Our colleague, Kipp Wright, hit a rough patch over the weekend. Really, it was more of a slimy patch, and at the center of it all, a wedding ring. He writes:

Night fell on Dec. 28, and the in-laws had departed from their holiday visit. Getting the boys back into a normal bed routine became our focus, and in wrestling a three year-old to the bath, my wedding ring slipped off my hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched it roll across the bathroom floor, under the vanity, and, as I projected all too well, down the heat vent.

It is an old house, and the vents end in the basement. I asked Beth, my wife, if she might have heard it clinking down the pipes. But , no, she had been on the phone with her mother. When she was done, I enlisted her very small hands to feel around the vent. No luck.

Down to the basement with a plan I went, surmising that gravity would work simply in my favor. I was confident the ring would be at the bottom of the duct.

But anything involving our house is never simple. It has one of those historic plaques dating it to 1849, but the historic society actually believes construction to have started in the 1830s….  Our basement is referred to as the pit of despair, dungeon-like with rubble walls, bricked-in abandoned coal bins, bricked-in rooms (for what I don’t know), and an unfinished floor. A slow-moving stream makes its way through it, over a bed of fine gravel that closely resembles kitty litter. It is also a basement where one is perpetually hunched over, to avoid banging heads against pipes.

Entering the dungeon, I was welcomed with the fine smell of sewage, and as luck would have it, just a few feet from the heating duct was where our sewage line exits the house. Glancing down, the gravel seemed to be taking on a sheen of residue.  Just then, one of of our washing machines began to discharge, and I watched it overflow onto the floor instead of out the sewage line. A clog in the sewage line! I let the wedding ring take the back burner and called the plumber.

On Friday morning, he arrived and began to prepare to clear the clog; however, as he was preparing, I heard the sound of flowing water coming from below.  It wasn’t stopping!

He came up the stairs, scratching his head: “Not sure this is a clog. You’ve got sewage back flowing into your line. At least a couple thousand gallons have poured into your basement while I was attempting to get my Jetta line in.”

I called the town, and public works immediately responded.  We spent the next hour going through all sorts of theories and experiments, and I learned all about how the sewage system works in Camden; i.e., how the water should be flowing, how you can dye the water to see how it flows, how one sees toilet paper of Megunticook Street flow under my backyard on its cross-country trip over to Harden Ave…. and into our basement!

Since we had no cameras to see what the issue was, the town ‘Jetta’ed’ the line across our backyard. Nothing changed. Our plumber then  ‘Jetta’ed’ our line all the way to the connection, which worked. The clog was at the point of the house’s connection with the town’s system. Good, financially, for the town. Not so good for us.

New Year’s Eve arrived and I was still mucking out the basement, scalding gravel with hot water, devising berms in the gravel to form a future containment area in case this should happen again, misting Clorox everywhere.

Then, my attention turned back to the ring, and the duct. Before long, the project evolved into a remove-all-the-ducts, because we don’t use them anymore, and why not now? It’s amazing what one can do to sheet metal duct work with a claw hammer, work gloves, and a load of pent-up frustration. I finally reached where the ring should have fallen in the duct. It was not there. As evening set, a new priority emerged: New Year’s Eve, and time to celebrate. The ring would have to wait. Again.

That evening, while working on a gin and Compari mix to disinfect my body after a day of playing in sewage, I pondered where that ring might be. The thought hit me: The ring had to still be under the vanity.

Cycle forward 24 hours, following New Year’s Day activities, and I got back to the ring hunt. With keyhole saw and tin snips in hand, I opened up the bottom of the vanity and the top of the duct.  Voila, there the ring sat on a shelf at the top of the vent duct, as if it had been waiting for me to say Happy (insert your favorite expletive here) New Year.

In retrospect, I realize it was a fitting end to a year of… well…. Finding the ring resting peacefully in the vent on New Year’s Night was a good sign for the year to come.  Good riddance 2011, hello 2012!