Finally, I can tell yet another of the stories that must remain unspoken. Making less than expenses creates chapters of stories that are either too embarrassing or expensive to reveal. Today, I got my septic tanks pumped. That may sound icky or insignificant to you, but it relieves anxieties I’ve held in for years.
If you’re on a sewer system, congratulations. You enjoy one of the most overlooked luxuries of modern life. Flush at will, and almost always without worry. Whatever went in the bowl is soon flowing under the road and out of your thoughts. Which also explains why so much trash ends up in the treatment facilities; but hey, cleaning that stuff up only raises your taxes, so no big deal. Right?
Living outside the city where toilets typically flush to septic tanks and systems, and know that whatever went in the bowl will soon be beneath the yard. Septic tanks and fields can handle organic material, but they have an impossible time with condoms, handkerchiefs, and whatever falls in when a guest uses the commode during a party. Families must have entire Lego collections under the lawn.
I like being dutiful, sometimes to a fault. About the time of my financial upset, my Triple Whammy, was about the time for the septic’s regular inspection and cleaning. The optimist in me suggested waiting until the finances recovered. The company finances were improving, the economy was going to recover, surely I’d soon get either a better job or a resurgent portfolio. Instead, my finances proved the pessimists right; at least temporarily.
Since then my dirty secret (well, one of them) was that I avoided putting solids in my toilet. About that time, a professional checked the system he suggested I should “get it taken care of” within the next year or so. I was told I couldn’t get the tanks pumped until I had the system inspected, and having the system inspected could reveal repairs that might cost over ten thousand dollars. If you know that every flush brings you one inch closer to paying ten thousand dollars, then you begin to wonder how many inches are left? How full were the tanks? Would the system fail? Would I lose my house because a basic necessity was rendered inoperable?
For the last few years I was creative in my bathroom habits. I began to understand people who have been in worse situations for even longer. Shopping trips were directed to stores with public restrooms. A daily walk would be rerouted to include a rest stop, or at least an acceptable porta-potty. One of the unspoken benefits of coworks was at least a nominally functioning lavatory. I became much more aware of signs for “no public restrooms”, and understood why some people frequent the woods.
But, we don’t speak of those things. We have taboos that we must observe, even when they deal with biological necessities that every living human experiences. Feed the hungry – is only the first half of the process.
I am relieved. The roughly two thousand dollar bill was only possible to pay because of small life insurance policy carried by my recently deceased father. That bit of my inheritance went to pumping out a three-tank system, replacing an air pump, and installing a riser. As odd as that may be, spending the money on my septic system is appropriate because my dad was treasurer for his local sewage authority.
The impacts can be easily dismissed. I can flush. So what? What’s the big deal?
I am not officially poor or in poverty, and yet such a simple thing as a fixed or flawed septic system has unexpected implications. The list must be longer for people who are poorer.
- I now have a better chance to get back into shape. I’ve been working seven days a week, frequently more than ten hours a day. Most of those days I made a choice of using my free time to get in a run or karate workout, or going for a walk or drive to a toilet. Exercise can be postponed. Digestion and the consequences can not. I’ll be able to exercise more. I also won’t have to spend as much on gas or moist towelettes.
- I can entertain again. It is more than embarrassing to invite someone over and then tell them not to use the bathroom except under certain conditions. That isn’t being a very good host. It would’ve been traumatizing to have the epic backup occur to a guest.
- I’m one step closer to being able to have a renter or roommate. Many friends have suggested that I rent out one of my bedrooms. I have the room and don’t need the storage, but the most I could make from a renter was a few hundred a month, and that wouldn’t offset a few thousand dollars of repair bills. The benefits weren’t greater than the risk.
- My emergency preparedness just dramatically improved, within limits. My house’s septic system is fancy, not by choice but by necessity. When the house was built, the restrictions were loose. A few decades later, restrictions required an expanded system, but didn’t provide expanded lands. My house has a Whitewater system, which is a multi-stage arrangement where one of the stages is a tank where air is blown through the effluent to aid aerobic digestion. It blows bubbles to make the bacteria happy. Replacing that pump cost about five hundred. When the power goes out, so does the pump and the bubbles, but at least the other tanks are now emptied and can collect a lot while waiting for the power to flow again.
- My stress level is being reduced. Stress doesn’t suddenly disappear. Years of worrying aren’t going to immediately be replaced with elation. Besides, we’re talking septic systems here. Elation doesn’t readily apply. But, about once a day, one very vital and undeniable action will change from a source of anxiety (and therefore blood pressure, et al) to an innocuous moment.
My experiences may seem simultaneously icky and insignificant, but being aware of such basics that are common to every human is something that has made me more aware of the range of human experiences. Millions of people are defecating in fields that are beside their water supply. Around Seattle there are dozens of homes for sale, and therefore probably hundreds of occupied (and empty) homes that have five or more bathrooms; homes where flushing is taken for granted. The exact same processes are in place, yet may be one of the most dramatic examples of the range of wealth within our world.
(This is also why I am encouraged by advances in composting toilets, incinerating toilets (really), and the recycling systems developed for space missions.)
The frugal side of me appreciates the value of simple things. Sometimes those things are so simple that we don’t mention them. I will, however, be silly enough to write about something serious and overlooked (while applauding the Gates Foundation’s work). I will also, regardless of conventions and taboos, quietly celebrate a luxury that is a necessity that I can now employ. I won’t go so far as to say enjoy.
I can flush without fear. Ah.