Saturday, July 24, 2010

Voyage of the Poo Sucker

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I don’t have any pictures to go with this post.  You will thank me later, I expect.

My son has a job.  It’s one of those jobs that you talk about when you are older and you’re trying to tell your kids that life was harder “back then”.  In my son’s case, he will probably, hopefully, be right.

My son’s company does, among other things, waste removal.  For most of the summer my son does Catch Basins, or “CBs”  .  A pumper truck, loaded with 1 driver and 1 labourer, drives the local streets, stops at storm drains, and the labourer (my son) gets out,  lifts the grate off the hole and then  uses a remote control to position a boom (small crane) over the hole, lowers a hose, and sucks out the sand and silt.  The truck carries a tank for waste and another tank holding water used to flush things out.I think my son enjoyed the job for the first hour of the first day last summer; after that, not so much.  However he has stuck with it, and is still at it while he figures out what he wants to do with the rest of his life.  In the meantime, he has to set his own alarm, get his 19-year-old self up very early, make his own lunch, and be at the truck yard by a certain time each day.  As parents, this delights us to no end: valuable skills that will  stand him in good stead the rest of his life!

Some days our son doesn’t do CB’s.  Instead, he does laser cutting (digging holes for construction using concentrated beams of water that can “cut your arm off!” if you don’t watch what you’re doing).

Other days he works at cleaning out septic tanks and/or pit toilets.  Everywhere there is a basin and a substance that fills it, my son may be required to empty it out.  As he says, “It’s a SH***Y job, but someone has to do it.”

Yesterday was a pit toilet day.   For my more genteel readers: a pit toilet is an outdoor toilet positioned over a large hole.  One uses these at campgrounds and public places not connected to the sewer system.  If you’ve ever used one of these and wondered, “What happens when it fills up?” (and who hasn’t  sat there and pondered this while listening for the distant splash or plop), now you know.  It gets sucked out!

The community of Pemberton is located a few miles north of Whistler BC, home of the some of the events of the 2010 Olympics.  To get there, one must travel the beautiful Sea-to-Sky highway for 2-3 hours.  The road is winding, the scenery breathtaking.  The destination, in this case, not so lovely.  Somewhere in Pemberton six pit toilets are filled to capacity, brimming with a pungent primordial soup.    The two men locate the toilets and start to work.  The driver positions the truck, my son inserts the hose and the truck pumps it all into the holding tanks. Everything is as hunky-dory as it can possibly be in such absurd and smelly circumstances.  The truck is now full, and the two men set off for home. 

Purveyors of poo, exporters of excrement, these shippers of sh** sail down the Sea-to-Sky highway at a jaunty clip!  Talk turns to the weekend ahead and a pleasant drive continues until the frantic honking of horrified passers-by alerts the men to a problem.

The twisty road has set the boom a swinging, and this swinging boom has bumped a cap on the holding tank.  The cap has parted company with the holding tank, apparently some miles back up the road.  The result is an excremental exodus.  A trail of breadcrumbs this is not.  Pulling the truck over has mixed results. My son runs to the back of the truck to survey the damage.  What was formerly a steamy stream has now turned into a powerful pile of poo. A muddy mountain, if you will.

“How much poo?,” I interrupt breathlessly.

“Oh, bigger than dad’s Honda civic!”, say my son. “More sh** than I’ve ever seen in my life.”

A few million of my brain cells explode at this spectacle, but I urge him to go on.  He continues with the story:  apparently there is a valve inside the vomiting exit port, which is controlled at the truck’s dashboard.  “Shut off the effing valve”, my son yells at the driver, and the valve is shut off  forthwith.  At this point most of the contents of six pit toilets is now percolating at the side of the road just outside the town of Squamish BC (which I shall now ever more think of as “Squeamish” BC, for obvious reasons).

“Was there, er, toilet paper in the pile”, I ask, trying to picture the problem (I am a visual learner, incidentally).

“Oh Mom”, he says, “Toilet paper, tampons, diapers, condoms….”he trails off and his eyes glaze over slightly.  I feel another billion brain cells popping and decide to think about something else.  But I can’t.

“What did you do then?” I ask, wondering about post traumatic stress, if not for him, then maybe for the tourists driving by on the highway. Is there counselling for this type of thing?  What form will their nightmares take?

Fortunately there is a spare cap in the truck. Once the tank dribbles out it’s last, the cap is attached and an eerie silence fills the air. A cricket chirps, oblivious to the load of lava sliding his way.  Driver and labourer look at each other and consider their options. The phrase, “Oh Sh**” comes to mind, but remains unuttered. No point in belabouring the obvious.

There is only one option.  The driver flips a switch.  My boy manoeuvres the boom, lowers the hose, and a fresh round of poo-sucking begins.  “It’s different when you can actually SEE what’s happening”, my son explains. “ It seemed to take forever.”

He sucks up as much of the mess as is possible, and the driver calls the regional district office to explain that there is a stretch of highway where it is best not to stop to change a tire.  They request that a street sweeper truck be sent out.  The regional office dispatcher tells the men that they will take it from there, and my son and the driver once again set off homeward.  They get back to the yard after a 10-hour workday; some of it an easy ride and some of it a hot, stinky lesson in humility.

We don’t normally talk about poo in polite company.  Such talk is reserved for doctors’ exams when we are asked to describe it and encouraged to produce it daily. After that, we don’t discuss it, even though it is something we ALL have in common.

  When people ask my son about his job I don’t know what he tells them, but if and when he moves on, whether it be to a “cleaner” job or to go to acting school (his dream), he will have earned the right to be there.  I’m proud of him, my poo-sucking young man.


Jacqueline Korteland Boller said...

Wow, Kathryn!! Do you ever watch the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe?? You son's job certainly qualifies...

DJan said...

Now that's a really sh**ty story! Very visually complete, and I must agree with you that your son is earning his wings. He already deserves the right to some kind of medal, continuing on with his life education. Thanks for sharing this (I think). :-)

Deborah said...

Kath, I laughed and laughed and laughed and...well, that's all I did from begining to end. In less capable hands this would have merely an amusing story. As it came out, so to speak, it was beyond hilarous.

Do I have your permission to link to this from Fridge Soup? I think they could all do with a bit of waking up over there.

Gotta hand it to that boy - please tell him I am gobsmacked by the fact that he didn't just quit on the spot and hitch-hike home.

Kathryn said...

Yes, this would definitely qualify, but I don't know if they're allowed to show poo on tv...

DJan, Yes he IS getting an education and it all counts doesn't it? If this doesn't drive him into going to school then nothing will!

I never thought I wsa good enough to appear anywhere else, but if you want to torture the souls at fridge soup, be my guest. You take the blame, OK?

Von said...

Your men provide the us with no end of hilarity - when the story comes through your brain and fingers in your own hilarious way. :D It's so good of you to record this for posterity!!

Friko said...

This is brilliant.
The story, if not the subject, is definitely worth spreading.

Christine said...

Kathryn this is hysterical (well, maybe not so much at the time), your son deserves a medal, the OBE perhaps (Ordure of the British Empire)?

Bonnie said...

Excremental exodus!!! You are an amazing writer. Congrats on appearing in Fridge Soup too. This essay deserves as much exposure as possible. Your son deserves a medal as DJan says!

Doctor FTSE said...

At last! At last! I can say "Your story is a load of crap!" without it being an insult! Read it first on "Fridge Soup" courtesy of the incomparable Deborah, then came over here to start laughing all over again.

Heidi said...

I laughed out loud at this. I am now a follower! Thanks for the funny morning laugh.

Anonymous said...

Spotted this on Fridge Soup too - and am now a follower!

Over here in the UK I don't think we have those pit toilets anymore - I do remember using them at rock festivals many, many years ago...

Kathryn said...

Thank-you! My men provide me with plenty of blog fodder, or bog fodder, for that matter.

Thank-you too! If one can't relate to this story, what CAN one relate to?

I think it's Order of the Bowel Empire...heh heh

I'm blushing: Aw shucks!

Thanks! It was quite a load of crap, wasn't it?

Heidi and Madame Butterfly,
Welcome! I hope you don't expect a poo story every day, though. Some days are almost normal around here. Just cat vomit.
I'm visiting your blogs back!

brokenbiro said...

Interesting post!

If your son works extra hours, does he get time off in lieu/loo?

gfak40 said...

Great post!

Two men out on a mission
To empty loos of what people been pissin
On the road named Sea-to-Sky
A broken hatch let poo fly
The result, a story worth a listen!

Kathryn said...

Broken biro: Ha ha, very punny!

GFAK: Bravo, well done!

Nancy said...

Well, I think you have a son to be proud of! Doing a necessary job like the one he does every single day deserves a round of applause! Ugh...

Kathryn said...

It's not what I pictured for him when he was a little lad, but if I remember correctly I did want him to grow up to be strong, healthy, responsible, and eventually self-supporting, among other things. If he can do this job, then he can do anything!

California Girl said...

Well, I stopped by to thank you for visiting my blog and ended up mired in doo doo! This is quite the post. You really get into your subjects deeply, do you not? In the US we call pit toilets "porta potties" among other names. My favorite company who handles them (picks them up, delivers them, removes them) is named Blow Bros. No kidding.

Jocelyn said...

It would be wrong of me to wax enthusiastic about how much I enjoyed this post, right? Because I really, really did. You are a hoot, and you've answered a lot of my questions about the people who do that necessary but blecky labor. Wow.

Richard said...

Kath, to most, it's just shit, but to your boy it's bread and butter.

Annz said...

The most honest thing I can say about this post is how glad I am that I am related to you people. True story.