I spent a pleasant morning with a doctor friend of ours who was lamenting the fact that her house was $65,000 over budget before they even started to build. She also bemoaned the tradesmen’s habit, when completing a job someone else had started, of spending most of the time criticizing the work of the previous contractor instead of getting on with the job.
In all fairness to our Lucian builders, St Lucia is no exception; this is a problem the world over. And builders often cloak their work in mystery, as if only they know the way to success. Take, for instance, septic tanks.
Our Caribbean Cottage that was built in 1980 or so, was a charming little home, and we loved it. It was a happy place. The kids grew up in it and our memories of the place are all nice – or they seem to be at least, but a few small blemishes did pop up from time to time.
Take the septic tank, for example. It was placed the requisite number of feet from the house and the incline of the sewer pipe was accurate to the Nth degree to allow our excretions to travel in comfort and style to their – as we thought at the time – temporary resting place in the tank before being suctioned into a truck and transported to the Underworld’s great sewerage dump, at some time in the distant future, or so our builder assured us.
There was no need to worry about the technicalities. With a tank our size, it would take decades before the tank needed to be emptied. It was a biological, chemical, you-name-it, process that never failed. He had built dozens of them, perhaps hundreds, and nobody had ever had cause to complain. We could safely leave our excretions in his hands.
So we moved in and did what everyone does, sometimes several times a day for about ten years without ever considering what was going on in the Underworld, confident that the natural processes were proceeding nicely. We even rented the place out and nobody ever complained, until one Christmas Day, the mother in a family with a toddler – they were renting the house – called to say that the cover on our septic tank had mysteriously cracked and she was afraid her young son might somehow remove the cracked concrete slab and possibly fall in.
Despite my assurances that the slab, which weighed about fifty times the weight of the child, would not be easily moved by a two-year-old, the mother insisted that she could not enjoy her Christmas with a cracked septic tank lid on the property, so off I toddled to inspect the offending orifice.
The crack was a reality. I called my friend the plumber – believe me, if you don’t have a plumber friend, you are friendless – and he agreed to pop over and check it out, which he did. He also affected emergency repairs so that the toddler’s family could eat and drink their way through Christmas without having to worry about the “results” of their over-indulgence.
Once the obligatory moratorium that covers all signs of industry, ambition, and normal forms of human endeavor in St Lucia between early December and mid January was over, my plumber friend again appeared to inspect and repair the offending septic tank. I asked him to have the tank emptied so that we could ascertain whether or not the crack had damaged the walls or floor of the tank allowing effluent to leak out into the earth below it and around it.
He called me later in the day and asked me to come down to the house. I asked him if he had had the tank emptied, but instead of replying, he advised me to come down. There was something I had to see.
Fearing the worst, I hopped into the car and drove over. In my head I was counting the cost of repairs to the tank. When I arrived, the lid was off. There was no stench, so I assumed that the tanker had been to whisk away the sewage. “What does it look like?” I asked. “Look for yourself,” my plumber friend replied. I peered into the hole. It was as pure and clean as a baby’s bottom. Not a stain to be seen. You could have filled it with water and bathed in it. “I don’t know where you’ve been sending your shit for the past twenty years,” said my plumber friend, but it sure as hell never ended up in here.”
My original builder was long gone, and we never did discover where our sewerage had ended up, but we did have a truly magnificent garden full of the most beautiful blooming plants and fruit trees.