Rivkah Writes…

May 31, 2009

Plunged into Despair: Memoirs of a Backed-Up Toilet

Filed under: Humor — rivkahwrites @ 8:38 pm

The toilet overflowed again this morning. It does this without warning, so the genuine terror that washes over me is the same every time. Impossible to get used to, the slow climb of water to the rim of the toilet bowl as I rush about – unwiped, with nether garments pooling around my knees – frantically yelling for help. And as the water rises, so too do the substances I have been rash enough to deposit in to this receptacle of imminent doom. Even as – hiding my half-clothed state – I accept strategically proffered towels through a partially opened door; even as I impatiently remove said nether garments, wade through the mess, and mop the floor with saturated towels, swallowing my revulsion and gritting my teeth; even as I bear witness to the sad updates – “Mom, it’s leaking under the door,” “Oh my God, Rivkah, she’s gonna kill us”; even as I methodically wad and squeeze, my mind is on the impending confession to the dragon below – aka, my elderly landlady.

This tiny, gentle Italian soul, who never learned to speak coherent English, never misses an opportunity to renovate, but never includes our ailing toilet pump in her plans. She also has a tendency to explode into furious gibberish when ticked off; the flooded toilet would be one such occasion. So as my streaming nemesis is brought under control, pumped, cleaned, and reduced to a semblance of readiness for subsequent deposits, as I climb wearily into the shower to scrub away the detritus of my recent labors, as I prepare to confront the tiny harridan, my husband and daughters offer such support as they can, pat me on the shoulder, earnestly opine that “it’s not our fault, just tell her,” and utter similar words of encouragement. What they won’t do, is go in my stead. My husband looks at me beseechingly, my kids snort derisively – so what’s a sucker to do but shoulder the onus herself? It’s OK, though, I am made of sterner stuff than they. I can steel myself to withstand the onslaught – and you had better believe that I will exact payback in due course.

I make my way down the connecting stairs, knock at the door, and wait. No answer. Tiny harridan is as deaf as she is fierce. So, trying the door and finding it open, I walk to where she sits, almost buried in her armchair, watching an Italian sitcom. I tap her on the shoulder and a familiar scenario unfolds. Maria scrambles out of her comfort zone as I offer apologies for barging in. I lower my eyes and make my confession. Maria freaks out, as is her wont, drags me to her own toilet to show me her stained ceiling tiles, as is her wont, wags her finger at me menacingly, as is her wont, and swears she’ll evict me in the event of a recurrence – as is her wont. Twenty-three years and multiple floodings later, I am unmoved by such threats, but nonetheless maintain my meek and conciliatory demeanor – important to look appropriately contrite on such occasions. I do not interrupt or defend myself – such attempts would be useless and only delay the dousing of Maria’s rage. Waiting patiently, albeit uncomfortably, I pick up Maria’s monologue mid-stream; “Ahm a tellin’ you, ah canna take it no more, every time, I donna have da money to fix, you musta be more careful, or ah find new tenants, whadya think?”

Finally, when I feel the tide has ebbed somewhat, I utter several mea culpas, and begin to back away, slowly, slowly, lest the intermittent twitter of indignation fan once more into full-blow fury. Closing the door behind me with great deliberation, I climb the stairs to my apartment, make my way to my bedroom amid my family’s awe-struck stares of admiration, lie down on my bed, and, without looking at my husband, inform him I will be out shopping for the rest of the day.


  1. That must be the most literary description of a backed up toilet I’ve ever heard of. You could be a damned motivational speaker at a plumbers convention.

    Thanks for that.

    Comment by Donald Mills — May 31, 2009 @ 9:31 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks Donald – I try!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — May 31, 2009 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

  3. What a wet story, no bikini or scuba gear.

    Comment by Harvey Stelman — May 31, 2009 @ 11:02 pm | Reply

  4. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to be prepared for spur-of-the-moment water sports like this!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — May 31, 2009 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

  5. you described my dear italian neighbor to a T. i enjoyed your blog. very informative.

    Comment by esther szwerin — June 6, 2009 @ 11:42 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Esther!

      Comment by rivkahwrites — June 7, 2009 @ 12:31 am | Reply

  6. Your story was so moving it produced in me, uh?… “bowels of mercy”?

    Comment by Vincent — July 6, 2009 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

  7. Thanks Vincent – always glad to help keep the circuitry going!!

    Comment by rivkahwrites — July 6, 2009 @ 6:15 pm | Reply

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