I Have Retired!

Yes, you can all congratulate me, as I have officially decided to retire. No, I am not retiring from my day job (practicing attorney) or from blog writing. From what pursuit do I announce a long-deserved and much appreciated retirement? It is from . . .

. . . plumbing!

I have long been a do-it-yourselfer. At various times during my life-as-suburban homeowner (and with fairly high degrees of success) I have been a carpenter, an electrician, a farmer, a mechanic, and some other things. I have also been a plumber. And let me tell you, one of those jobs has stood apart from the others as the most aggravating and least enjoyable. Yes, you guessed it.

A lawyer with whom I once practiced used to say that any time you try to bring water indoors you are just asking for trouble. I tend to agree, and many of my favorite cases as an attorney have involved just that scenario. Like the time installers used the wrong kind of water tubing to hook up an ice maker on a customer’s refrigerator. The plastic tube waited until the homeowners left town for a weekend before deciding to burst, greeting them upon their return with a steady flow of water coming from under their garage door (that water which did not find its way into the basement, that is). Or the time a plumber unknowingly cracked the drain pipe he was clearing in an upstairs apartment. The owner of the lower unit was unaware too, because he only used the place sporadically. He eventually found out, in a most unpleasant way. None of my plumbing jobs have failed this spectacularly, which gives me a certain ability to compare myself favorably to some who do these kinds of things for a living.

I have done my share of plumbing work. Like the first-ever installation of a dishwasher into my first house, a 1920’s bungalow with galvanized water pipes. All of my work was done with copper pipe because I hate galvanized. And flare fittings – because I had seen in another of my cases what happened when someone else tried to use a blowtorch under a wooden floor.

I have purchased and set at least three toilets, replaced sink faucets (and repaired others), replaced two sump pumps, and disassembled and repacked an outdoor “freezeproof” water spigot. My biggest job was replacing collapsed clay stormwater drainage tiles along a border of my property. Mind you, I have not enjoyed any of those jobs, but they were ultimately completed with no leaks and without damage to the surrounding environs.

Water is not very bright, but is incredibly good at doing one thing – finding its way to an ocean. Unfortunately, sometimes it forgets how to do even this. So when a bathroom sink stopped draining few weeks ago, I felt that I should give it a go before calling in the professionals. Calling a plumber is something that has happened maybe twice before in my life. That those two prior occasions involved clogged sink drains should have been a warning to me, but it was not. Ignoring warnings like this is a characteristic of mine, one that I would do well to work on in 2022.

I have long questioned which is the lesser of unpleasantries – working with fresh, incoming water or drain water. Drains are not under pressure, so they are easier to seal. But fresh water is not gross and smelly. It also does not usually clog itself up. So I guess my choice is . . . a fireplace and a good book? Bzzzzzt – Sorry, that is not one of the choices.

Is it a bad sign when a man owns his own drain snake? No, not a trained reptile who will fang its way through a clogged pipe, but a metal, springy thing that works its way through the plumbing to bust through the obstruction. Come to think of it, the reptile might be a more pleasant experience.

Understand that I had already tried the caustic or acidic liquids without success. Next came a four hour marathon session on a Sunday afternoon, in which I tried (and failed) to get the snake past bend #2 in the late 1950’s galvanized drain pipe. This, I was certain, was NOT what the Lord had in mind as rest on the 7th day. OK, Sunday is actually the 1st day, but we Christians pulled a switch early on, and anyway, you know what I mean.

The second session was more difficult. It was on a weeknight, and occurred because Marianne had a higher opinion of my plumbing ability than did I. (In a rare exception during the course of my marriage, I turned out to be right this time). Following a (hare)brainstorm, I dashed to the hardware store where I had seen an air-blasting aerosol that I was sure would quickly and easily open things up. “Yessir, all it needs is just a little bit of pressure and it will blow that clog right on through.” Or, not. It was highly effective, though, at spraying very dark gray muck nearly everywhere within three feet of the sink. It must have been the quickly-building anger that convinced me that I could surely get that snake to the clog that evening.

I had an incredible breakthrough at maybe 10 pm when I finally got past that second bend, but gave up at 12:30 am when the clog turned out to be beyond yet another bend in the pipe which the snake simply refused to negotiate, despite some rarely-used words I thought might help. It was then, in my exhausted and defeated state, that my decision to retire from plumbing became crystal clear (in marked contrast to my still-clogged drain).

A few days later, a clean-cut young man came to my house with a complete set of tools. In under an hour he had my sink drain flowing in a way I had not seen in years. And all for $200. Yes, it was a lot of money, and reminds me of a favorite joke. A lawyer experienced a clog in his poolside sink right before a Sunday afternoon party. He called the plumber, who came right out. After about 15 minutes, the sink was clear and he handed the lawyer a bill for $250. “$250!!” shrieked the lawyer, “That’s outrageous! That’s $1,000 an hour!! I am a lawyer and I don’t charge $1,000 an hour!!” “Hey, I get it”, replied the plumber. “When I was a lawyer, I didn’t either.”

There are few victories without trade-offs when it comes to home ownership. But this is one – The plumber wins by earning money for a service call. Members of my household win with a flowing drain. And I, dear readers, have hit the jackpot, because I am never picking up that drain snake or any other plumbing tool again.

Image credit: vintage advertising artwork from somebody’s Pinterest page, with text added by the author.

24 thoughts on “I Have Retired!

  1. J.P. Another “on-the-head” entry! When my family moved to Milwaukee in the mid-60’s, we somehow moved to an area where your status as a “man” was totally wrapped around the amateur secondary pursuit of skills that should better be left to professionals. In my 20’s, I couldn’t understand why my friends were laying in the snow covered street, on a 10 degree winter day, to work on their brakes, when you could have the corner mechanic do that for a couple of hundred bucks; and half the time, their “brake jobs” were substandard, and could have some not-so-hot outcomes. My father, bless his soul, was not handy, and really had the soul of a tortured poet, forced to work in white collar office work for the “man”. My mother, who had a life long career with a national utility, would watch my Dad fumble around trying to fix something, then pick up the phone and call a professional to fix it and write the check! From my mother, I learned that you should do what you love, get paid good money for it, and pay others to do for you, what they love! After all, there’s a huge difference between “hobby” working on a restoration of a 60’s era Jaguar out in the barn, and laying under your daily transport in the middle of winter trying to get it to run.

    Ditto on your lawyer joke as well. When I moved back to Milwaukee from D.C. to take care of my Mom after my Dads passing; we had occasion to call the “roto-rooter” man to root out our drain line to the sewer line under the street. The tree roots would find their way through the joints of the cast iron pipes and clog up. I was chatting with the person who came out with the machine to do the job, only to realized that he was an advertising professional, the career I was in, and had decided rooting out drains was better paying and more rewarding work! He was correct, of course…

    Liked by 1 person

    • There is so much good in this. I always enjoyed wrenching on cars, but I long ago figured out the difference between “want to” repairs and “need to because you have to drive it to work tomorrow” repairs. I have avoided the second kind whenever possible. I guess that’s the big problem with almost any plumbing job – the idea of “Yeah, I will do this some Saturday morning when I feel like doing it” never really meshes with our near-constant desire for running water.

      I actually find manual jobs rewarding (most of the time) and I read somewhere that this is common for those of us who work in fields where a physical, tangible sense of accomplishment is infrequent. So I enjoy doing jobs where I can turn my brain (mostly) off and just concentrate on the task at hand. And I loved the Roto Rooter guy story. I’ll bet he got a lot of jokes about how directly his advertising experience applied in working with sewage. 🙂

      Like

  2. Plumbing always daunts me. Your comment about bringing water inside made me think of my grandfather who used to say, “You city people are disgusting, going to the bathroom in your house.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • So far, I am sticking to the plan. Last night I discovered an outdoor faucet that started leaking for reasons I cannot fathom. The plumber is coming Tuesday. The timing was odd – it is as though Facebook or Google has taken over my household plumbing. It must have become aware of this blog post because it started leaking the night before this went live. Spooky.

      Like

      • J.P. As a guy that spent half his life in Chicago and Milwaukee, I have to look in askance about your currently leaking out door faucet. Apparently you cats in Indiana don’t know that you have to shut off the out door faucet in late October, and turn it back on in late March, from the shut-off valve in the basement where the pipe exits to the out doors (you also have to keep the exterior fixture open so it drains after the shut-off). This keep residual water from cracking the fixture when it freezes. Of course, you could have one of those Indiana houses that has no basement, or god forbid, a space between the house and the ground! I never found Indiana so much warmer than Chicago to allow for this weird type of construction that seems to flaunt the problems of cold weather living, it does get lower than 32 in Indianapolis, many times for days on end! I used to shake my head when I would hear of people in Indy needing to put electric room heaters under their houses to keep their pipes from freezing!? How is that construction even allowed under zoning?

        Like

  3. I like some parts of plumbing, well crafted fittings and I’m pretty good at sweating a soldered joint. I have retired from the large scale stuff, lugging toilets up and down stairs etc. Luckily my brother in law is a plumber, and he works for beer.

    One disconcerting thing about having others do work is the speed. Normally when I do plumbing, woodwork or such things I proceed very slowly, lots of head scratching and planning. Professionals just barge in and start ripping stuff apart, and although it takes 1/4 the time it’s best if I don’t watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am usually pretty picky on hiring tradesmen, and have developed some sources of other “high specs” people to know who they use. Yes, they are always much faster. If I am really lucky, they are *almost* as careful.

      Like

    • I mentioned in reply to another comment that an outdoor faucet started leaking last evening. This retirement thing is fabulous, because other than rigging something to duct the slowly running water away from the house foundation, I have not thought about it one little bit, other than making an appointment for a service call.

      Like

  4. JP, I’m impressed that you owned your own drain snake. I had a handyman guy unclog a bathroom sink once and he had to go down to the hardware store and buy one. I now have a plumber on standby through the Reliance plan for $15/month, worth it to have someone available within 24hrs (or sooner). I also have their heating/cooling/electrician plan, as it is impossible to get skilled trades people here in a timely fashion, as I found out during the kitchen reno. As for the coincidence of your outdoor faucet suddenly acting up, when my parents lived on the farm, inevitably there would be some kind of plumbing emergency a day or two before Christmas just when they were expecting a houseful of company to descend. It happened so often, it got to be kind of a Christmas tradition. My dad could fix a lot of things but he was no plumber, so the job was always patchwork at best. I find it interesting how some guys know all that stuff, maybe their fathers showed them things growing up, but others know nothing or plead ignorance…..now I suppose you could always google youtube videos?

    Like

  5. I can see a Dagwood Bumstead comic here somewhere. I pictured visually in my brain the three foot spew of drain material and the clean up effort of that required before getting back to the job at hand.

    Like

  6. I remember a friend of mine, who’s even less handy than I am, told me about a conversation with his father shortly after my friend bought his first house. His dad said “There’s only one plumbing tool you need to know how to use: a phone, to call the plumber.”

    I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than do plumbing work, and your clogged drain story hit home with me. Earlier this year our kitchen drain started clogging — and for a while we ignored it, and then figured “hey we can wash dishes with just a trickle of water!” but eventually we called a plumber who snaked out the very long pipe. Like you, we experienced the satisfaction (after the initial bill) of water draining more freely than it ever had before. All was good until few weeks ago when we noticed it started clogging again. Ugh. Well, we’re back to washing dishes with a trickle of water again.

    Like

  7. My dad was all about do-it-yourself for the sake of a) learning something useful and b) saving a buck. He loved figuring out home repairs and had a knack for them. His son? Not so much, despite his dad’s Saturday afternoon efforts to educate. I will tackle a toilet or the sink pipes in the cabinet below, but that’s about it. Meanwhile, my wife & I have suffered more than our fair share of water problems over the years (I wrote a blog about them a few years back). My latest lunkhead gaffe (just after Christmas): filling the dog’s water bucket in our laundry room slop sink and walking away to do a few other things while it filled. Forgot all about it. A slop sink doesn’t have an overflow hole so the sink eventually filled up faster than it was draining. Hello, Niagara Falls. Almost cost me a pretty penny in the surrounding wood floor repair.

    Like

  8. JP,Was it you who wrote about your Dad taking a TV apart and having it blow up, sort of, when it was reassembled?Do you recall and if so do you have a link to that writeup please?A friend of mine just had his TV apart and I would love to share your story with him. That you have been able to reduce your stash of law books to what is on that side shelf is impressive.  Everything is on line these days eh?!  LOL Many thanksLee

    Like

  9. I have our plumber on speed dial. Apparently, there is not enough of a slant in the pipes of our house so about every 2 years, we have a major clog. Last time was New Year’s Eve 2020. Despite the holiday and COVID, our plumber came and fixed it. I was so grateful we toasted with a glass of wine before he left (physically distanced, of course!). By my calculations, we have another year or so before I have to call him again.

    Like

    • Hi Inkplume…I was responsible for building out a new advertising photo facility for a large Midwestern retailer back in the 90’s. We had signed a long term lease on a large square-footage property that when built, had been outside of the city borders. Needless to say, in my very “Germanic” city, the inspectors would have been all over a project, whether residential or commercial, before you would even be allowed to “close stuff up” (at least since the 1920’s). But since it was out of the city, it was originally built fast and loose. You guessed it, the run to the sewer line was not only too long, but at too shallow an angle. Obviously, the owners were not going to pay millions to rectify it, so we ended up getting a variance, based on posting signs over every sink and “commode” admonishing people to not put “substantial items” down these drains (and women, I’m talking to you!). In addition, I had standing appointments with the plumbing company that did work for our association in the region, to come and route every thing out every six months, no matter what! After the first year of fits and starts, we never had another problem.

      My experience living all over the country, is that there are areas that take zoning and construction seriously, and others that do everything “half-assed” and try to get away with everything they can. If I were to buy a personal property again, I would have a team of inspectors combing everything including the filed plans at the municipality, and if there was a question, using ground radar to check the pipe placement! In Milwaukee, everything better be letter perfect, or your in trouble; in Chicago, sometimes money changes hands and things go awry; in Indianapolis, I’m not sure people that do construction even have licenses or know how to use a level! Ditto with the Maryland area outside of D.C. I always tell my friends around the country, there’s a reason Angie’s List started in Indianapolis!

      Like

  10. Hmm – too bad you retired JP as now you’re at the mercy of a plumber’s hours and workload, but you keep your knees from getting arthritic and your hands clean. 🙂 I like the joke about the lawyer/now a plumber. I had my own plumbing dilemma today. The first calamity of 2022. We have had some frigid cold temps, so I often run a small load of washing before bed and/or in the morning to warm the pipes. It wasn’t THAT cold, so I just left all the cupboard doors open where there are pipes and all the taps with a small drip overnight the last few days. Today it was warmer and I went to shut off the basement hot water handle and it broke off – oops I’d be madder if it was a huge issue, but I often leave the tap dripping in the basement during the Winter months, but still … it can wait until the COVID surge dies down a little before I call in a plumber, even though they bill you later and the visit could be “touchless” but I’ll leave it be for now. (And no, I didn’t try to take a wrench to it to shut it off and potentially make matters worse.)

    Like

  11. Greetings! First off, congrats on your retirement!
    I’ve got 2 Qs:
    – I’m planning on doing a TIkTok video on Brother Bones & found your blog on him while searching for info. If I credited you would it cool to use the info I found here?
    Also, regarding “Sweet Georgia Brown”. I could *swear* I once heard an “extended” version of it. If I recall correctly, it sounded a lot like Brother Bones’ version, but went on bit longer. I trued to play what I hear in my mind so hopefully the links I provided work so you can hear it. Does it sound familiar??

    Thanks for any help! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am happy to provide permission and appreciate the link/citation. As for your mystery song, I am afraid that I’m no help. I listened to your short sample but it rung no bell for me. Let me know when your piece is up, I look forward to seeing it.

      Like

      • Excellent! Thank you! It’ll be part of a series I’m doing for Black History Month, but you’ll get a sneak preview when I’m done editing.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s