I hate basements. I’m not sure when we started calling these Morlockian catacombs basements. When I was a boy they were called cellars, and they were dark, dank places where things were kept and forgotten.

When, as a boy — more like the family’s displaced person — I was sent to live with a brother in Waukegan, Illinois, my room was in the basement with one high window. Think Alcatraz. Think gulag.

Here in Maine, I have the basement from hell. More on that down the page.

For me, they’re still cellars. I don’t like going down there. I almost never go down there except when I hear a mysterious sound, and all sounds from a cellar are mysterious to me.

Unfortunately, the nightmare that happened to us this past week made no sound when it occurred, so I missed its debut.

If I had gone down there every night, as my father did, to check on things, I could have stopped it before it became a health and financial nightmare instead of just an unsightly nuisance.


Yes, my father went down to his basement every night before bed for two reasons: to stoke the furnace (who remembers stoking?) and to have a nightcap of Irish whiskey.

Pop actually liked the cellar. For 40 years before he was forced to retire, he was the engineering officer on a cruiser, and everything that was needed to run his retirement ship was down there.

I can barely run my “ship” from the bridge. I hated my childhood cellar, and I hate this one. I hate it so much, we invested, a few years ago, in a very expensive boiler called “System 2000” that needs no stoking.

Free of concern, I stopped going down there entirely. Big mistake. You would think that being an animist, I would know better.

Animism, for crazy people like me, is “the belief in a supernatural power (God?) that attributes a soul to plants (carrots and decorative fica trees, etc.), inanimate objects (your car and iPhone, etc.) and natural phenomena (the flu, Nor’easters, etc.).”

Down there, I have any number of “inanimate objects,” not counting the System 2000, that, left alone in the dark too long, create unpleasant “natural phenomena” (sewer backups etc.).

Apparently, the actual pipe that takes all the “detritus” (I looked it up) from the house and sends it to the city is, by the book, an “inanimate” object with a soul. That’s right.


So it seems that my “inanimate” sewer pipe, deprived of love and attention all these years, took revenge by creating a “natural phenomenon.” See how it works?

“Detritus” is not pretty. Detritus is the “matter” that comes from the bathroom, the dishwasher and the garbage disposal. That would include your bodily detritus along with discarded dinner food, ramen noodles and pieces of chopped up eggplant.

I’ve had so many visits from plumbers without satisfaction, I finally engaged the services of an expert in natural phenomena, Mr. Charlie Wing, of Central Maine Disposal.

Charlie came with a $20,000 sewer camera and ran it down the neglected pipe, showing perfect flow with no flaws. Cost to me: $150.

Charlie also had some advice.

1. Stop using the garbage disposal incorrectly (no eggshells, grease, human or animal body parts). In fact, stop using the garbage disposal entirely. I now recycle with “extreme prejudice” (a CIA word).


2. Change your toilet paper. It seems that the comfy-cozy paper we’ve been using — Charmin Ultra Soft and Charmin Ultra Strong for example — takes forever and ever and ever to dissolve, thus holding thick detritus hostage. And no Kleenex or “flushable wipes” in the bowl, please.

I checked Charlie’s recommendations online and found that experts agree (“The Art of Doing Stuff,” by Karen, for example). And I should tell you that 9 out of 10 householders I queried use Scott’s bathroom tissue, and not one was an animist.

You can do the T.P. test yourself. Immerse four or five slices of the two comfy, snuggly toilet tissues in two jars of water and Scott, for example, in another and watch. The one that dissolves in seconds should be on your roll bar.

Meanwhile, drop down before bedtime a few times a week and pet the cover of your sewer pipe. Trust me, it feels that, and it’s not as inanimate as you might think.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: