Seven a.m. My first thought as I awaken this perfect summer morning, a cool breeze gently lifting my eyelids, is of the clogged drains in my kitchen sink. No! I inwardly moan. I don’t want to think about plumbing issues first thing. I want to wake up with gratitude, with joyful expectations for the gift of a new day.
But what can I expect when the last thing I encountered the previous night was a sink half full of backed-up, icky gray water, a sight as welcome as a slug in the garden but draining at nowhere near a slug’s pace. I’d spent the evening as YouTube instructed, dosing the drains with boiling water, baking soda and white vinegar. While the soda and vinegar combo created a satisfying froth, they did nothing to clear the blockage.
It’s early, but with a twinge of hope I call The Plumber. The answering machine gives me his cell phone number “in case of an emergency.” One person’s emergency is another person’s mere inconvenience. I won’t call the cell phone because I want to be in good graces with The Plumber, because I want him to come THIS day, because it’s Friday and because I’m expecting a house guest this weekend.
Seven-thirty a.m. My dog and I head out for our morning walk, basking in 70 degree temperatures, knowing it will be in the 90s by this afternoon. The dog is basking, at least. My mind is going round and round, practicing words of entreaty for The Plumber. Stop it! I interrupt myself. And I scold: you should just be thankful you have pure, safe water that runs, even if it doesn’t drain. Think of all the people who don’t have the conveniences of kitchen, bathroom, laundry. And when you’re done with that, pay attention to the pastel blue sky, the floating clouds, the swaying trees, the sweet air, the bird songs, the river’s persistent flow … oh! that my drains would flow as freely as the river.
Eight-thirty-two a.m. I call again and a real live human answers. I explain my plight. “Okay, I’ll tell them,” she says, carefully making no promises. I babble some more. “Yup,” she says. “I’ll let ‘em know.” I envision The Plumber and his crew casually discussing triage over their morning coffee. Which of the callers have a bona fide emergency and which are merely inconvenienced?
My neighbor and his son happen by and chide me for not calling them first. The son would’ve freed the drains with a plunger (at this point the son makes plunging motions in the air) and would’ve saved me a lot of money.
Eight-forty-five-ish. Plumber and helper arrive! They go to work as quickly and efficiently as an ambulance crew. While the assistant operates the electric rooter, The Plumber explains why plunging wouldn’t have been sufficient. In older houses like mine, he says, the pipes slowly deteriorate, the metal chipping off in flakes that need to be ground up with the rotating rooter head. As he lectures, he too is demonstrating with his hands so I can envision the chipping metal and rotating machinery. The eroding bits of metal and other gunk need to be forced through my pipes and carried away into the city sewer.
In his own home, The Plumber continues, once a month he fills his sinks with hot water, then pulls open the drains simultaneously to create a tsunami that will push accumulated debris onward to the ultimate destination, the city water treatment plant. Suddenly my mind is swirling as fast as the rooting device, only I’m moving backward, through decades, to The Big Flush!
My late husband and I lived in a house twice as old and three times as big as my current home. Every once in a while, when the aged drains began to balk, he would announce, “It’s time for The Big Flush!” He’d fill all the sinks, stationing me downstairs, poised for action, with him upstairs at Command Central. When all was ready, he would yell, “FLUSH!” We’d run around opening sink drains and flushing toilets.
I thought it was hilariously fun. I didn’t understand the mechanics, but it worked. As far as I knew, he was employing some kind of metaphysical incantation. I never knew how he knew what he knew. He had an uncanny genius for solving household problems, maybe the result of growing up on a farm.
Nine-thirty-two a.m. Plumber and helper have cleaned up and left. Drains are draining. I’m reliving cherished memories of my problem-solving beloved. I learned so much from him, and — fifteen years after he’s gone — still I learn. I open my calendar, click on the date one month from today and type in a reminder: FLUSH!