I can't really make myself dig into it with the auger after I realized what it was, so I'm trying to figure out another option. I figure that maybe I can pull it out of the top.  I have to see what position it's in to do that, so I climb back up on the washing machine with my flashlight and look down into the pipe.

And there is a fucking EYE looking back at me.  And this eye belongs to something that is definitely not coming out of a 3/4" hole. Not without being blended first, anyway.  It's huge.  And it doesn't belong to any mouse.

At this point, I am done.  I have no idea what this horrible THING is inside my drain pipe.  I go get my saw, and I cut off the last eighteen inches of pipe, trap included, and I bring the entire thing out to the back yard.  I knock it on the ground a few times, and finally, with a sound like "THOOMP!" something shoots out.  I look at it, and for a second I think it's a rat.  Then I see that it has a furry tail, so it can't be.  I poke at it with a stick and I'm pretty sure it's a partially decomposed chipmunk.*  (If you really, really need to see it, it's right here.)   They can't be happy with just eating my wife's Lily bulbs -- they have to go after the washing machine too.  Little bastards.

I tossed the carcass into the woods, cleaned the pipe under the hose faucet, and went back inside to finish fixing the drain pipe.  Luckily, I had a spare connector and some PVC cement.

I had the pipe completely repaired in about five minutes and life was good again, except for the mental scarring.  I went upstairs and practically bathed myself in the kitchen sink.  In retrospect I probably should have just taken a 30 minute shower under scalding water. I think I can still feel microscopic pieces of chipmunk meat on me.

I was thinking about it later, and it occurred to me that the only way into this pipe was from the septic tank side.  I couldn't even imagine how horrible this chipmunk's trip had been.  It was like Andy Dufresne breaking out of Shawshank, only with more fabric softener and less success.  He crawled through a leach field, a tank full of excrement, six feet of 4" pipe, and twenty feet of 1.5" pipe  that dead-ended at my washing machine trap, where he probably died trying to turn around. Then he was hooked with an auger and partially pulled through a hole smaller than his  head.  What a way to go.

Also, I think I am going to skip dinner tonight.  Anyone want to join me?

*Someone more knowledgeable than I am about dead rodents said this is more likely a baby squirrel. What he was doing in the septic system is anyone's guess.


Two in the Bush.

Once upon a time, I had a bird named Casey.  He was a Senegal and he was awesome.  He went everywhere with me, riding on my shoulder, or on the steering wheel of my car.  He'd lay upside down in the palm of my hand and he loved having his head scratched.  He could even talk a little bit.  His major talent?  He could poop on command.  That's how awesome he was.  I'd just say, "Poop, Casey!"  and he would practically kill himself trying to squeeze one out.  That's a little tip for you, if you ever decide to get a smaller bird as a pet.  A big bird, like an African Grey or a Macaw, has an butthole that's about a foot away from you when they're perched on your shoulder, so you can walk down the street with them and not have to worry.  With a little bird, you'd better teach them to poop on command, otherwise you will find the back of your shirt covered in bird shit.

One day, I was working on my car stereo, and something spooked Casey and he flew into the car window and gave himself a bloody nose.  I rushed him to the vet, and the vet said he probably had a concussion. He recovered, but something had happened to him, and he was never the same. He was scared of everyone, and he hated me.  He went from being my best buddy to me not being able to even get near him.  It broke my heart, but I finally had to give him to a breeder.

When we moved into our current house, I thought about getting another one. I looked around, found a reputable breeder and got a Pionus Maximillani, also known by the less glamorous name of Scaly Headed Parrot.  I named him Stinky, and he was a pretty good bird, but he was never quite as amazing as Casey.  He got his name because, well… he stunk. It turns out it's just something about the breed.  Casey smelled like Peanuts, and Stinky smelled like burnt ass.  He also hated my wife passionately.  Every time she came near his cage, he'd squawk at her, and he tried to bite her any chance he got.

When my mom's friend called us up and asked us if we'd be interested in adopting another bird, my wife jumped at the chance.  She had big plans -- this was going to be her bird.  Basically, I think she just wanted a bird that didn't hate her guts.  So we went and met this little bird named Bailey, who was a green-cheeked conure.  Bailey was a sweet bird who absolutely loved my mom's friend, but hated her husband.  As a result, he was making her get rid of the bird.  We took Bailey and his cage home, and my wife began working to earn his trust.

Bailey turned out to be a duplicitous little bastard. Once we were out of his comfort zone, I couldn't even stick my hand inside the cage without being bitten almost immediately.  My wife, however, could pick him up with no problem at all.  Until, that is, he decided he'd had enough, and then he would bite her, too.   The first time it happened, she was petting him and she brought him up close to her face while she was talking to him, and before she could even react, he  lunged at her, latched onto her upper lip and wouldn't let go.  She was flailing around screaming, "GEB HIMB OFF! GEB HIMB OFF!  and the bird was just hanging off her lip like a multi-colored rat trap. I grabbed him and was trying to get him to let go, but at the same time, trying not to hurt either one of them.  Nor did I want to turn his wrath in my direction, which is what happened anyway.  He decided he wanted a piece of me instead, and I ended up with a hole in my finger and my wife had a nice fat lip for a few days.

She was serious about taming this bird though.  A couple of nights later, I saw just how committed she was to this endeavor.  I got home from work and walked into the living room.  My wife was sitting on the couch in her pajamas, and Bailey was sitting calmly on her shoulder.  The first thing I noticed was that the TV was really loud.  The second thing I noticed was that my wife was wearing big, puffy ear muffs.  Earlier that day, she apparently had gained a cauliflower ear to go with her fat lip.  I started to worry people would think I was beating her up.

This went on for a while.  It got to the point where my wife was wearing ear muffs, a face mask, a scarf and oven mitts whenever she handled the bird.  Half the time I wasn't sure if she was going on an arctic expedition or getting ready to rob a bank with Julia Childs.

In addition to Bailey being a moody little bastard, he was also extremely loud.  He had a pretty annoying screech, and Stinky had started to pick up on it.  When they were both in full swing, it was enough to make you lose your mind.  Eventually, when we couldn't take it anymore, we decided Bailey had to go. But where?  We didn't know.  We didn't want to just give him away to some random person.  We had taken him, so we sort of felt obligated to find him a good home.

My wife came home from work one day, and said, "I think my mother might want to take Bailey."   I had some reservations about that, but I thought it might work.  In retrospect, it was probably the worst decision we could have made.  If you've been around here long, you know my MIL is a little crazy -- but we thought at least that way, we could keep tabs on how he was doing.  So we agreed that my in-laws should come up to the house and meet Bailey, who, ironically, was actually doing pretty well by then, other than the screeching.  We both could handle him pretty easily, and while I still wasn't his favorite, about 80% of the time I could manage to come away from an interaction with little or no blood loss.   We took a deep breath, invited them up for dinner, and hoped for the best.   We had amassed a large list of "Things That You Should Not Do Or You Will End Up Bloody" and as long as we could keep them from doing any of those things, we figured we were home free.  We could dump the bird and he would be someone else's problem.

Bailey was on his best behavior.  I mean, he really turned on the charm.  His performance was so good, we started having second thoughts about giving him away.  Her mom was able to get him to perch on her finger, he was enjoying having his neck scratched, and everything was going great.  We hoped she wouldn't ruin it by inadvertently doing something on The List, and she didn't.

My father-in-law was sitting on the couch minding his own business and watching TV.  He didn't really have much use for a bird, but he figured if his wife wanted a bird, she could get a bird. He didn't really give a shit one way or the other.  Since she was in the kitchen feeding Bailey sunflower seeds and consequently not bothering him while he watched the game, he was OK with it.  My wife and I glanced at each other, and watched as she fed him the seeds.  When she started talking baby talk to him, we knew the hook was set.

"Chuck, do you want to meet Bailey?" she yelled into the other room.  He was non-committal, but she was going to introduce them anyway.   Rather than hand him the bird outright, she instead just set him down on the back of the couch, figuring that way they could ease into getting to know each other.  And that's exactly what happened.  Bailey walked slowly across the back of the couch and eased gently into this fragile new relationship by biting into my father-in-law's ear like it was a hunk of beef jerky.

My father-in-law, to his credit, didn't flip out -- he just sort of froze up and let us come to his rescue.  After removing the bird from the side of his head, my wife and I looked at each other, our hopes of relocation crushed before our eyes. We figured that was it.  Bailey had blown his nice-bird cover and now we were stuck with him.

Much to our surprise, after the bleeding stopped, they decided to take him home anyway.  To this day, I have no idea why. They packed him and his cage into the car at the end of the night, and blessed silence was finally ours.

We got periodic updates and made the occasional visit, and it looked like Bailey was doing fine.  He lived there for another three months or so before my wife called me at work with the bad news.

I picked up the phone, and before I could say hello, my wife said, "Hey, it's me.  My mother just called. She thinks Bailey is dead.  I might have to ride over there."

"Oh, man," I said. "What happened?"

"I'm not sure. She said when she came downstairs this morning, the bird was on the bottom of the cage lying on his back with his feet sticking straight up in the air.   Does that sound crazy to you?  Can birds actually die like that?"

"Definitely, especially if they're cartoon birds," I replied.  "Did his eyes turn into black X's?  Because that usually happens too."

She wasn't amused.  "She wants me to come over right now."

"What the hell does she want you to do?" I asked. "Give it mouth to mouth?"

"I have no idea," my wife said, "She said she doesn't know what to do with him and she wants me to come over and help her take care of it."

"OK, let me know what happens," I said, and we hung up.

About two hours later, my phone rang again.


"You have to come over here as soon as you can," she said.

"Why? What's the matter?" I asked, a little alarmed by the tone of her voice.

"Bailey is up in a tree and he won't come down."

"What?  I thought he was dead," I said, confused. "How the hell did he get up into a tree?"

"It's a long story, just come over after work."

I left work and drove over to the inlaws' house, not sure what to expect.  The first thing I saw was my wife's car, and parked right behind it, her grandmother's car.   This was turning into a family affair.   I parked in the street and walked around to the back of the house, and all three of them were standing there staring up into a tree. I shielded my eyes from the sun and scanned the tree, and saw Bailey sitting on a branch about 50 feet off the ground.

My wife saw me walking toward them, and she met me halfway.  "Unbelievable," she said under her breath. "Wait until you hear this."

She turned me around and we walked to the side of the house to talk in private.

"What the hell happened?" I asked.

"I still can't believe it.  I got to the house, and asked her to see the bird.  She said I couldn't, because she had put him in a shoebox and buried him already.  At first I was pissed because she made me drive all the way over here for nothing,  but she still seemed pretty upset.  I asked her why she buried him before I got here, and she said she couldn't stand to look at a dead bird anymore."

"Yeah, right," I said. "What did she do? Just let him go because she didn't want him anymore?"

"That's what I figured too, since she was acting so weird about it.  So I asked her to show me where she buried him and she did.  Right when I was thinking that maybe it really did die,  I heard squawking coming from the ground."

"Are you shitting me?" I asked. "She buried him alive?"

"I swear, I had to dig him up!  He was screaming bloody murder.  All the while, she was swearing up and down that he was dead when she put him in the box.  She said she had no idea how this could have happened.  When I opened the box to see if he was OK, he took off and flew around the back yard a couple of times and then perched in that tree.  He's been up there since I called you."

I was more than a little pissed.  We walked back to the tree, and I looked up at Bailey.  He looked down at me.  I called up to him, "Hey, Bailey!  Come on down!  Come on, buddy!"  He called down to me, "Fuck that. That crazy bitch buried me alive."

OK, so he didn't really say that, but I could tell he was thinking it.

I said to my wife, "Take everyone inside. Make some coffee or something.  I'll get him down."

I had no idea how I was going to get him down.  At first I didn't want to climb the tree -- one, because I was wearing a suit and tie, and two, because I figured he'd just fly away and I'd be chasing him all over the neighborhood.  She was supposed to have kept his wings clipped, but apparently had neglected to do so.  I called him a few more times, and he dropped a few branches and was now only about 20 feet up.  I eventually realized he wasn't going to go anywhere.  I thought maybe if I climbed the tree, I could coax him to jump on my arm or bite my ear or something, so I did.  I got as high as the branch he was perched on, but the branch was too thin for me to crawl out to where he was.  I could reach out and almost get my hands on him, but every time I did, he'd lunge at my hand and try to bite it, then move further out onto the branch.

After about an hour of being perched in a tree wearing my dress clothes,  I gave up and climbed back down.  It was starting to get dark, and we were still at a Mexican standoff of sorts.  I was  done trying to physically coax him out of the tree - he was going to have to do it on his own, or he was going to stay there all night.  I had a feeling that if it came to that, he probably wouldn't make it.  It was autumn, and getting pretty chilly after the sun went down.  I called to him a few more times and had my wife bring out his cage, thinking that if he saw something he recognized, he might come down for it.

I was just about to quit for the night, when I called him one last time, expecting nothing.  I'm not sure why, but this time instead of ignoring me, he just flew down out of the tree and landed on my shoulder, easy as can be.  I picked him up and put him back in his cage.

I brought him back inside, and my mother-in-law was stumbling all over herself to thank me, but I was still pretty upset.  I had no idea how this had gone down, but I had a sneaking suspicion.  Bailey was a loud bird, and all I can say is I'm glad my wife had been a quiet baby.  We told her we were taking the bird with us, and we'd find a home for him somewhere else.  There was no way we were going to leave him there after that.

We did eventually find a home for him, and even though I don't know much about where he went or the people that adopted him, my gut feeling is that they probably never buried him alive, which is a definite plus in my book.

Most likely his too, come to think of it.