Sewer Replacement Scams

“They told me they need to dig up my sewer and replace it.”  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gone through this with a homeowner, but it must have been scores.  Ninety percent of the time I’ve found it to be a scam.

The Electric Roto-Rooter Machine was invented during the Depression so that people would be able to unstop a clogged sewer “without putting a GRAVE in your yard” (and they would display a picture of a trench going through a yard).  Nowadays there  are many makes of sewer machines in addition to the ones made by Roto-Rooter, but they all do the same thing: a cable with blades on its end is pushed through the sewer pipe to cut up the stoppage so that it can be washed away or, in some cases, retrieved.  If the machine simply can’t accomplish the task, then surgery is necessary.

Why might a machine fail?  To tell the truth, a lot of the time it is incompetence on the part of the technician.  It is also possible for a root stoppage to just be impervious.  (This is very rare in Memphis.)  Most of the time it is a problem with the pipe: broken, caved in, or separated and displaced.  The tech should be able to show the homeowner the evidence in the form of mud caked up on the blades, indicating that the blades have left the pipe and gone into the surrounding soil.

Unfortunately, we have a tool for larceny that was unavailable when I began cleaning drains in 1990: The Camera.  Running a camera down a sewer line is roughly analogous to showing a car owner the metal filings from his transmission.  (Such filings are normal, not proof that the transmission needs replacing.)  A homeowner is made to think that the camera is a benevolent gesture on the part of the plumbing company for more precise diagnosis.  Au contraire, mon sewer, plumbing companies know that it is really a sales tool.

When a plumbing company gets a call for a clogged sewer, everybody’s ears go ka-ching!  The camera goes into the van and the raid is underway.  At the house, the tech runs a sewer machine and cleans the drain (hopefully he does a good job), then he offers to run The Camera at no extra charge.  The customer watches the little TV screen during the performance.

Have you ever seen the security camera recordings of a robbery at the Quick Stop?  They’re usually pathetic.  You can clearly see that the robber has two arms, two legs, etc., and may be black or hispanic, or maybe not.  Sewer camera results tend to be like that.  Techs like it that way.  Why?  Because they aren’t trying to learn something, they’re trying to sell something.

Many of my customers have asked me “should I get a camera to look down the pipe for problems?”  Ordinarily my response is “I got my blades all the way through and back.  If there were a problem, I would have felt it.”  When I’ve hit mud (a sad day) and they ask the same question, the answer is “we already know it’s broken; otherwise I couldn’t dig into mud.  The camera won’t add any useful info.”  A good drain tech basically NEVER needs a camera.  There are exceptions, but they’re rare.

A tech trying to sell an unnecessary sewer replacement, however, ALWAYS needs a camera.  It may not provide him with any useful information, but it can certainly bamboozle a customer.

As the camera goes down the line, the customer sees what looks like a tunnel.  It’s rather blurry and indistinct, but clear enough for the salesman’s purposes.  They come to a place where some stringy roots are hanging down.  “Oh, you see that?  The roots have penetrated your line!”  They come to some irregularity.  “Yep, it’s broken there.  You see that right there?”  They come to some water lying in the pipe.  “You got a belly in the line.  It’s washed away underneath and is sinking.”  They come to a joint where the stub ends of some roots are visible.  “Oh, no — more roots.  I can’t believe it; they’ve penetrated everywhere.”  Finally the diagnosis is complete:

Mr. Smith, this line just needs replaced.  You got roots coming in everywhere and it’s just gonna get worse.  It’s breaking, it’s sinking down.  I mean, my God, it’s sixty years old.  Every time we come out it’s costing you $200.  You’d just as well as to go ahead on and replace it now and cut your losses.  This oughta cost  seventy two fifty, but we’re slow this week and I know I can talk the boss down to sixty five hunnerd if you’ll do it this week.  And we even give a senior discount on top of that.

Roots are in nearly every sewer line.  It’s no big deal. Call me when the sewer clogs up every 18-24 months and I’ll shave ’em out for $100-$150.  Most sewer lines have minor “bellies” where they’ve settled and sagged; ignore them.  Broken line?  If the blades still pass through, that line might be fine for another twenty years.  Age?  It’s just a number.  There are sewer pipes in Memphis that have worked fine for a hundred years.  Price?  Even after their phony discounts, these bandits are usually 50% higher than I.  (If I’m charging $4,000, they’re charging $6,000.)

Last week I replaced a sewer for $4,500, and that was underpriced a little.  (You never really know what kinds of problems you’ll encounter when you undertake a project like this.)  The owner called me originally because another company had said the line needed replacing.  I cabled the line and found no problem.  But this house was for sale and the buyer insisted on the sewer being replaced first.  Great expense, thanks to The Camera and a plumbing company without a conscience.


Post Mortem on Memphis’s Frozen Pipes

Another wave of thawing and bursting swept over the city today.  I received a number of calls, nearly all of which I referred to a plumber friend.  I just spoke with him at about 10pm.  He was on his way to his last call of the day. He made over $1,000 today.  I made about $225, but I only worked nine hours and got home around 7:30pm.  I had some friends in trouble and some promises to keep — the kinds of stuff that don’t pay much money.

At the supply house today I learned that one plumbing company was booked three days out and had turned down forty calls.  My customers were lucky that they know me.  All of my callers were served.

I even missed a chance to be in the newspaper.  A reporter whom I know called to ask if he could do a story with pictures about plumbers and frozen pipes, but I had to decline since I was spending the day doing mundane stuff.  My fifteen minutes of fame — down the toilet.  Story of my life.


Finally, Our Nation Is Unified

Much bemoaning has been heard in the last decade about how divided America has become.  I think we’ve gotten past that this week.  Across all racial and religious lines, despite Marxist leftism and Americanist rightism, irrespective of age, college football team loyalty, or propensity toward cell phone moronism, America has come together to say with one common voice:

It’s too darned cold.

Yahoo Weather told me at 7:00am that it was five degrees out on the streets of Memphis. That’s just downright disrespectful. My phone began ringing at 7:30 as victims reported waking up to frozen pipes.  Those pipes have been just fine for twenty three years, but nooooooo, the weather had to dive down to South Dakota levels and wreak havoc across our beloved southland.  And I don’t even want to know what South Dakota is like today.

In fact, that last paragraph was written over a bowl of beef stew at Jason’s Deli on Highland.  This paragraph is being composed at home ten hours later.  What happened, you ask?  A housewife called me in the middle of lunch to complain that bucketfuls of water were pouring through her ceiling.  Some women have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, so I closed my laptop and headed for the truck.  En route to her house, another girl called with a similar problem.  Before I could finish that conversation, I received a third call: water pouring through the ceiling.  I got home at 9:20pm.  Mankind was not created to live like this.

It’s getting better.  The forecast for tonight shows a low of 23 degrees, which is a far sight better than five.  It’s supposed to climb into the 60s by the weekend.  But for tonight, I can’t bear the thought of opening a refrigerator door.


Some Dopes are Now Legal in Colorado

This week’s news stories would make you think that the sky had fallen or the Lord had returned to establish his kingdom or something. Marijuana was legalized.

This is hardly a big deal. You still can’t smoke it in public, so stoners will have to do it in private. How is this different, pray tell, from what they were doing before?

“But it’s legal now!” Again, I have to ask, “So what?” Everybody who wanted to smoke dope was already doing it, and practically nobody was getting caught (since cops have other things to worry about).

There are three distinct arguments among my libertarian friends for legalizing recreational drugs:

  1. People should be free to do as they please, except for fraud or the initiation of force.
  2. The effects of prohibition are worse than the effects of legalization.
  3. The benefits of legalization are too attractive to pass up.

The first argument is an assumption based on atheism. Since there is a God and he has given certain rights and responsibilities to the State (and others to individuals), the first argument is powerless, although it does provide a powerful tool for criticizing government actions.

The third argument is profoundly unsound. No amount of tax revenue could justify an otherwise evil action.

I have a lot of sympathy with the second argument. The “War on Drugs” has been the most colossal failure of anything government has ever done (and readers, that’s saying a lot!) It seems incontrovertible that nothing is going to stop people from doing dope. Why, then, sink hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into the effort?

This argument says nothing about the morality of using drugs. Instead, it says something about the purpose and responsibilities of the State.

There is a higher level on which the issue might be discussed, too, and that is the matter of personal responsibility. I favor a world where people can take their chances and take their losses. The old saying is that to protect people from the consequences of their folly will be to fill the world with fools.

There was a time when drugs were legal. You could buy heroin at the pharmacy. “Dope fiends” were scarce. That day could return.


Suicide Bomber Joke

Two Middle East mothers are sitting in a cafe
chatting over a plate of tabouli and a pint of
goat’s milk.

The older of the two pulls a small folder out of
her handbag and starts flipping through photos.
They start reminiscing.

“This is my oldest son, Mujibar. He would have
been 24 years old now.”

“Yes, I remember him as a baby,” says the other
mother cheerfully.

“He’s a martyr now, though,” the mother confides.

“Oh, so sad, dear…” says the other.

“And this is my second son, Khalid. He would have
been 21.”

“Oh, I remember him,” says the other happily.
“He had such curly hair when he was born.”

“He’s a martyr too…” says the mother quietly.

“Oh, gracious me…” says the other.

“And this is my third son, my baby. My beautiful
Ahmed. He would have been 18,” she whispers.

“Yes,” says the friend enthusiastically, “I
remember when he first started school…”

“He’s a martyr also,” says the mother, with tears
in her eyes.

After a pause and a deep sigh, the second Muslim
mother looks wistfully at the photographs and,
searching for the right words, says . . .

“They blow up so fast, don’t they?”


Marguerite Piazza, R.I.P.

Before Marguerite first called me for plumbing service in November of 2002, I had never heard of her. She identified herself as Marguerite Bergtholdt, which was her married name, and told me that she’d gotten my name from her daughter-in-law Veronica.

When I entered her home at 2813 Central Avenue, I just assumed that she was one more well-to-do lady like so many other customers I’ve served. She left me alone near the stairs while she finished tending to her bedridden husband, Harry. I began studying the trophies, plaques, posters, newspaper clippings, and photographs that covered the walls where I stood and slowly got an idea of who she was. When I acknowledged what I’d been looking at upon her return, she simply observed, “Well, I’ve lived a long life.”

The Marguerite I Knew

I became a regular visitor to Marguerite’s home, mostly for plumbing purposes. I was always amazed by the force of her personality and the liveliness of her mind. I spent many hours, all told, sitting at her table and talking, but mostly listening.

Harry died in ’03. The day of the funeral (March 18th), the kitchen sink stopped up. I was over there that morning to straighten it out. They all left for the funeral and I left a bill and locked up on the way out. I managed to get loose from my jobs long enough to attend the services at St. Louis Catholic Church.

Marguerite was gracious enough to come to my church a couple of times, and it was my privilege to chauffeur her and her daughter Shirley.

Many obituaries and testimonials will pour forth in the next few days to retell some part of the story of this amazing woman. My contribution is meager: she was kind to me and it was an honor to serve her for these ten years.


My Proposal for Election Reform

(1) All electioneering ads shall be banned from the airwaves. All of them. From president to dog catcher.

(2) All such ads shall be banned from cable or Internet locations where they interrupt other viewing, such as pop-ups or ads you have to watch before another video begins.

(3) All visual ads shall be limited to 8-1/2″ x 11″ in size. No billboards or yard signs or newspaper ads may be larger than that.

If a voter wants to learn about the candidates, he can pick up literature (8-1/2″ x 11″) anywhere the campaign makes it available: checkout counters, libraries, etc. There will be plenty of web sites he can visit. His friends can give him a list of phone numbers he can call to have info mailed to him. The permissible avenues of communication are abundant.

This reform accomplishes three things. First, it makes election time less repulsive. Second, it lowers the stupidity level of the process, since the voters have to read and inquire in order to form opinions. Third, it guts the power of money, since all candidates are limited to simple sheets of paper and web sites. Maybe there’s a way to ban direct mail; I haven’t got that one figured out yet.


Sick and Happy

Last week I was sick with a cold. Not just any cold, but one of those demonic things that creeps around your body and perpetrates random acts of mayhem. I stayed home from work Wednesday and Thursday, putting wood on the fire, sleeping in the recliner in front of the fire, and coughing through the day and night.

This may sound like I was miserable, but I actually had a lot of fun. I was able to make progress in my studies (I’m always studying a few things) and I got this blog remodeled so that it looks more like I want it to. I would go out to the driveway and split wood, then bring it in and collapse back into the recliner to recover from the exertion. Splitting firewood is always fun; it’s like playing golf, I suppose, except that you accomplish something.

I was sorry to get well. Oh, I wanted to get well eventually and I needed to get back to work and earn money, but I was having such a good time, I was mostly concentrating on the next fun thing that I could do. I sneaked out on Thursday and did one job, then returned to the chair until morning.

Reluctantly on Friday morning, I got dressed and began running calls I had scheduled while sick. I gained strength as the hours passed and left my last job at 7 PM, still energetic.

So now I’m working a regular schedule, but I’m still happy. I think that I was born with the ability to have a good attitude, yet anyone who knew me before I was about 23 years old could tell you that I displayed a bad attitude, mixed with melancholia, most of the time. I guess I grew up.

Coffee helps.


How the West is Committing Suicide

This news story from England illustrates the depth of the suicidal impulse that has gripped the West.

Fleeing from a felony (grand larceny to the tune of $11,000 dollars) and the police will not pursue because the thief might hurt himself: “The officers were asked not to pursue the suspects, as they were not wearing the correct safety equipment and were not wearing helmets.”


Folksinger Joe Crookston’s “Freddy the Falcon”

Crookston is certainly one of the finest singer/songwriters ever.  His songs are very good and he sings with a deftness that you really can’t gauge unless you’ve tried to be a singer yourself.

You can  listen to “Freddy the Falcon”  here.  You won’t be disappointed.  If you want to, you can also download that song and four others  by Crookston, all for free.

Crookston was in Memphis at the annual meeting of the Folk Alliance in 2009 and he performed “Freddy the Falcon” before a small audience.  You can view an amateur video of that event here.

I transcribed these lyrics myself from the studio version with minor variations based on the Memphis version.



I’m Freddy the Falcon, daredevil’s feet
Skateboard champ on Jackson Street
Ramp up and lift off two flights high
When the wheels leave the pavement, the falcon can fly

And I hardly know nothin’ and mostly don’t care
But flying like this gets me outta here
And I wish I had somethin’, but nothin’ ain’t fair
Flyin’ like this gets me outta here

They all call me Ratboy; my grades are bad
With a crazy temper than I got from my dad
My momma gets scared when my dad comes home drunk
And everybody says Ratboy is destined to flunk

And I hardly know nothin’ and mostly don’t care
But flying like this gets me outta here
And I wish I had somethin’, but nothin’ ain’t fair
Flyin’ like this gets me outta here

Skippin’ school, hangin’ out on the street
And out behind the factory where the dropouts meet
It happened real quick; I got in on the scene
In the back of a Mustang, cookin’ methamphetamine

And I hardly know nothin’ and mostly don’t care
But flying like this gets me outta here
And I wish I had somethin, but nothin’ ain’t fair
Flyin’ like this gets me outta here

Now I got these navy blues in jail cell “D”
I guess I done what everyone expected of me
So I sneak me a pencil — you gotta swear not to tell —
And at night I draw the falcon on the walls of my cell

And I hardly know nothin’ and mostly don’t care
But flying like this gets me outta here
And I wish I had somethin’, but nothin’ ain’t fair
Flyin’ like this gets me outta here