When we sell our house, I will tell the Realtor to advertise it as having six bedrooms and 21/4 baths. That's because a full bath is one with a bathtub, a sink and a completely working toilet. A half bath is one with a sink and a completely working toilet. A quarter bath is what we have off our kitchen.
The first two bathrooms came with the house when it was built in 1917. The powder room off our kitchen came a couple of years later and is attached to the sewer line via 35 feet of horizontal sewer pipe. The pipe has developed cracks over the years and is prone to tree-root infiltration. Almost 20 years ago, when we moved in, we had a series of backups -- three in one year -- when sewage flooded the basement, destroying priceless (OK, sort of junky) personal items. We called a sewer man, who snaked out the roots and told me that the "less" we used that bathroom, the better. As a result, I made an ironclad family rule: the powder room was for brushing one's teeth and, only if absolutely, positively, necessary, "number ones." Anything, shall we say ... more substantial, had to be done in one of our actual bathrooms.
My kids used to call me the p• • p police. (I put that in for newspapers who refuse to publish the word "poop." If you're reading this sentence in parentheses, your local editor is either kind of laid back or not all that good at proofreading.) For years, I used to rush to the door any time someone would go into the powder room for more than a few seconds, bang on the door and demand to know what was "going on in there." It was kind of stressful and occasionally led to someone screaming that I was a totally bad parent, one who would have kids who grew up with serious complexes. But thanks to my dedication and watchfulness, we haven't experienced a backup in almost 20 years.
To be fair, the kids grew up knowing how bad a basement sewage backup can be. The worst one flooded our Christmas decorations, including our knitted Santa stockings, and while we washed them in almost boiling water, they remained discolored. (Santa no longer has a white beard, and every Christmas Eve, the kids would hang up their stockings with one hand while holding their noses with the other.)
But as time has gone by, people forget, and security has admittedly gotten lax. I have suspected for some years now that the powder room has been used for "unauthorized" activities. I would go into more detail as to the particular culprit I have in mind, but I have been threatened with certain death if I do.
All of this came to a head last week when my daughters had a boy come over for what he just thought was an evening of pizza and on-demand movies. My wife and I were sitting in the kitchen watching TV when this unsuspecting guest walked into the powder room and closed the door. Thirty seconds later (I still count -- he had another 20 seconds before I would start banging on the door), he came scurrying out the door, looking like he'd seen a ghost. He was closely followed by a wave of toilet water, looking like a teenage Noah running from a flood. I jumped up from my chair, swore like a drunken but articulate sailor, and scrambled to find the plunger.
The plumber's helper was, to put it mildly, not all that much help. Every time I pressed down on the plunger in the toilet, water came squirting out the sink, squooshing out of the floorboards, and spritzing out of the drain pipe joints.
The next day, I called Chuck, our plumber, and he spent half a day, on a holiday weekend, crouched over our basement drains with a loud snake machine, pausing every few minutes to proudly display the piles of tree roots he was fishing out of the lines. Chuck agreed that my "limited use" policy was a good one and should be enforced more vigorously. (He also told me he doesn't do drains anymore, so don't call again.)
The next day, I gathered everyone together (including the culprit, who should be reading this column and feeling really, really guilty). I explained, in no uncertain terms, from now on, any time one of them was inside the powder room, I'd be standing just outside, stopwatch in hand.
And any teenage boys who come over for a visit to the McKay house, be warned: After years of permissiveness, the p• • p policeman is back on duty. (Dear editor: Relax. I spelled it "duty.")
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.