Saturday, November 28th, 2020

We have a dish washer again! Well, we always had a dish washer. For the past eight months I’ve been the dish washer, after our dish washing machine broke down at the end of February. I don’t have the slightest idea how to troubleshoot repairs to dish washing machines so I didn’t even try and in any case it had given us almost fifteen years of faithful service, so we decided the best course of action would be to replace it.

Fast forward to last week, when we finally bought a new machine. Sometimes it takes a while for us to spring into action. Okay, most of the time it does. My Darling B did the shopping and, when it arrived yesterday evening, I did the plumbing and wiring. I’m still surprised she lets me do that, not that I’ve ever botched the job so badly that we had to call the fire department, but I’m not a plumber or an electrician and yet she still trusts me to do that kind of stuff.

Quite a lot of the work required me to twist myself into many different pretzel-like shapes repeatedly, something I was never too worried about having to do before but I’m getting a bit long in the tooth so I was rather well chuffed to learn that I can still crawl through a tiny slot, wedge myself into a very limited space under the counter top, perform useful work with power tools, and finally extract myself, all without hurting myself or breaking anything.

Anyone who’s ever done home improvement DIY knows that nothing ever goes to plan, and installing the dish washing machine somehow resulted in restricting water flow through the faucet in the kitchen sink. I suspect that when I closed the hot water shut-off valve I might have broken off some built-up calc which traveled to the cartridge valve in the faucet, partially blocking it.

After yanking the faucet I couldn’t figure out how to open the cartridge and I didn’t want to spend any more time on this repair, so I bought a cheap replacement faucet. And hooked it up backwards. Because of course I would. But I decided I was done for the day so until I decide I’ve procrastinated long enough and carve an hour or so out of another day to reconnect it the right way, we’ll just have to remember that hot is really cold and vice-versa.

ain’t gotta wash no mo | 4:40 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, fun with electricity, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

The house was naked when we got home last night. All the siding had been ripped off it. That was expected. There are no roving gangs of vandals stripping the siding from houses in our neighborhood; we actually hired a contractor to pull all the old siding off, then put new siding on. Nothing to worry about here.

What was worrisome, though, was the sound of running water we heard after we entered the house. It seemed to be coming from the kitchen, so My Darling B went straight to it. She opened the dish washer, thinking maybe I had loaded it up in the morning and it had somehow gotten stuck in the rinse cycle, but she could quickly see that it wasn’t running, so she checked under the sink. No sign of anything amiss under there.

We shared a significant look just then, and I could tell she was thinking of the deluge, too. We had a little accident a couple years back when an overflowing toilet flooded the basement so catastrophically that we had to call in a small army of people to clean it up, and damned if that “running water” sound didn’t sound a lot like this.

As I ran down the stairs to the basement, I could hear the sound of water splashing, gushing, cascading and otherwise doing what would be described using words that would generally denote a more cheerful activity than the one that was happening in our house. It didn’t take long for me to find where the water was coming from, but the leak was behind a panel I would have to tear out to get to it, so I ran back upstairs, changed into grubby clothes, and got to work.

And while I was racing around, I was making several phone calls to the contractors who had ripped the siding off my house, because what had happened apparently was this: There’s a faucet for the garden hose out back of the house. A pipe from the house runs out through a hole in the siding. From what I could tell, when they tore off the siding, they pulled the faucet off, too. Weirdly, they put the faucet back by stuffing the broken pipe back into the hole, as if that would somehow fix things. I conveyed all this information to the contractors, who called a plumber, who arrived at our humble o-bode later that evening, by which time I had shut off the water main and cleaned things up a bit.

The plumber examined the broken pipe, made two quick cuts with a nifty powered tool that removed a two-inch length of pipe so he could get in there with his hand, then fished a small brass cap out of his pocket which he fit over the end of the pipe and pounded it home with the heel of his hand. “You want to turn the water back on?”

“Don’t you at least want to hit that with a hammer?” I asked, because I believed he would at the very least have to solder the cap in place. He insisted it would hold, so I opened the main water valve, expecting to hear the sound of water spraying gaily all over the plumber as he yelled for me to turn it off again. No such thing happened. I stared in wonder at the little brass cap and asked him what the hell it was, because I wanted a couple of them on hand for the next plumbing emergency.

Monday flood | 5:58 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy | Tags:
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Sunday, November 24th, 2019

I think a shower couldn’t possibly feel better than right after I’ve been cleaning the toilet, unless it’s after cleaning the toilet and dredging great big greasy blobs of hair out of the drain in the bathtub.

Our Little Red House is sixty-four years old, which means I’ve been through some pretty gnarly adventures in plumbing because sixty-five-year-old plumbing gives a house a lot of personality. The bathtub, for instance, drains into a drum trap, which means it tends to fill up with hair spiders and gobbets of grease. A drum trap has a lid you can remove to clean it out, but I’m not doing that because yuck, and also because the trap is above a finished ceiling I’m not going to cut a hole in just because some hair balled up in the bathtub drain. What I do instead is run water down the tub’s vent while I use a toilet plunger to plunge the drain. The scary-looking crap that come up out of the drain after I vigorously plunge it a dozen or so times would make you scream for your mama.

Compared to the grunginess I feel after plunging out the tub’s drain, cleaning the toilet is relatively benign, but it’s still a toilet and the brush still sprays my arms and sometimes my face as I scrub out the bowl. I would pay so much money for a toilet brush that didn’t spray, but what I’d really like to spend so much money on (and I know I’m sounding like a broken record about this subject) is a toilet that cleans itself. Landing on the moon is cool and all, but a self-cleaning toilet is what I would consider the epitome of technological advancement.

So after covering myself in the grunge from the bathtub drain and getting sprayed with toilet water, I took an almost indecently long, scalding hot shower and enjoyed every second of it like I’ve enjoyed only a handful of showers in my life.

most enjoyable shower | 2:36 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy, scrub-a-dub-dub, yet another rant
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Thursday, April 19th, 2018

I was raking cat turds out of one of the three litter boxes in the basement when My Darling B called down the stairs to me, “Would you come up and look at the shower?”  That’s not the kind of question she asks unless she’s hollaring it, but I didn’t notice the slightest hint of panic in her voice. Her tone was more like, “Well, lookee here…,” so I didn’t immediately dash up the stairs, but I was a tad worried as I made my way to the bathroom.

When I got there, B was in her bathrobe just inside the door, waiting for me, and in her hand she held the handle that turned the shower on and off. It’s made to come off, but not without unscrewing a tiny screw in the middle of it, and anyway it didn’t come off the way it was supposed to.  It came off because B somehow torqued it hard enough to break off the brass stump that sticks out from the valve, and because she broke off the stump, there was nothing to grab hold of to close the valve. The shower was running wide-open, all hot water. I had to shut off the water to the house.  It was either that, or leave the hot water running full-blast until the plumber showed up.

Lucky for us, the plumber could pull the broken valve out and slip a new one in without too much fuss, and he didn’t even charge us too much, for a plumber.  I was expecting he’d have to tear out the wall, saw the pipes off to remove the valve, sweat new pipes on and add a new valve, and I would have been happy to pay him for that because I’ve done that before, when I was crazy enough to want to do it instead of calling a plumber.  Now that I know I never want to do that again, I don’t have any trouble handing many, many dollars over to a professional.

plumbed | 3:28 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, January 1st, 2018

I dropped something down the drain of the bathroom sink yesterday, so I had to take the trap off the drain to get it out and when I did, the pipe broke, spewing grease and hair and greyish chunks of minerals from the hard water  all over my hands and arms.  I’ve never had a drain pipe vomit on me quite so disgustingly before.  Not only did it puke sewage all over me, there was a great, big greasy hairball dangling from the tail pipe that I had to dig out with my fingers.  There isn’t enough money in the world to make me want to be a plumber.

The only thing to do at that point was take it all apart and figure out what had to be replaced, and that’s when I found out I couldn’t get a wrench around the nut that held the trap on the tail pipe.  It’s one of those bathroom sinks that sits on a pedestal.  The tail pipe – the pipe that runs straight down from the drain hole in the bottom of the sink – is surrounded on three sides by the pedestal, a column of porcelain with a narrow opening up the back.  I couldn’t even see the tail pipe.  I could get one hand on the pipe, but I couldn’t get a wrench in there, and I tried two kinds of channel locks and three kinds of monkey wrenches.  I have a lot of wrenches.  There’s no way a plumber put that trap in without a couple of mirrors and a special wrench made for just this purpose that probably costs a couple hundred dollars.

The good news is, I only had to make one trip to the store to buy a new trap and whatever the pipe that connects the trap to the wall is called.  These adventures in plumbing almost always require at least two trips to the store after I get home and discover I guessed wrong on the size of the pipe or bought the nut but forgot to get the bolt, something like that.  I felt pretty good about getting it right on the first try.

Cleaning all the spew off the wall and the floor was not fun.  On the other hand, standing under a hot shower for an indecently long time felt great.

bent pipe | 9:28 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, June 12th, 2016

We hired a house cleaner to come visit Our Humble O’Bode yesterday. This is a first for us. Before this, we cleaned house every two or three weeks, because we hate doing it, and because we wanted the weekends to do whatever we wanted, instead of spending hours on Saturday or Sunday cleaning. So B booked a visit with a service right here in Monona, and a house cleaner came by at nine.

With nothing to do for a couple of hours, we lounged like lords on the sofa while we finished our coffee, then got dressed and drove down the road to the local Kohl’s store to buy some new sheets for the bed. Wandering through the housewares section of the store reminded us that we should replace our tatty bath towels, so we picked out a few of those, too, as well as a new shower curtain. We were back home with the swag about an hour and a half later.

When we came through the door, the first thing I noticed was the sound of running water. It sounded a lot like the wash machine was filling up, and I wondered if the house cleaner was getting ready to wash cleaning rags, but as I stepped further into the house I could tell that the splash I heard wasn’t coming from the wash machine. It seemed to be coming from the other end of the house. Why was she filling the tub? I headed toward the bathroom, just to take a look, and then, when I was in the living room, I realized what was going on and stayed to run, as much as you can run through a room full of furniture.

The toilet was overflowing. It gets plugged easily and when it does, the water keeps running. When it did this a couple months ago, the water ran down into the vent cut into the floor, and from there into the basement. It was one hell of a mess to clean up then, and that time we shut off the water almost as soon as it overflowed. I had no idea how long water had been running into the vent this time, but when I got down the stairs to the basement, where I could see water running like a river pay the bar of the stairs, I could guess the toilet had probably been overflowing since we left about an hour earlier.

One of the previous owners had done a pretty good job of finishing part of the basement into a room. He framed a wall to divide a corner from the rest of the basement, then put in a drop ceiling, finishing it off with sheet rock. I’d added overhead florescent lights, book cases, a desk, and in the back half of the room I’d started to build the model train set of my dreams.

The water from the bathroom had run down onto the sheet rock ceiling, then spread across the length and breadth of the room. It came raining down through every hole I’d drilled in the ceiling to hang overhead lamps, or attach book shelves. Water ran from an overhead vent as if it were a spigot cranked wide open.

How do you even begin to clean up a mess like that? Well, if you have home owner’s insurance, which we had the foresight to get, then you don’t have to clean it up. You just call the hot line and your insurance company will send people to clean it up for you. Not only will they clean it up, they’ll also set up six industrial fans and two oven-sized dehumidifiers to dry everything out.

All credit for thinking of calling the insurance company goes to My Darling B, by the way. While I was slogging through the mess in the basement, wondering what to do and how to do it, she got in the phone to find out what the insurance would cover, and was soon advising me to cease and desist because the cavalry was on the way. An hour later, two young and very capable people were at our door to survey the situation, clean up the mess, and install the fans and dehumidifiers.

They even managed to save a lot of the books and record albums that got wet. And mercifully few of then got wet, as it turned out. I was sure they were all goners, but the damaged books were all in the one book shelf over the record album collection. The water missed all the other books, and there were lots of them. How lucky was that?

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Make it RAIN | 5:47 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel
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Saturday, March 12th, 2016

I have a funny story, sort of.

I was eating breakfast day before yesterday. Sitting alone at the table, I heard My Darling B rouse herself from bed and make her way to the bathroom. I usually wake up long before she does, partly because it’s my nature, and partly because that way I can take a shower and be done in the bathroom before she gets up. I like to have the solitary quiet of the house to myself for a little while, too.

B was in the bathroom for only a couple minutes before I heard her muttering to herself, “Where is it? Dammit! Where is it?” Then she came out of the bathroom and started searching through the hall closet. “Where is it? Dammit!” I waited, probably a little too long, to decide whether she was angry or desperate. The tone in her voice might have gone either way, and I didn’t want to rush to help while she was angry. There are times when people just want to cuss at something stupid. I certainly don’t expect people to come rushing in every time I start cussing. Sometimes, I just want to vent.

But it quickly became apparent that B wasn’t just venting, she was distraught. It took a little too long for me to twig to that. And then I heard the sound of water spilling.

I shot out of my seat and trotted across the living room to the hall as quickly as I could get around all the furniture in my way. B was in the bathroom again, dancing through a spreading pool of water as she threw every towel in arm’s reach on the floor. The toilet was overflowing, and for whatever reason the water would not stop running.

“Where’s the plunger?” B cried desperately. “I can’t find it!”

I should have pushed her out of the way and shut the water off at that point, but I wasn’t thinking entirely rationally, just reacting. I bolted from the room and ran downstairs where I knew I could find another plunger, grabbed it, and ran back upstairs with it. B was still standing over the toilet helplessly. I handed her the plunger; she gave the toilet a single plunge that unblocked it, and the water stopped flowing over the lip of the bowl onto the floor.

After that it was just a matter of sopping up the water off the bathroom floor, or so I thought. I gathered up the sodden towels, throwing them into the tub one by one, then wringing as much of the water out of the last one as possible before throwing it back into the puddle on the floor. On my hands and knees, I mopped up the water around the toilet when my eyes fell on the heating grate in the wall.

The bathroom was updated just before we moved in. It was either a do-it-yourself job by the owner, or it was done by a low-bid handyman. Cheap wainscoting wrapped around two walls, covered in a single coat of thin white paint. The heating grate had once been a more durable fixture, replaced by a diffuser made of stamped metal that they’d never fixed to the floor or wall. It rattled when the heat came on, and when I bumped it while cleaning, it skittered away from the hole left in the wall. The ductwork inside the hole ended in a jagged stump, and I could see into the basement through the hole.

I paused with the sopping wet towel in my hands and looked down into the hole. “I wonder how much water ran down there?” I said aloud. It was a rhetorical question, but B was standing just behind me, looking over my shoulder. “Probably a lot,” she said.

I knew just the spot in the basement where the water would have fallen: The hole was in a corner between two bookshelves that were stacked full of our most prized books. Luckily, most of the water ran down the wall to pool on the floor, where a cheap rug from Shopko was soaking most of it up.

But then I noticed a slow drip from a tiny hole I’d made to screw a lamp into the finished ceiling. A very slow drip, but still significant. The hole was about three feet from the wall. If the water made it as far as that hole, there might be more water up there. I found a hand drill on my hobby bench, just an arm’s length away, fitted it with a bit and drilled an experimental hole. Water ran steadily from the hole when I pulled the drill bit out. Not good. I drilled another hole about an inch to one side. More steadily running water. I put a bucket under the streaming water, then went to find a bigger drill bit.

Using a quarter-inch bit, I enlarged the first two holes. Water streamed as steadily from them as it would from an open faucet. I drilled a third hole another inch away but no more. The streams were as wide apart as the bucket would catch. When the stream slowed to a drip, there was about a gallon of water in the bucket.

And thus ended our most recent plumbing adventure, which has morphed into a post-disaster cleanup. I have to get my head up above the finished ceiling to see how much damage was done, for instance, and if I find that it’s all ruined, I’ll have to tear it out before it gets moldy. Then I’ll have to fix that heating grate so it won’t be an open drain to the basement. The fun starts today! And how’s your weekend?

plunging water | 9:13 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, January 25th, 2016

No weekend would be complete without a home improvement project, and no home improvement project would be complete until there was blood.

The spigot in the kitchen sink has been dripping for weeks. Okay, more like months, but it was a drip we could put up with when it started because it would drip for a little while, then stop. Then it would drip for a while longer, but it would still stop. Then we would have to jiggle the handle to get it to stop. And then finally, about a week ago, it wouldn’t stop dripping no matter what we did to it.

And it didn’t just drip from the end of the spigot. Somewhere in the innards of the valve, water leaked out the back and down through the bottom. I had to put a bucket in the cabinet under the sink to catch it. When you have buckets in your house to catch falling water, it’s time for a home improvement project.

So yesterday morning, after I’d had my coffee, I drove to the local Menard’s to save big money on a kitchen faucet. There is a long, long aisle for kitchen faucets, but they were arranged so that the most expensive were at one end and the cheapest were at the other end. I went to the other end. They had a pretty good replacement for our kitchen faucet that wasn’t the cheapest plastic spigot ever made.

To swap out the faucet, I had to dismount the garbage disposal, then twist myself into a pretzel to climb into the cabinet and wedge my head between the back of the sink and the wall, so all the yoga I’ve been doing finally came in handy.

Taking out old, leaky plumbing is just about the grossest thing a grown man will ever have to do. The joints are all crusted over with minerals, mold and corrosion, and when it’s above your head like this one was, all that crap runs down your hands and arms into your armpits, thanks to the leak. Changing diapers isn’t this bad. At least baby poop stays in the diaper. Well, most of the time it does.

Then there’s the blood. The gods of home improvement require a blood offering, else the repair won’t hold. I usually try to keep it to skinned knuckles, but for this job I guess the gods wanted more, so I sliced the end of my thumb open with a screwdriver. The pain was blinding and the blood ran in rivers, so this repair should last for decades.

there will be blood | 7:00 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode, yoga
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Sunday, December 7th, 2014

Using a hydrostatic tool of my own invention, I unplugged the bathroom drain this morning and then, feeling suddenly productive, I stripped to my skivvies and cleaned the tub surround, sink and toilet, because that’s how easily I get distracted.

(The thing about stripping to my skivvies – was that inappropriate? I’m never sure how much you want to know. It seemed germane to the cleaning part of the story, and I’ve read in the paper that some people get naked to clean their house, so I thought maybe it’d be okay here.)

The tool (I can see you’re wondering) is a vinyl hose reinforced with nylon webbing, to one end of which I’ve attached a threaded hose barb so I could screw on the clog-busting black rubber bladder that inflates when you run water through it. The practical use of such a device is that, if you stuff one down the pipe in of your clogged bathroom tub, it will swell until it completely seals off the pipe and the water coming out of the tiny hole in the end of the bladder will shoot down the pipe and bust the clog, or the buildup of pressure in the pipe will, or a combination of both will. Either way, it’s a tool that every wannabe plumber should have in his arsenal.

The thing is, though, that you’ve got to be able to screw it to the end of a garden hose, and unless you’ve got a garden spigot in your bathroom, you have to run a hose in through the window, not a really practical arrangement in the winter months. Hence, the vinyl hose, the other end of which attaches to the shower hose, after I remove the shower head of course. After just a couple of deft twists and a little wrestling to get the black rubber bladder down the pipe, I can turn on the water and BLAM! Clog busted. If you need one of these, give me a call. I can whip one up in a weekend and pop it in the mail to you. Gonna cost you a sixer of my favorite beer, though, and I don’t have cheap taste in beer, so start saving up your pocket change now.

clogbuster | 3:38 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, November 17th, 2014

I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon exploring the depths of our sewer system with a steel snake, and I think I can say that I’ve had better days.

Our sewer gets clogged up with lint and whatever else comes out of the wash machine so often that I’ve rigged a cap on top of the sewer stack that I can easily pop off whenever I notice that water is slow to drain out of the basement sink where the wash water collects. I’m not sure why it gets clogged as often as it does. I imagine some day I’ll find out. It’ll probably be the same day we have to hand a couple thousand dollars over to a plumbing contractor.

But in the meantime, I’ve been able to bust the clog pretty reliably with a sewer snake, a fifty-foot-long stainless steel hand tool powered only by gritty determination and lubricated with plenty of good old elbow grease. Like many a classic hand tool, I bust a sweat inside of ten minutes using it, so it’s not only a tool to fix things, it’s a way to keep in shape. Trying to look at the silver lining here.

The snake slides directly down the stack and into the sewer. The first ten or twelve feet slide in easily enough until they meet a bend in the pipe. Then I have to start playing a game of tamping it down until it meets resistance, tugging it back a couple inches and tamping it down again until I finally manage to sneak the head of the snake around the corner. Once I get it past that first corner it’s fairly easy to get moving again, although that corner does make it noticeably harder.

About twenty or twenty-five feet in, the head butts up against something. I’m not exactly sure what, but I’ve got an idea that it’s the joint where the basement toilet or the floor drain, maybe both, meets the main sewer line, and it’s a bitch to get past. The head doesn’t seem to want to go on from here. I don’t know if it’s trying to go up one of the branch lines or what, but it sometimes takes me as much as an hour of shoving, tugging and cursing to get the snake past that point. This is one of the few home improvement projects that doesn’t benefit from a lot of loud and repeated cussing. I do it anyway.

When the snake finally gets moving again, it’s only because I keep at it forever and ever and ever. Suddenly it just pops free of whatever obstacle is down there and moves on. And holy shit, what a relief that is. Especially when I’ve been at it for any more than twenty minutes and/or I’ve worked my blood pressure up to head asploding levels.

I don’t have to go much further from that second obstacle to bust whatever’s clogging the pipe. Just another foot or two and the standing water in the floor drain starts to drop. Unfortunately, after the snake gets past that joint or turn or whatever it is, getting the rest of it down there becomes a game of inches. Half the snake is writhing around down there in the godawful muck of the sewer, bent around at least one corner, maybe two. We’re talking major friction.

When I tamp it down, I have to make sure it’s perfectly straight. If it’s even slightly out of line, it goes sproing (not getting too technical for you, am I?) and twists around the inside of the pipe like a classroom model of DNA. I can tamp it down three or four times before my concentration wanders and the snake goes sproing. Much cussing follows, but only the first hundred times it goes sproing. I’m pretty tired by the hundredth time and change strategy to trying to save my breath when the cussing dwindles until the only sounds I can make are inarticulate grunts.

I’ve toyed with the idea of buying a motorized snake, because power tools are hella awesome and this particular one might possibly save me a lot of time and aching muscles. The ones I’ve seen in the store, though, look a lot like cheap knockoffs of the heavy-duty version that a professional would bring to the job. I figure I could get maybe one or two uses before a crucial but irreplaceable plastic part would break, so I’m not gonna go there. If it ever comes to the point that I can’t bust a clog manually, that’s when I’ll call the professionals to come in with the big artillery for a full-out assault.

sproing | 8:51 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

20130922_170555Today’s project was: PLUMBING! Because who doesn’t want to work with sewer pipes on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Stupid people, that’s who.

The basement sink has always drained slowly. So has the utility sink I installed in the corner of the basement I rather grandly refer to as the brewery. In fact, when the basement sink is full of water, the utility sink makes a funny bloop bloop bloop sound and stinks to high heaven. So I asked The Google why it would do that, and I found out that for drains to work properly, each one of them must have a vent so trapped air can escape. Neither the basement sink nor the utility sink had a vent.

So today I decided to install one. I figured this little project would take maybe an hour, maybe two at the most, with a break for lunch, to finish. FIVE HOURS LATER I was still cutting and gluing pipes together.

And speaking of which, have you ever tried to glue PVC pipe together? If so, is there some kind of trick to gluing it so it all ends up going in a straight line? Because I don’t seem to know how to do that. All my pipes lean to one side and I can almost never get them to line up, resulting in much cursing and gnashing of teeth. There’s got to be a way.

Five hours was enough plumbing for one day. Time to pop open a beer, put a DVD in the machine and fold clothes.

fun with plumbing | 5:22 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, April 28th, 2013

The drain in the basement floor burped up a bunch of sewer water again. Oh, yay. And here I thought my weekend was going to be boring.

I was taking some random stuff to the basement when I noticed the big, wet stain on the basement floor. I had been washing clothes. The clothes washer drains into the basement sink. Seemed like a logical assumption that the wash machine must’ve had something to do with it, but when I opened the spigots to fill the sink up, I couldn’t make the drain burp again, so I mopped up and went back to washing clothes.

When the wash machine began to empty itself at the end of the first cycle, I trotted back downstairs to see if there was still a problem. There was. And this time it was worse. A whole lot of water, blacked by something with an evil stink to it, was bubbling up from the drain. Shit. (That was an expletive, not a description of what was coming out of the drain, or that’s what I want to believe, so let’s just pretend, shall we?)

To see if I could clear it up by force-feeding it some water, I connected a black rubber balloon to the end of a hose I keep in the basement and shoved it down the drain. I do this all the time. Sometimes it works. And then there’s times like today. After running water through it for a few minutes I noticed that the basement toilet was going glubglubglub and went to check it out. The bowl was filling up with water! It was almost up to the brim!

Ran back to the sink, shut off the water. With no water pressure, the rubber balloon-thing deflated and black sewer water came gurgling up out of the drain. Shit. Again. (See above.)

I had only one more thing in my bag of tricks to try, and that was snaking out the sewer line. Last time I had to do that was about a month and half ago. Going for two months this time. Rammed that snake down the line, pulled it back up, rammed it down again, worked it in and out, rammed it down some more, worked it in and out, rammed another five feet into it, worked it, and et cetera, and so on, and such like.

And it worked. When I took a break from snaking to see how the line was draining, I found I could run the spigot wide open, pumping as much water down the drain as I wanted without getting any backup, black stinky goo or glubglubglub from the toilet. I snaked it out some more just to be sure.

Then I put everything back together, mopped the floor with a 50/50 mix of bleach and water and went upstairs to take the hottest shower I could stand. I just love weekends.

boring weekend | 2:32 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

After cleaning up the dirty dinner dishes, I threw a load of dirty clothes in the wash machine so I could feel at least twice as justified about heading for my basement lair where I was going to pass the better part of two hours playing with my toys.

The wash machine finished the first cycle and began to empty the wash water as I started down the stairs. I don’t know what made me crook my neck to glance around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, but when I did to check on how the wash water was draining, I was greeted by the sight and smell of sewer water burbling up from the floor drain.

I wish I could tell you how fitting it was that I ended the day standing in a vile pool of greasy water that smelled of rotting food and who knows what else, wearing a pair of shit-covered rubber gloves while ramming a snake down the sewer line, but revealing the circumstances that lead up to this being a perfect coda to an awful day will have to wait until I publish my memoirs.

apropo | 6:18 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, December 30th, 2012

TL,DR: I snaked the shit out of the sewer yesterday afternoon and it’s all good now. And beer.

I just can’t figure out how the sewer works. In theory, it’s a pipe that carries water from a drain to the the city sewer line.

In actual fact, though, there are several drains, one leading from the kitchen sink, one from the basement sink, and one from the floor drain in the basement. There’s also a toilet in the basement. The drain from the kitchen sink and the basement sink converge at the top of the sewer stack before it ducks under the concrete floor. The floor drain meets the sewer stack somewhere underground. So does the toilet.

When the basement sink backs up, the floor drain is okay. I know because I usually siphon the backed-up wash water from the sink into the floor drain. The toilet gets sluggish, but it still drains. Only the sink completely stops up. I’ve tried to diagram how the three sewer lines might come together and work this way, but no matter how I do the mental gymnastics I can’t figure it out.

I used to unblock a blockage by forcing water through the pipes under pressure. This worked well for a while, but it doesn’t work so well anymore.

Some time ago I bought a sewer snake, thirty feet of tightly-coiled steel with a hook at the front end that I could force down the sewer pipe. Working it back and forth is like working a pipe cleaner through the stem of a pipe. In theory, it should clean the sewer out the same way, although it should be noted that the snake is only three-eights of an inch in diameter, while the sewer pipe is at least three inches in diameter. It might be closer to six.

If I had to guess, I’d say the blockage has to be a big gob of grease because there weren’t any roots or hair or another tangled-up mess caught in the hook on the end of the snake when I pulled it up. The sink drained fine after I used it, but the toilet never really improved. Sometimes it flushed fine, sometimes not so fine, and sometimes it wouldn’t drain at all unless I plunged the hell out of it. It didn’t make sense to me, but as long as the sink was draining I was okay with it.

When the sink began to back up again this week, and the old trick of blowing it out with water under pressure was absolutely no help at all, I got out the snake again, but was gobsmacked when that didn’t work, either. The blockage was more than thirty feet along? Then how does the floor drain still work? And the toilet?

I was not about to let this beat me. I went to the hardware store and bought a fifty-foot sewer snake. They had seventy-five-foot sewer snakes on sale, but they were mounted on motorized drums and were priced at more than three-hundred dollars. I’m way too cheap for that, even thought the motorized thing made my gadget lust twitch.

I’m not sure what happened at the checkout. The guy scanned the other items I bought, then held up the sewer snake and said to me, “There’s no price on this.”

I shrugged. “I think it was sixteen dollars and change,” I said, not knowing why he was pointing this out to me. Did he expect me to go back to the shelves and get the price for him? If he did, why would he take my word for it? What if I came back and said, “Oh, my mistake, it was on sale. Four ninety-five.”

He stood there for an awkwardly long time holding the sewer snake while I wondered what he would do. Eventually a woman came hustling up the aisle to ask him what was wrong. I assume she was a supervisor or manager of some kind. He pointed out to her that there was no price on the sewer snake. She turned to me and, pointing behind her, she asked, “They’re in the aisle on the other side of that wall, right?”

“That’s right, yes,” I answered.

Another awkward pause followed as they both stood looking at me. I couldn’t read their expressions. They might’ve been waiting for me to apologize for grabbing one without a price tag, or for me to go get one with a price tag, or they might’ve been trying to figure out how to suck out my brains through my nose. I couldn’t tell. At last the woman turned and hustled back up the aisle and disappeared behind the shelves where I found the sewer snake.

She didn’t come back for five minutes. The checkout guy could hardly figure out what to do with himself. He clearly felt uncomfortable just standing there doing nothing, but if there was a way to put my checkout on hold and scan the next customer’s purchases, he couldn’t figure out how to do it.

When the woman came back, she held up her hand, her palm toward her face, and asked me, “What was the price on it?”

What’s this? A guessing game now? “I think it was sixteen dollars and change,” I answered.

“Okay, it’s this one,” she said to the checkout guy, pointing to something, presumably the SKU, that she’d written on the palm of her hand. Computerized checkout but they couldn’t look that up in the database.

Back at home, I shoved all seventy-five feet of that snake down the sewer pipe and worked it back and forth, flushed the sewer with water, and worked the snake again before I pulled it all the way out. This is by far the uckiest part of the whole enterprise. The first time I snaked a sewer, I made the mistake of simply pulling the snake out. What do you do with a snake that’s covered over its entire length with black, stinking goo? I sure didn’t know. What a mess I made of the basement that day. What a lot of cursing I did. I learned to leave the water running so most of the gunk would get washed off the snake on the way out, but it’s still a pretty nasty proposition.

I ran water for about ten minutes down the newly-opened sewer before I shoved the snake down the drain again and did the pipe-cleaner dance some more. Then, just to make sure the path to the sewer was as clear as I could make it, I took apart the trap under the sink to make sure there was nothing in it, and I snaked out the pipe it connected to before putting it back together.

There. That ought to do it.

I threw all the bath towels in the wash machine, set the fill to MAX and crossed my fingers. The washer drains in to the basement sink and the sink is just big enough to hold all the water the wash machine can chug through in one complete cycle. After the wash cycle I ran downstairs to check on how it was draining: Okay, so far. Then the rinse cycle finished up and it was still draining okay. I ran another load and it was okay, too.

Cleanup was worst. It always is. I cleaned off the snake as best I could by rinsing the gunk off it, then leaving it to soak in a sink filled with water and a cup of bleach for half an hour. Then I rinsed it off again. In all this rinsing and washing and rinsing, after all the snaking and flushing and snaking, I got a lot of gunk and sewer water on my arms and hair and Oh My Goodness it even splashed ON MY FACE! There was a lot of spluttering and a frantic rush to the sink in the brewery to flush my face with clear water when that happened. After I cleaned up all the hardware and tools and rinsed off the floor, I peeled out of my dirty clothes, burned them and stood under a scalding shower until I felt almost normal again.

Then beer.

snakey-snakey | 10:15 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode | Tags: ,
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Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Oh boy! A plumbing emergency! Merry Christmas!

At least I got to sleep in. Sort of. After feeding the cats, I went back to bed and even fell asleep again, not to wake up until eight. Made a pot of coffee, drank most of it while reading the paper, then stripped the bed and threw the sheets and pillowcases into the wash machine.

“Aw! Those were just getting broken in!” My Darling B complained. She likes her bed sheets well-seasoned.

To reward myself for being so industrious on Christmas morning, I smeared honey on a couple pieces of toast, refreshed my coffee cup and retreated to the spare room to check out the goings-on out here in Internetland. The wash machine finished its first cycle and started to drain itself, and from the basement I heard an ominous bluppity-blup-blup-blup! unlike any bluppity-blup sound I’d ever heard before.

A quick dash down the stairs confirmed that, yes, the basement sink was filled to the brim with greasy wash water swimming with pasta and other food-like substances that had been flushed down the kitchen sink. I take all the blame for that. Apparently the In-Sink-Erator doesn’t grind the food up as finely as I thought it did.

So I’ve spend the past hour and a half plunging and snaking out the drain and, when that didn’t work, siphoning the greasy wash water out of the sink. I’ve been flushing the sewer line out under pressure with garden hoses for the past twenty minutes and am about to wade back into the front lines to see how that’s going. Wish me luck.

And Merry Christmas.

blockage | 10:45 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, November 24th, 2012

It appears that my weekend will begin with a plumbing emergency.

After brewing the morning pot o’ coffee, I tramped down the stairs to the basement to check on the two batches of beer that were still happily fermenting away on the work bench. As I passed the basement sink, the dark, wet stain around the drain caught my eye. The only way that stain could be there, I said to myself, is if water came up from the drain. There’s a part of my brain that likes to taunt the rest of me with thoughts like this at early hours of the morning.

I tramped back up the stairs, turned on the faucet in the kitchen and left it running, then went back downstairs. Yep. Water coming up from the drain. Terrific.

So that means I’ll spend an hour or so hauling out the hoses, breaking apart drain pipes, mucking out the sewer stack and getting very, very wet. I hate plumbing emergencies. Hate ’em.

To make the morning even less enjoyable, I seem to have slept with my head cocked at just the right angle to make it impossible for me to turn and look in a certain direction. If I do, one or two of the muscles in my neck threatens to spasm and lock my head permanently cranked all the way around to the right. I’d give all the money in my piggy bank right now for a powerful muscle relaxant, or to have Arnold Schwarzenegger twist my head off the way he’s done to the bad guys in just about every action movie he’s ever been in.

twists | 6:53 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, Our Humble O'Bode, yet another rant
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Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Adventures in Plumbing!“Is blood supposed to be coming out of the faucet?” My Darling B asked yesterday when she went to wash her hands in the bathroom sink. The short answer was yes, blood was supposed to come out of the faucet. I was so desperate to get a plumber here to work on the water heater that I accepted an offer from Cthulu in exchange for my eternal fealty. Plumbing emergencies will make a guy do some weird shit. Cthulu’s a pretty good plumber, by the way. Shows up on time, gets the job done right, is actually very personable and professional, the cats liked him. Prices are a little steep. And there’s that blood from the faucets thing. But still, thumbs up.

It was the water heater this time. Last week Friday I noticed a puddle of water creeping out from under it, and by Saturday morning the puddle had gotten much wider until, on Sunday, it was snaking its way across the floor to a drain on the other side of the room. I called a plumber first thing Monday morning, the same guys who installed the water heater about four years ago, and they said they would stop by some time between one and two o’clock that afternoon, but when two-thirty came and there was still no plumber I gave them another call and they said they would have to reschedule, so I dumped them and called another plumber. Not Cthulu, although the guy who showed up was dressed in a green uniform. Didn’t have an octopus face or anything. His name was Pat. He hummed while he worked.

Pat took a long look at the water heater and figured that the tank had cracked along the seam. He says that happens a lot to new water heaters these days. You’re lucky to get ten years out of them, he says, so cracking after just four years isn’t all that strange. The good news was it was still under warranty, so all we’d have to pay for was the labor and whatever pipes and valves he had to replace. He said he could do it right away and I said go ahead, so he called the shop to order a new heater, then set to work sawing off pipes to disconnect the old heater while the water drained from the bottom.

About fifteen minutes later, another guy, I never did get his name, pulled into the driveway with a new water heater boxed up in the back of a pickup truck. He and Pat got it ready, hauled the old water heater up out of the basement and took the new water heater down. While they were cleaning up and packing the old water heater away on the bed of the pickup truck, I noticed that the screen door was propped open. “Has that door been open long?” I asked Pat, who said it had, then caught himself. “Oh, shoot,” he said, “the cats.” I wasn’t too worried that Boo had gotten out. She dived under the sofa when the big strange men showed up and hadn’t come out. I couldn’t find Bonkers anywhere, though, and he definitely would have taken advantage of an open door. I started a search of the front yard, calling his name and kissing the air. Didn’t have to search far or call his name more than once before he answered with a thin “meaow.” Couldn’t see him, though, so I called his name again. “Meeaow.” When I finally zeroed in on him, I found him cowering behind the wheel of Pat’s van. Ten feet from the front door was as far as he got before he chickened out on his quest to see the world.

It took Pat a couple more hours to hook up the new water heater to the water and gas lines and fire it up. And it burns with the fires of hell, cranking out water hot enough to take even B by surprise, and she can stand water a lot hotter than I can. Her hands are usually bright red after she washes them under the tap, but yesterday she jumped back and yelped when she opened the faucet the way she usually did and got live steam, or something close to it. I checked the thermostat on the heater and even turned it down a notch, but it was set just one notch above “hot” with several more notches above that. I’d hate to see what comes out of the faucets when it’s turned up all the way. Maybe blood.

bloody | 6:52 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Bonkers, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, March 17th, 2012

I had to snake out the sewer today. When I say it that way, it sounds kind of cool, as if there might have been trained snakes involved that would do the work for me. The reality was a lot less cool. Practically zero cool, after all the pros and cons canceled each other out.

What sucks most about snaking out the sewer is all the shit that comes up with the snake when I pull it out. I suppose there’s a more delicate way to put that, but really, why? It’s shit, and that’s all there is to it.

The snake is thirty feet of tightly coiled steel, like the spring on a typical screen door. What you’re supposed to do is shove it down the sewer pipe and give it a twist so it will whip around in there and, with any luck at all, bust the clog loose. What actually happened to me before this was, the end usually got caught on the first right-angle turn in the pipe and wouldn’t go any further no matter how hard I shoved. Then, when I tried to use the bent piece of pipe that came with the snake to twist it, I discovered that maneuver was all but impossible because there was still twenty-five feet of tightly-coiled steel hanging out the end of the sewer pipe. How do I get that part to go round and round? I ended up pulling it out with the clog unbusted and the snake coated thickly with globs of black, smelly shit, not the most encouraging way to end a plumbing adventure.

I had to figure it out, though, or call the Roto-Rooter Man, because the clog was not going away no matter how many times each week I flushed the pipes out with a hose. And here’s what I did. Don’t tell Roto-Rooter. I don’t want them to know I beat them at their own game.

The key to making the snake work is the twist, and not just one or two twists. It’s got to go round and round more or less constantly while you’re shoving it into the sewer. If it’s not, it just gets hung up in the muck, develops a kink and won’t go any further. The hardware store had one of these snakes in a bucket attached to a motor that spun it round and round, all for the low low price of three-hundred dollars and change. What I did was bought a plastic bucket with a snap-on lid for six dollars, drilled a hole in the lid so the snake would slide in and out, and screwed a lazy Susan to the bottom of the bucket. Voila! Home-made roto-rooter!

Granted, it would’ve been a lot easier on my arms if it had been motorized. It took me two hours of hand-cranking my manual roto-rooter to finally clear the clog out of our sewer. The best part, though, was that, with the clog busted and lots of clear water running down the drain, the snake came back up nice and shiny, and almost not smelly at all. I still took a very long, hot shower after I was done, though.

snake | 8:48 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Sunday, January 1st, 2012

I pulled a six-inch-long living booger from the drain in the bathroom sink the other day. Not “living” in the sense that I had to wrestle it into the toilet while it gnashed at me with its slavering fangs, but it was very clearly a sickeningly large, living clot of scum that had not only taken up residence at the bottom of the p-trap, it had thrived to the point that it was big enough to block the drain and strong enough that mere boiling vinegar wouldn’t dislodge it. To rid myself of this vermin, I had to impale it on the end of a wire brush long enough to reach all the way to the p-trap and drag it out, kicking and screaming, rhetorically speaking, of course. Then, like an invading army sowing the remains of a ruined city with salt, I dumped plenty of Ajax chlorine cleanser down the drain and gave the trap a good reaming with the long brush, in case there was any scum remaining down there that might try to rebuild the colony.

scum | 1:07 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, December 26th, 2011

My Christmas morning prezzie from The Great Big Cosmic FU* was a plugged-up bathroom drain. It was starting to drain slowly earlier this week so that by Sunday morning I was standing in a deepening pool of my own effluvia as I washed up. There is but one way to unclog the bathroom drain, but it was Christmas morning so I said sod it and let it go until this morning when I mustered enough motivation to climb into the garage attic, haul out a garden hose and connect it to the outside tap, drag the other end in through the bathroom window, attach the clogbuster, shove it down the drain and turn the tap wide open. Had to jump up and down on the drain with a plunger a couple times, too. The one good thing was that temps were in the 40s today so my fingers didn’t freeze solid and break off while I was draining the hose and wrapping it up before hauling it back up to the attic.

The rest of Christmas morning was excellent, though. Tim came over, we dumped the contents of our stockings on the table so we could ooooh and aahhh over the prezzies, then we hung out for a while playing with the Nerf guns that Santa left under the tree. They came with velcro darts that would stick to fuzzy fabric, and they also came with a couple fuzzy targets we were supposed to strap on so we could play Nerf paintball but we didn’t do that. We hung the targets from chairs and other stuff and just shot for practice. Tim got pretty good.

Dinner was a great big ham and enough mashed potatoes to feed Coxey’s army, and we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t hold any more, except for Sean who can always hold more, somehow.

Just before I busted the clog in the bathroom drain this morning, we gathered again for brunch – scrambled eggs, ham and womp biscuits, the kind that come in paper tubes you open by banging them against the edge of the kitchen counter until they explode – WOMP! Always the one to add that perfect touch, My Darling B mixed up a couple Bloody Marys with peppers she grew herself in her garden last summer, and garnished them generously with pickled onions, pickled cukes, jerked beef and a cube of cheddar, but without asparagus spears, because who eats those damned things, anyway?

I busted that clog after brunch, then washed up and we all settled in the living room to watch a movie. FYI: “Hobo With A Shotgun” is not a Christmas movie, just in case you were wondering. Also, it’s not something you should watch if you’ve just eaten. Or ever eaten, come to that. Just don’t watch it, is I guess what I really want to say.

When the movie didn’t work out, we moved into the dining room to play “Boggle” for an hour or so until we were tired enough to break up and move off to our separate napping places.

*My use of the phrase The Big Cosmic FU in no way implies that I believe that the cosmos is, in fact, flipping me off, or is even capable of it, but sometimes it sure feels like it is, doesn’t it?

swag | 4:03 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, entertainment, movies, O'Folks, Our Humble O'Bode, play, Seanster, T-Dawg | Tags:
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Monday, October 10th, 2011

I just finished flushing out the plumbing from the basement sink again. Thought I’d mention that and get it out of the way. The rest of this post is free of plumbing emergencies. No, really.

I should have gotten my hair cut on Saturday but I didn’t because I was too busy doing other things. I wish I could remember what they were now. The first thing I remember doing on Saturday morning is riding my bike around the lake. It was such a beautiful day I couldn’t pass it up. I pedaled really slow, too, so the trip would take longer. I got at least an hour and a half of sunshine doing that.

Then I got another hour or two when I painted part of the siding around the back door. I was planning to paint the back of the garage, too, but I found so much peeling paint on the garage that it would’ve taken me all weekend just to scrape it off, and then were would I be? I’d have a scraped garage and no time left to paint it, that’s where I’d be. And I didn’t have all weekend to scrape it anyway, so I let it be. It’s taken this long to get to the back of the garage. It can take a little longer.

Saturday afternoon I jumped in the car and drove an hour or so to East Troy where I volunteer at the railway museum. The dinner train was running that evening so I hopped aboard to help take orders and serve drinks for the bartender, and after the train pulled back into the station and all the passengers disembarked, I stayed behind to help clean up. I ordinarily would do everything in my power to avoid doing scut work like that, but when I get to ride a train while I’m doing it, it’s fun somehow.

I had so much fun that I went back the next day to ride trains from noon until four, helping the motorman and conductor where I could and, when they didn’t need help, just leaning out the door and watching the countryside roll by.

And that was my weekend. And it was good. How about yours?

stuff | 6:55 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, bicycling, hobby, Our Humble O'Bode, painting, play | Tags:
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Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Um. I can’t explain why I not only posted that mind-bogglingly messed up story about last night’s plumbing emergency before I was finished with it, but more than that, while it still had a lot of unedited crap dangling like a stinky klingon from its underside. Damned careless of me. I do apologize from the pit of my frozen soul.

But I have, as it turns out, still more of the story to relate to you. I wasn’t kidding about having a soul as cold and solid as the icy surface of a Jovian moon. I am absolutely shameless about stringing this story out as long as I can, and I don’t care how much you despise me for it. I am impervious to your shame rays. Shame away.

The part I left out, and it was the best part, I promise, was this: I had this idea that I could saw out a length of the pipe that carries the water from the kitchen sink to the sewer, and I would do such a batshit crazy thing because it would make unplugging the sewer pipe so much easier. Shoving a hose down the drain of the kitchen drain requires crawling under the sink, disconnecting the drain pipe, disconnecting the washing machine, connecting a garden hose to the water spigot that the wash machine was previously connected to, dragging the garden hose across the dining room floor to the kitchen while dribbling water all over the Formica and shoving the other end down the drain. I think you can see why this sucks.

But if I could shove a garden hose down the drain pipe in the basement, that would be a whole lot easier and I wouldn’t care how much water I dribbled on the floor. I gleefully hacksawed a three-foot length out of the drainpipe. But before I did that, I took a quick trip over to the hardware store to pick up a length of plastic pipe that was the same width as the copper pipe, as well as a pair of rubber collars with built-in clamps that would join the ends of the plastic pipe to the copper pipe. I took special care to measure the copper pipe to find out it was an inch and a half wide, and I bought plastic pipe that was also an inch and a half wide. The rubber collars came wrapped in a thick cardboard label declaring that it was an inch and a half wide. All was in perfect order.

So it will probably come as no surprise whatsoever that the rubber collars were too big to clamp tightly around the stump of copper pipe that was all that was left sticking out of the floor when I was done sawing it to pieces. Without a tight seal, and with the rubber collars I had it would be anything but, waste water would dribble all over the basement floor if we tried to use the kitchen sink to, for instance, clean up the dinner dishes, which remained strewn all over the dining room table. I discovered this at quarter to eight. The hardware store closed at eight o’clock. Well. Of course.

Driving like a man with nothing to lose, I made it there with just a few minutes to spare. I ran, literally ran from my car to the plumbing section, shoving aside women and children who got in my way, and found a rubber collar that would fit the copper pipe. And I made sure it would because I had a two-inch-long section of pipe that I hacked off the end of the now-useless piece of pipe I’d cut away earlier. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into the hardware store carrying hacked-off pieces of Our Humble O’Bode, I only know for sure this wasn’t the first time.

Back home again, I put the drain pipe together after flushing the sewer out with the garden hose. Everything was fine and dandy and seemed to be draining properly without dribbling too excessively. At that point I was willing to put up with a teensy bit of dribble. And when it was all put back together and the emergency was over, I took a long, hot shower, then plopped my butt in the recliner and did not remove my carcass until it was time to get up and totter off to bed. And somehow I even managed to sleep without nightmares of broken water mains and gushing toilets. Thank goodness.

strikeout | 10:00 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Ah, adventures in plumbing! How I’ve missed them. Just the other day My Darling B was remarking on how long it’s been since we’ve had a plumbing emergency, and then she rapped the table with her knuckles, as if that was going to bust up the bad juju she had unleashed with just a few words.

The basement sink has dependably been the messiest, most repetitive plumbing adventure in the house. It stops draining every three or four months, and to fix it I have to take apart the trap, that little dip in the pipe under the drain. Since there’s always water in the sink, I end up dumping it onto the basement floor. Weirdly, there’s a drain in the floor just three feet away that all the water runs into and is never plugged. I don’t understand that at all. The drain in the floor and the drain from the sink must both end up in the same sewer line, so how can one be plugged and the other not? Whatever.

is the worst for plumbing emergencies, so of course that turned out to be the problem I’d have to fix. The drain gets stopped up from time to time and I have to fix it by shoving a hose down the drain and forcing water through it to move the block. What makes it such a pain in the ass to fix is that two sinks drain into the sewer from there, the one in the basement and the one in the kitchen. If I forced water down only the drain of the basement sink, it would just back up and come out the kitchen sink, so I have to stick a hose down that, too, which means I have to crawl under the kitchen sink and take apart the trap

akbar | 6:16 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, April 11th, 2011


Tonight: My Darling B tries to figure out how to feed the tax man without draining our bank account, and I try to figure out how to drain the bathtub without feeding the Roto-Rooter man.

I’m not sure, but I think I had the easier job. All I had to do was climb a ladder into the attic, bring down the garden hose, hook one end up to the spigot and shove the other end down the drain. Although I had to get dirtier, I didn’t have to do any math. Also, my job involved physics. Or something. A siphon is physics, isn’t it?

I thought I would have to take the drain apart and dredge it out with a flexible wire brush I bought from the hardware store for just this purpose, because there was quite a lot of grease and hair down there. It’s not normal grease and hair, either. That’s right, Abby Normal has been showering at our house, and she sheds a lot. I can pour any amount of lye down the drain and it won’t have any effect on the clog Abby leaves behind. Thus, the brush.

But first I set up the garden hose, cranked the spigot wide open and let the water run for a while to break up the blockage. That got the work started nicely while I went to the basement to get my tools. When I came back I found the drain gasping for air.

I don’t shove the garden hose down the drain, in point of fact. What I do is take the vent hole cover off and shove the hose down that. I used to plug up the drain because I thought the water would come gushing up out of it if I didn’t, but that doesn’t happen. I didn’t know why before today.

The gasping sound from the drain explained it. The water going down the vent past the drain pipe was sucking in air through the drain. Look up “venturi effect” in wikipedia and you’ll see why.

That’s when my brain cell latched on to the idea of filling the tub with water to break up the clog. If the drain is sucking down air, thought my brain cell, then it’ll suck down water, too; first a little bit, then a lot. Ever seen what rising flood waters do to an earthen dam when they find a way over the top? First a trickle dribbles over, then a stream. The stream cuts a gap and the gap gets deeper and deeper until the dam gets eaten away by the water.

Same idea in my bathroom drain, but substitute clog for dam. Once the siphon starts sucking water through the drain instead of air, the water should carry away the clog bit by bit until just about all of it is gone. And that’s just what happened. At first very little water went down the drain, but after about ten minutes of that the drain was sucking down water faster than I could fill the tub. I didn’t have to take the drain apart, I didn’t have to scoop hair and grease out with a brush and my fingers, and I didn’t have to mess around with lye or explosives, although if I could think of a way to unclog a drain using explosives, that would be very cool.

Then after supper | 8:38 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Looking around the house for something really manly to do after lunch, I was absolutely gobsmacked when a manly fix-it project came looking for me. I shouldn’t have been. By this time I should really expect something like a broken water pipe to sneak up on me while I’m trying to work on something else. It’s almost customary, really.

But I thought I’d get away with doing just one or two manly tasks on my own today, like draining the water softener’s brine tub and dragging it up the stairs to the driveway where I could rinse it out with the hose. I don’t know if that’s something you should do to your water softener or not. Usually all I do is fill it up when the salt melts all the way to the bottom, but when I opened the lid earlier this week I was so grossed out by the glob of gray sludge left at the very bottom that I did what I pretty much had to do.

After I rinsed all the gray glop out I found a baffle at the bottom of our brine tank made out of what is commonly called hardboard that has somehow survived years of being submerged in salty water. In my experience hardboard usually disintigrates to mush when you get it wet. Maybe the salt has something to do with its relatively good condition, or maybe I’m thinking of particle board. Whatever. I was surprised to find a slab of wood down there. Make a note.

After rinsing out the tank, putting it all back together and dragging it down to the basement I was confronted by a pool of brackish water standing in the basement sink. My Darling B was washing clothes, and the wash machine drains into the sink, usually without any problem but occasionally with very bad results just like this.

Adventures in plumbing really suck, mostly because they involve getting drenched by lots of slimy, cold water. That’s probably the reason plumbers make you give them so much money. I never argue with plumbers about the cost, I just pay them whatever they ask for, especially in light of the fact that by the time I’ve resorted to calling one I’ve gone through all the options I could think of and botched the job pretty badly myself. I’ll bet they get a lot of that. That’s probably another reason they ask for so much money.

The fix today was relatively simple, just messy and involves unreeling a pair of garden hoses across the floor and up the basement stairs. In spite of it being so simple, it took forever to get the job done because I was trying to figure out why the drain keeps backing up, and I think it’s because it’s not properly vented. Actually, I think it isn’t vented at all because I climbed up on the roof and poked a stick down the vent. It went about six inches and came to a dead stop. That seemed odd, so I crawled into the attic to look for an elbow in the vent pipe, and couldn’t find any kind of pipe anywhere. So I shined a flashlight down the vent. It appeared to be a dead end.

Which makes sense. If it were properly vented, then my method of unblocking the drain wouldn’t work: I stick a hose down the drain in the kitchen sink and another hose down the drain in the basement sink, open up the spigot and let the water run for about five minutes. At least some of that water ought to go shooting up the vent like a geyser, but it doesn’t.

I busted the clog using my garden hose trick, cleaned up the mess and put all the tools away, then took a scalding shower that lasted thirty minutes, after which I almost felt clean. Then I sat on my butt drinking beer and cracked open the thousand-page Harry Truman biography I should have been reading almost all afternoon if I hadn’t been up to my elbows in sewer water.

Super Soaker | 5:57 pm CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Monday, May 24th, 2010

If anything good came of the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana last month, it was this: It helped me figure out how to break the clog that stops up our bathtub drain from time to time.

Two or three times a year I can count on a clog so stubborn that the only sure-fire way I found to break it before this was to force water down the drain with a garden hose. It’s a pretty effective method but it takes thirty or forty minutes to drag the hose out, connect it to the laundry spigot, uncoil it across the living room to the bathroom, take the cover off the drain, shove the hose in there and run a couple gallons of water past the clog. And clean-up is a bear.

I always had the sneaking suspicion there had to be a better way that didn’t involve industrial-strength lye or other caustic chemicals, but the answer kept eluding me until I read a story about a guy who cleans up birds and other animals that have been fouled with crude oil. He does that for a living so he has years of experience, and through copious trial and error he found that ordinary dish soap is best for the job. It’s strong enough to break down the oil, but mild enough that it’s easy on bird’s feathers and such.

So yesterday, while I stood staring at the bathtub drain trying to figure out how to bust the latest clog that was backing up an inch of slimy water every time one of us took a shower, I found myself reasoning this way: The clog’s probably not a hairball, because I put a screen over the drain to keep hair from getting down there. Maybe a little bit of hair is still getting through, but not enough to clog the drain, so it must be a greasy clog. And if it’s a greasy clog, I should be able to break it up with ordinary kitchen cleaners. And that’s when I remembered what the bird-cleaning guy said about dish detergent.

This fellow said that he’d tried several brands of dish soap and the one that worked best was Dawn, so when I made the daily trip to the grocery store for food and sundries I picked up a bottle of Dawn dish soap and dropped it in the cart. The only hitch there is, there are maybe a dozen different kinds of Dawn. They make antibacterial Dawn, Dawn with aloe, organic Dawn, and I don’t know what else. I stood there a good five minutes with my thumb in my mouth before I eyeballed the bottle of Just Plain Old Dawn in the lineup.

As soon as I got back from the store I poured about a third of the bottle straight down the drain, figuring that should have been enough to fill the trap. After putting the plug in the drain I filled the tub with water, adding about a cup of detergent to that, too, for good measure, then walked away to let it sit for a couple hours. I wanted to see if the rush of water from the tub would be enough to flush the clog out of the trap. If I could manage to bust this clog without having to snake it, so much the better.

As it turned out, My Darling B came in from the garden about four hours later and pulled the plug before showering off the day’s hard work. When I explained what I was up to she told me, “It worked like a charm.”

So there you have it. Next clog you get in your tub, bust it with some Dawn. The guy who cleans birds recommends it, and now I do, too. If only I owned some stock in the company.

clog | 5:58 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, Our Humble O'Bode
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Friday, March 19th, 2010

I had to come up with something quick and easy to serve for guy night because I had to have plenty of time to perform a minor plumbing unblockage on the pipe that the kitchen sink drains into. When it’s blocked all the goop backs up and pools in the basement sink. It’s pretty gross.

So we stopped at the co-op on the way home to buy some sliced ham and some cheese and I pan-fried some ham & cheese sandwiches. Voila! Dinner! We even splurged and I served them with Tater Tots because we called Tim on the way home to invite him over for ham and cheese and plumbing fun, but he didn’t answer his phone and apparently doesn’t check his messages, so we had the Tater Tots all to ourselves.

We also picked up copies of the Isthmus, a weekly advertising tabloid that just printed the schedule for the Wisconsin Film Festival that My Darling B and I started going to last year and will now go to each year until we’re too decrepit to move under our own power because it’s that much fun. We even asked for several days off from work so we could see more films this year. After our delicious, nutritious dinner we sat reading the film schedule for almost an hour, ticking off the films that interested us. We haven’t compared notes yet so I don’t even know whether or not B got through the whole schedule yet. I didn’t.

Then it was on to plumbing fun! I’ve carried out this particular operation before so I knew just what to do, and exactly how much I didn’t like to do it. First thing was to take apart the p-trap under the kitchen sink and the basement sink. Pretty straightforward, smells a bit, gets the hands very dirty. Next step: Bring in a garden hose, hook it up to the spigot in the laundry. That part really sucks because I have to either move the wash machine out of the way, which I’m not going to do unless I have all afternoon or a trained gorilla to move it, or I can work in the four-inch space between the machine and the wall. Takes forever to work a wrench in that four-inch space and I usually bark my knuckles bloody.

I hooked up another hose downstairs for the basement sink. To the end of each hose I attached a black rubber bulb. The bulb goes in the drain pipe and fills with water when the hose is turned on so that the bulb blocks the pipe and forms a plug from which, theoretically, no water can escape. A small hole in the end of the bulb shoots a jet of water down the drain. Turn both hoses on, let the water run for a while and, theoretically again, the water will push the blockage down the pipe and into the sewer. Worked last time I tried it. And worked again this time.

It’s a pretty simple, cheap fix, really. We already have garden hose, and the little black rubber bulbs cost about a buck fifty each at the hardware store. Saved us a couple hundred dollars getting a plumber out here, who would probably have done what I did.

The part I really hate is the clean-up. The hoses always dribble all over the floor no matter how care I am while I unhook them. I have to drag the long hose outside to drain it, and it weighs something like a thousand pounds when it’s full of water. The rubber bulbs get covered with nasty sewer pipe gunk that has to be washed off because it smells like Satan’s farts. I’d be tempted to just throw them away and get new ones if I didn’t use them so often. And finally, I have to put the p-traps back together. My fingernails are gray for a week after all this.

But the drains work and we can wash clothes again, yay.

guy night | 6:33 am CST
Category: adventures in plumbing, daily drivel, entertainment, festivals, food & drink, Guy Night, movies, Our Humble O'Bode, play, Wisc Film Fest
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