Heights and Depths

December 31st, 2007 | Uncategorized


Last night I put up a video diary entry about my day, but I just took it down because it showed my plumber and I didn’t have her permission to broadcast her all over YouTube. Here’s a synopsis of the  movie, though, in case you’re interested in following the ensuing comments.

Yesterday began in a rather glamorous way. I received copies of the Portuguese edition of my memoir Fun Home in the mail. Then the UPS guy brought a box of fancy truffles from my lecture agent. These were all kinds of weird flavors like dark chocolate with ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seeds. Then things suddenly took a turn for the prosaic when the plumber arrived to auger out my clogged drains. There was all this cool noisy footage of her working the snake down into the black sludge. Then we cut away briefly to my cat, who is grooming her nether regions. I ask her how much she thinks the plumber will cost. The last shot is of my bill, for $380.

64 Responses to “Heights and Depths”

  1. Wendy B. says:

    mmm…ginger and wasabi chocolate with a little black sesame sounds really good to me! Happy New Year!!

  2. Kate L. says:

    I just viewed the video without sound in my college library’s 24-hour computer-study area (I teach here). I feel AB’s pain. No, really, I do! Christmas afternoon, I was lying on my bed with my dog, listening to the clothes washer do its thing all the way in the basement, when suddenly it sounded like a piper cub slammed into the side of the house. I ran to the kitchen in time to see both sinks overflow, and ran downstairs to the utility room to find that both the floor drain and the washing machine were overflowing with the same gunk!!! I spent the next two days hand-augering the drainage pipe that the basement floor drain leads into. I would have called a plumber, but I decided that NO BY GOD(DESS), I WILL DO THIS MYSELF. So, I had a sewer gunk Christmas. The drains are adequately clear, but I’m going to switch out the metal inlet that the washing machine discharge tube clamps onto, so as to increase the inlet opening from 3/4″ to 1″. By this offering to the Sewege Goddess, I hope to avoid a repeat of this problem… until next Christmas, I guess.

  3. R says:

    ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a plumber will charge a small fortune’…

    Happy new year from the UK!

  4. Lea says:

    ‘It’s only money’, some people would say, i suppose…

  5. Ellen O. says:

    I love the video cutaway between the plumber and your cat. Both were about cleaning up and cleaning out, I suppose. At any rate, it made me laugh.

    Auger. Augur. Augury. So, what the revelation of today’s augered augury?

  6. Feminista says:

    And the plumber’s a woman! Hooray! But before we get too excited,the latest figures I’ve seen on women in the trades show that overall women are 3% of all skilled tradespeople. Of this 3%,women are more likely to be found as carpenters than as plumbers or auto mechanics.

    And kudos to Kate L. for being do-it-herself plumber of the year.

    Kitty looks happy and healthy. My two felines have spent much time cuddling with me lately as I was gone for 9 days. They always lose weight in my absence, despite having great cat-tenders.

    Stay warm and happy as we ring in the new year.

  7. shadocat says:

    $380, huh? Not too bad really. I had that done once, when I owned a house—it cost me 600 bucks.

  8. Jana C.H. says:

    I thought the same as Shado about the fee. Could be worse.

    Right now I have to shell out $427 for my opera tickets. Painful especially because I’ve only just gotten back to full-time work after busting four ribs in late October.


    Jana C.H.
    Saith Ed Gardner: Opera is when a guy gets stabbed and instead of bleeding, he sings.

  9. Brian says:

    Seems like a good omen for the New Year. Starting 2008 with augered drains seems like a fine way to start fresh.

  10. sk in london says:

    ….perhaps you had a dream too, about plumbing, cleaning out, getting rid of the muck…. yes to the good omen, happy New Year!

  11. Alex K says:

    @sk in london – Yes! Artist’s un-block!

  12. smutti says:

    Don’t be afraid of the black sesame seeds!

  13. Dr. Empirical says:

    I’m intrigued by the chocolate wasabi!

  14. Silvio Soprani says:

    Happy New Year AB and Everyone.

    Watching and listening to this video installmnent of ABs diary made me think of Samuel Pepys and his diary, which I have not even thought of since the 70s when I read it in college.

    I sometimes think about the similarities and differences of old-time diaries vs present day blogs.

    It occurred to me that quite a few great writers (whom we must assume knew they were great while they were alive, even if the world did not affirm them) knew people would read their diaries after they were dead, since during their own lifetimes they were presumably reading the diaries of other great, dead writers who came before.

    so in that sense, AB is just skipping a step (lifetime / death ) that usually intervenes before a writer’s readers can glimpse their day-to-day thoughts.

    As I believe I remark on this blog from time to time, “Time keeps everything from happening at once.”

    …and Smutti, I hate to be the one to mention this, especially after the plumbing footage and all, but anyone who has ever had diverticulitis (or -osis) must indeed fear (and forego) the black sesame seeds.

  15. regis says:

    cordless sawzalls are proof that we live in a futuristic world of wonders. just sayin.

  16. A big Happy New Year to all my Pepys!

    Interesting parallel, Silvio. This blog HAS become a kind of diary–I’m neglecting my actual journal to a shocking degree because I fritter away my thoughts here in this disturbingly exhibitionistic fashion.

    But it has interesting benefits–like I get to hear other peoples’ insights into my material. For example, I was just making a stupid pun on auger/augur. But Alex K observed that perhaps the augering of my drains foretells a similar unblocking of my creative wellsprings.

    I hadn’t thought of that. But I like the idea very much.

  17. Okay, since this blog has become my journal, I have to share with you a story about plumbers. Twenty years ago, I was living with a bunch of friends in Minnesota. I was home one day when the plumber came, since that’s what cartoonists do–work at home and let the plumbers in. This guy was chatty and friendly, and was curious about what I was doing working at home. I explained that I was a cartoonist. This inevitably leads to the question, “what kind of cartoons do you draw?” Over the years I’ve developed a repertoire of answers I can draw on, depending on the circumstances. But I was still getting used to the idea then that I actually was a cartoonist, so I hadn’t had much practice explaining myself. I just told the guy the truth. “I draw a comic strip about a bunch of lesbian friends.”

    Total conversation stopper, needless to say. But at least he didn’t come at me with the cordless sawzall. If they even had those in 1987.

    Fast forward to yesterday. It was just chance that the plumber who came was a woman–I’d picked the company by throwing a dart at the yellow pages. She was here for a couple hours snaking out black sludge from my pipes but we didn’t talk much. Finally, as she was leaving, she said “Can I ask you something? I hope this doesn’t offend you, but do you know of any lesbian social groups in the area?”

    It was kinda sweet. I hadn’t read her as a dyke at all because everyone in Vermont looks like a lesbian, even the straight men. Even the GAY men. Anyhow, I told her some stuff about the social scene, then gave her one of my DTWOF books.

    I think these two plumber stories are an interesting index of how much things have changed in 20 years.

  18. ES says:

    I so appreciate you occasionally sharing real domestic messiness, like the before & after pictures that time with your electrical cord spaghetti. That kind of clutter can border on squalor, especially when one works at home, and it’s encouraging to see it and then get the message of it being cleared up and out again.

    Happy New Year, and my compliments on your pacing! In the video editing I mean, but in life as well.


  19. iara says:

    I would just like to add a factoid in support of optimism: a Greek New Year custom is that you open all the taps and leave the water running as the year turns, to bring good luck. (And don’t forget to simultaneously flush the toilets.) A professional bearing an auger is a very interesting addition to this picture.

  20. ES says:

    Just read the plumber stories part II. Great! You’ve done a new year’s mitzve already, wow she was lucky to get your gig. And cool you were confident & brave enough to tell that guy in 1987 — so now we all have the before & after story there too.

  21. Deb says:

    What a lovely way to start the new year! Clean drains, clean cat, female plumber just getting started in the local scene……….sounds good to me. Oh, those chocolate covered sesame seeds look good actually. Happy New Year to all.

  22. Sonya says:

    Well, I was all set to post something along the lines of how if I was the plumber I would be mildly creeped out — Are you taping me for You Tube?? — but then I read Alison’s story. That is very sweet. Did she recognize your name and know who you are, or was it more random than that? Anyway, I’m glad she got to come clear out your drains and talk to you and got a DTWOF book to boot.

  23. --MC says:

    Happy New Year .. if you ever have a clogged drain in Seattle, call upon Zan, Rad Dyke Plumber.

  24. Aunt Soozie says:

    I wondered those things as well…
    if she knew she was being filmed and if she knew who you were before she asked the question?
    oh, and Happy New Year!
    (Auntie is quite tired and subdued today from contemplating the coming year, drinking sparkling cider and playing Wii into the wee hours…)

  25. Uh…I asked her if I could film her but I didn’t ask her if I could put it on YouTube. I tried to not show much of her, but maybe I should take the movie down. Do you think?

    Samuel Pepys never had to worry about this sort of thing.

    Nah, she didn’t know who I was.

    For that matter, I’m not sure I do either.

  26. thai tea says:

    The drains are clean, the cat is clean, the bank account is clean, the Portuguese hand-lettering is clean, and a Lesbian connection is made. Good portents for 2008.

    The wasabi chocolate is a wild card.

    (of course, i don’t actually know the contents of your bank account. It’s just a lil’ joke, ya see. Important to clear that up in this age of electronic plunder.)

  27. Chris (in Massachusetts) says:

    Happy New Year, Alison!

  28. Raffi says:

    We had someone come out and do the same thing to our bathtub on Christmas Eve! The best Christmas present ever!

  29. Sonya says:

    If you didn’t ask permission to put it up on YouTube, I would err on the side of caution and take it down. I mean, one she might just not want her image up on the internet at all, and two, it surely took her a HUGE amount of bravery to ask you about local lesbian social things, (especially if she didn’t know you were The Alison Bechdel of Dykes to Watch Out For fame… I mean, if *I* was your plumber, I am enough of a drooling fan girl that I wouldn’t care if you posted YouTube videos of me working, because I’d be too busy squeaking I got to be inside Alison Bechdel’s house!!). But she is presumably not a drooling fan girl (yet, wait ’til she reads her book) and anyway she might not want to be outed publicly etc etc. So if I were you I might take it down.

    Maybe you can edit it down to just the clip of the cat bathing? Kitty probably doesn’t care about her privacy.

  30. Yeah, you’re right, Sonya. Done.

    I couldn’t be bothered with re-editing. The other thing about the blog-as-journal is that I lose interest in things very quickly once I get them out of my system. And onto the internet.

  31. Aunt Soozie says:

    yeah, maybe take it down or call her and ask her…she isn’t that identifiable but still… and she might like getting a call from you… since she’s asking about social stuff. Funny that you gave her the dtwof… a virtual social network of sorts.

    I’m not sure who you are and I’m not even certain who I am.
    my paramour and I had some long conversations about that this weekend. At the airport on my way home a Buddist Monk sat next to me… I wanted to grab his hand and ask many questions… you were sent here for me I wanted to say. But, I was too shy.

    Today the paramour called extolling the virtues of not knowing. How good it is to practice being one with what you don’t know? or was that what you can’t yet know? or what is unknown? See, I can’t even remember it gave me such schpielkas. Yes, I do favor knowing but alas… I’m guilty of saying, often, that a woman needs a little mystery.

    That’s it Alison, you’re a woman, apparently exposed, yet, perhaps, retaining some private inner life. A woman with a certain air of mystery beyond the openness. Or you’re a cartoonist, graphic memoirist dyke with a newish cat, clean pipes and a life that allows for writing off as a tax deduction time spent filming the cat’s Christmas present and the plumber’s rear.

  32. Minnie says:

    If it were me, I hope I would shelve the video until I asked the plumber, though I’ve posted a fave snapshot on Facebook without asking its excellent photographer
    Now I’m nudged to go retroactively ask for an OK.

    I sympathize about the $$$ Opera tix, Jana. I’ve been in that position — the tooth or the seat? Looks like you’ll have both — healed ribs and wild song.

    Ms. Bechdel, thank you for your candid generosity of this luminous website. Such an encouragement to get out of the shadows.
    Love, joy for 2008, folks.

  33. The Cat Pimp says:

    Aw bummer. I missed the video. I wonder if I should move to Vermont. I am straight, but people think I’m not. I suspect I’d fit in there, except for the freezing my butt off part of the deal.

  34. Fanny says:

    I like this story… It’s very cute. Giving your books like this is really a sweet thing, I should have been a plumber! 😉

    Have a happy new year and thanks for your kindness, Alison!

  35. Feminista says:

    Thaks MC for Zan’s zany website. A plumber who’s a stand-up comic AND an activist–that’s a unique combo!

    Everybody–keep those wits sharp and the jokes coming in ’08.

  36. Feminista says:

    And thanks to Stuart,I’ve now tried soy nog. Not as rich a flavor as regular egg nog,but worth a try. I was shopping on 12/31 and the egg nog was sold out,so I figured I’d give it a try. The things I learn from this strip.

  37. Jana C.H. says:

    MC, thanks for the note about the Seattle-area plumberess. I’ve been needing some work done on my dishwasher’s drains for quite some time. I’m tired of having to squeeze bath towels into place to keep my kitchen counter from flooding.

    Minnie, there’s no question about whether I’ll get my opera tickets. The 2008-09 season will by my 24th at Seattle Opera. The question is whether I’ll be able to pay it all off at once, or whether I’ll have to put it on the credit card and pay close to 20% interest. It’s the card, alas, but it’s still worth it.

    The ribs are fine now, except an occasional twinge. Broken bones are usually no big deal for me. And I have a new car, named Lady Angela, to replace poor Vicky Vole who was crushed much worse than my ribs. Thank you, seat belts!

    Jana C.H.
    Saith Georges Bizet: As a musician I tell you that if you were to suppress adultery, fanaticism, crime, evil, and the supernatural, there would no longer be the means for writing one note.

  38. Donna says:

    About private journaling vs. blogging; when someone has the ability to write about their life in such a way that is actually very interesting to people, and also brings forth from its readers comraderie and intelligent dialogue, and also helps the blogger get insightful feedback about their work – things couldn’t get more simpatico.
    For example, had I not read this blog, I would’ve never known that Pepys recorded in his diary having had a kidney stone the size of a small tennis ball removed without anasthesia!

  39. Deena in OR says:

    Alison, if you haven’t yet, you might want to check out today’s post on the Comics Curmudgeon. Someone appreciated your gift.

  40. Danielle Day says:

    You may show the entire video without any permission from the plumber. She lost any “reasonable expectation” to privacy when she stepped out of her home into yours.

  41. Emily says:

    AB – were these chocolates from a place called the Chocolate Fetish in Ashville, NC? I know it’s a long shot, considering you live several states away – but I was just curious because they have the same type of truffles, and my favorite of all time is one called a dragon kiss which is a wasabi & chocolate truffle with sesame seeds on top. If I can plug for them here – they do mail order and they are amazing!
    We also had plumbing troubles this weekend, which our landlord made us pay for (I’m trying to negotiate half of the bill off of our rent check as we speak). I would like the opinions of the public…I will say that we do live in a very old apartment and my landlord is a bit of a slum lord, but if there is nothing in the lease and he has not told us that we cannot flush feminine products down the toilet (which they are manufactured for – although I wouldn’t be having this problem if I would bite the bullet and use a sponge), should we be responsible for the plumbing bill? Obviously, now that we know it is an issue we will refrain from flushing anything down the plumbing except TP – but I don’t think we should have had to pay a thin dime this time. What do you guys think?

  42. meg says:

    I think Alison made the right decision – whether or not the legality is that the plumber lost any ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ once she entered Alison’s home. It’s not about the legality as much as the ethics of the situation, IMHO.

    Re: Emily’s plumbing problems…hmmmmmmmm. As a formar tenant, I sympathize; as a current landlord, I have a clear division of responsibility for plumbing problems in my lease (anything problems caused by faulty plumbing, tree roots, or the everpresent ‘Acts of God’ are my responsibility; any stoppages from other causes are the tenants’ responsibility). Granted, *your* landlord didn’t put it writing. Still, older building, older plumbing, common sense, etc. Most tampons really *aren’t* designed to go down the drain, no matter what the advertising claims.

    Is there any delineation of responsibility for repairs in your lease? What about rental laws where you live? In Burlington, where I live, the laws are pretty good as far as tenants’ rights go – it can be helpful to check on any other areas that the landlord might not be in compliance.

    Everything else being equal (which it never is) I’d go for trying to get your landlord to split the bill with you, and being prepared to get a ‘no’ for an answer, especially if your landlord is edging towards the slum side of the landlord world. How much effort you want to put into this might hinge on other factors such as whether or not you’re planning on staying in your apartment for another few years, how good a tenant you have been, how long you’ve lived there already, whether your landlord is likely to be sympathetic, etc.

    If you’re in compliance with the terms of your lease, and if you’re planning on leaving at the end of your lease anyway*, and if your landlord is not in compliance with other aspects of the rental code and not willing to fix the problems – I would advise reporting any areas of non compliance to the local housing authority. It helps future renters have a safe place to live, and helps keep landlords honest.

    *Retaliation for reporting is not allowed, but happens in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways. It’s always best to try to talk to the landlord first to rectify compliance problems – if that fails, report the bastard!

  43. Emily says:

    wow Meg – thanks for the info. It was useful in this situation and many others that we might have to deal with in the future.
    Update: I spoke with my landlord and I was really nice about it, and he’s taking the whole bill off our rent. I think this is for two reasons:
    1) This is an old, cheap apartment that needs a lot of work that is never going to be done, as are all of his properties. However, we pay our rent on the first every month and we never give him any reason for complaints or issues (and I imagine that not all of his tenets are as easy to deal with).
    2) He’s a much older aristocratic southern man and I don’t think he wants to talk to me about tampons anymore!

  44. little gator says:

    A Tale of Two Toilets:

    my toilet needed augering over a week ago. The guy said the minerals in the hard water had left both toilets near failure and they should be replaced.

    Dec 24th some sink pipes let go, possibly form the auger shakign things up. gushing form the upstairs down to the washer in the basement. He came out special just for us and got homemade cookies.

    Later in the week we got the new toilets.

    New Year’s eve we found one toilet was tocking abit but didn’t call till today. He said we coudl safely shim it ourselves.

  45. Wendy says:

    Your comment about getting stuff out of your system
    “The other thing about the blog-as-journal is that I lose interest in things very quickly once I get them out of my system. And onto the internet.”
    reminded me of a comment by Stephen King, when he was interviewed for public radio eons ago. He said he didn’t have any nightmares because he wrote them all down in his books and gave them to everyone else.

  46. Sly100100 says:

    Just stumbled upon your site, I have read some of your strips before but didn’t realize you had a book of it out. My wife will love it. Nice to see another Vermonter online.

  47. Cynthia says:

    Off the subject.
    I have a crush on you
    That might be weird, but i’m not a crazy person.

    Feliz Año Nuevo!

  48. oaktown nomad says:

    portuguese edition?! really? that means i can stop telling my friends down here (in brasil) about it and start giving it. maybe we’ll have a reading group post-carnaval…it seems like just the way to fight off the inevitably dismal hangover.

    i missed the movie…how’d they translate “fun home” into portuguese?

  49. LondonBoy says:

    Cynthia, haven’t you realised that we’ve _ALL_ got crushes on Alison !

    ( I’m also slightly nervous about owning up to this one: it’s possible I may have a slight crush on one of the DTWOF-Cynthia’s friends, which is really bizarre, as I only spotted him in one panel of one strip. What’s even more embarrassing is that he’s not even the first cartoon character I’ve thought was cute… )

  50. trapped in indiana says:

    Last summer I had a plumber out to snake out my drains, he discovered that the sewer line in the yard was effectively collapsed. At that point I had two options: Have a backhoe dig up my yard to install a new line or abandon the line and connect everything to the second line exiting the house. Total bill $3000. The house is 100 years old and I could tell that it had been added onto strangely, I always thought it was a bit annoying (the front closet has this big archway to nowhere), but now I’m glad as the addition included a second sewer line (which apparently is really unusual).

    Been lurking here awhile and enjoy the comments. Thanks for getting me addicted to free rice. Best I’ve done is 41, guess I should read more Victorian literature and less of the Journal of Physical Chemistry.

  51. Silvio Soprani says:


    Don’t feel bad; I have been waiting YEARS for Lois’s mechanic friend “Jerry” to reappear.

  52. Silvio Soprani says:

    And this is even weirder: last summer at Baltimore Pride there was a sandy-haired woman wearing a wispy mustache and goatee who looked a LOT like “Jerry.” Hmmmm.

  53. Silvio Soprani says:

    Three’s a charm: in an even weirder coincidence (considering the discussion of utilikilts in the last thread), today a man in a nice kilt and knee socks, etc, crossed Cathedral Street in front of the Enoch Pratt Library (Baltimore). It was a real kilt, though, NOT a utilikilt. I can’t imagine what his trip was; it was 12 degrees with major wind chill factor today; certainly not voluntary kilt weather.

  54. Jana C.H. says:

    Silvio– Your kilt-wearer was surely a Scot. Scots are tough.

    Jana C.H.
    “Forbes on my mother’s side”

  55. towheedork says:

    I lose interest in things very quickly once I get them out of my system. And onto the internet.

    Roger. Am keeping photo-cartoon hopes squashed almost completely and non-guilt-trippingly flat.


  56. Jeez! THe photo cartoon!
    I’m really sorry I’ve dropped the ball on this…I’ll get on it soon, I promise.

  57. Marj says:

    Alison – CHILL! Towheedork said “non-guilt-trippingly” and whatever their true intentions, you should take that at face value.

    Thanks to whoever introduced Free Rice. I have been up till 3 am the last couple of nights – but finally made it to 50/50. As far as I can work out, I earned about 6 oz of rice. Does anyone know how much a starving person would need to keep going?

    Happy new year everyone!

  58. Cynthia says:

    Londonboy, you can’t all have crushes! Besides, I drove all the way up to San Francisco just to meet her at APE with the illusion that she was going to fall in love with me and we’d be married, but instead I just said “Hi, can you sign my book?” 🙁

  59. LJR says:

    Let me guess – Vosges truffles? The ginger-wasabi-black-sesame seed-dark chocolate sounds exactly like their Black Pearl… she comes up with some fairly fabulous stuff.

  60. towheedork says:

    Ah, My Will Be Done. Excellent.

    But really. Marj, of course. I was whining the whine of the insatiable fan, and despite the light humor and very gentlest of passive-aggression in my comment, would darn well hope AB just does what she’s doing and ignores the clamor of small rag-tag as needed. The Awesome Idea cracked me up so much that I was unwilling to let it go. Especially during 3 AM insomniac doldrums, I think.

    And see? Mo’ Moes! On command! *evil cackle*

  61. kat says:

    Ah, Vogses chocolates. Mmmmm. Were the truffles good? I got my mom the same ones.

  62. Marj says:

    I salute the power of the non-guilt-tripping-guilt-trip. Awesome. And of course far more entertaining than Free Rice at 3 am. Probably more socially useful, too…

  63. Donna says:

    I salute the recognition of the power of the non-guilt-tripping guilt trip. Although you and I differ on hyphenation matters.

  64. Chris says:

    “UPS guy“–darn. Otherwise it’s Life Imitates DTWOF. Down to the Lentille d’Or sweets.