Plunging into work leads to victory over clogged kitchen sink


April 17, 1993|By ROB KASPER

It began as a pleasant stroll through the neighborhood and ended as a gritty battle for sink supremacy.

My son and I were walking home when we stopped to talk to a neighbor lady. Somehow the conversation moved from the glories of springtime to the frustrations of having a clogged kitchen sink. The neighbor lady said she had tried all the jam-breaking techniques her late husband had used to free a stopped-up sink. But she had no success.

I offered to take a look-see at her sink. It seemed liked the neighborly thing to do. I mean, what kind of world would it be if we didn't care about community plumbing. Besides, it was Easter. And after spending a day being beaten down by the compromises of family life, I was spoiling for a fight I could win.

I wasn't dressed for plumbing work. Instead of my usual grimy jeans I was wearing my Easter trousers. The clogged sink, actually a sink-disposal setup, picked up on that weakness right away and made me pay.

I began my making sure the switch sending power to the !B disposal was turned off, then I knelt underneath the sink. I stuck the disposal "key," actually a small wrench, in the slot on the bottom of the unit. I moved the key back and forth until I felt it move freely for one complete turn. Next I released the reset button, also on the bottom of the unit. Then I gave the sink a shot with the neighbor lady's flabby plunger.

Confident that the jam was cleared, I stood up, leaned over the sink and switched on the disposal. The sink erupted. A spout of dirty water rose out of the sink and landed on my fancy pants.

It was a cheap but effective shot. This Mount Vesuvius move had staggered me. My fancy pants were spotted. My pride was hurt.

I vowed to get even. I told the neighbor lady to hold tight. My boy and I were leaving, but we would be back. And this time we would be toting tools.

My 8-year-old son had watched these goings-on with great interest. Ordinarily at this time of night, about 8:30, he would be on his way to bed. Instead he was hot-footing it down the alley with his dad, on his way to fetch "the big plungers."

As soon as he reached our house, he announced to his mother and big brother that he and I would probably be working late, past bedtime.

His big brother was doing his homework, and therefore in the market for any distraction. However, volunteering to clean a sink "for free" had no appeal to the 12-year-old. Compared to battling clogged sinks, even homework seemed interesting.

I changed clothes. If this sink wanted to fight dirty, I was going to be dressed for it. I also armed myself with two plungers or "plumber's friends." One plunger was a standard-issue version with a bowl-shaped rubber end. The other had molded "lips" that extended from its bowl and exerted extra pressure on a clog.

Back at the scene of the clog, I carefully selected my plunger, opting for the "molded lips" model. If I had thought about it, I would have also brought along a jar of petroleum jelly, to smear on the lips of the plunger, thereby making them seal even tighter to the sink. But as sometimes happens in the heat of a plumbing battle, I forgot the lipstick.

I gave the clog a couple of stiff shots with the lippy plunger. The clog laughed at me. At least it sounded like a laugh. The noise I heard turned out to be air escaping through an overflow hole on the top of the sink. I told my son to plug up the hole with a wet towel. Then my plunger went to work, delivering a series of plunge-pull moves.

The clog was weakened but was still hanging on.

I closed in for the finish. As the kid plugged the air hole even tighter, I plunged even harder, establishing the crucial push-pull rhythm.

Then I heard the gurgle. In sink work, the gurgle is the equivalent of the lumberjack's cry of "timber." It is a signal that the struggle is almost over. Sure enough, the gurgle soon gave way to the sound of steady drainage. When I switched the disposal on, water obediently flowed down the drain.

The neighbor lady was delighted. She rewarded my son by letting him handle a very old, very engraved and very sharp dagger. He was impressed, and as he ran his finger along the dagger's edge, he uttered his ultimate compliment: "Cool." She rewarded me with a split of champagne, chilled.

We had beaten the clog. As my son and I walked through the neighborhood, we carried our plungers with pride.

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