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.