Today's axiom: Don't send a golf shirt to do a T-shirt's dirty work

SATURDAY'S HERO

September 05, 1992|By ROB KASPER

An important part of the home repair routine is wearing the right shirt for the job.

I was reminded of this recently when I wore an OK-to-be-seen-in-public number when a privacy-of-your-own-home T-shirt would have been appropriate dress.

I unclogged a sink wearing the good shirt. So I now have a spotted shirt that can be worn only on my next plumbing job, or in very fashionable circles where flashes of bleached-out polka dots are considered "in."

The good shirt is one of those short-sleeve knit jobs, the kind you wear to play golf, to go to the ballgame or to any event worth shaving for. I put it on to pick up provisions for the weekend -- ribs, beer, ice cream. While making these rounds, I also picked up a bottle of liquid drain cleaner.

I admit that in the battle between man and clog, liquid drain cleaner constitutes cheating. Relying on high-powered chemicals to unclog the drain is like relying on a high-tech racket to improve your backhand. I believe that in the primal plumbing struggles, the tools should be basic: the plunger, the garden hose, the pipe wrench. On special occasions, you may rent a snake. I ended up using liquid drain cleaner for the same reason I am eyeing those high-tech rackets. I got tired of losing.

The clog had bested me in several earlier, low-tech encounters. It beat me when I had attacked it with a plunger and several wet rags. The plunger, also called a plumber's friend, went over the sink's drain. The rags went in the sink's overflow drain, thereby creating more suction from the plunger. But no matter how vigorously I plunged, the clog went nowhere.

Next, I crawled under the sink for a look at the trap. The trap is a U-shaped piece of pipe. In the diagrams that appear in the plumbing books, all the traps have removable clean-out plugs at the bottom of the U. My U didn't have a plug. Moreover, unlike the well-spaced pipes in the diagram, my U and its fellow pipes were crammed together. Scrunched under the sink, pondering the labyrinthian plumbing, I figured out why that pipe is called "the trap." If you fiddle with it, you are trapped into calling a plumber.

So I banged on the pipes with my wrench, and vowed to fight the clog another day. That day was a recent Saturday, when I was anxious to do something else. Namely, I wanted to sit in the sun, sip a beer and read a book.

Instead, I read the label of the chemical drain cleaner. The label warned that the contents of the bottle were pretty mean medicine, and if used incorrectly could stain enamel. While it didn't mention that the stuff was a threat to golf shirts, it was implied. I carefully poured the prescribed amount of cleaner down the drain.

Half an hour later I was back, gleefully turning on the hot water tap, waiting to see water shooting down the drain. But it didn't shoot. It sloshed; only a little bit went down the drain.

I was furious. I reached for my plunger, reached for my wrench, reached for my wet rags, three. As I worked I thought about the origins of the clog. A terrible possibility came to mind. It could be the work of "the potion."

"The potion" was a dark, disagreeable substance that our 7-year-old son, with help from his buddies, often mixes and lets fester in various large containers. While my wife and I are never exactly sure what goes into "the potion," we get clues when items such as kosher salt, baking soda, pepper and salt disappear. Household rules forbid "the potion" from being dumped anywhere except the backyard. But correct waste disposal procedures are not always followed.

The thought that "the clog" might be a congealed mutant relative "the potion" scared me. I worked the plunger harder. The wet rags quivered with suction. I heard the first sounds of victory, the sweet gurgle of water trickling down the drain pipe.

I wasn't satisfied with a gurgle. I wanted a torrent. So I plunged some more. Something splashed on my shirt. I didn't care. I had the clog on the run. After several minutes, I rested.

I turned on the faucets to listen to water flowing down the drain, and to gloat. I smirked as I saw my reflection appear in the mirror above the sink. That was when I noticed the white spots on the front of my blue and green shirt. I looked at the spots closely. The fabric was not damaged, but the color had been bleached out. Something strong had done this. Something caustic. Something like liquid drain cleaner flying through the air.

Had I worn my usual offensive T-shirts, the spots wouldn't have mattered. But now I had this perfectly presentable shirt with spots on it. It was the revenge of the clog.

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