Flowing Through

(Author’s Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago. Also, new WordPress theme so it looks like every other WordPress blog made this year)

Last week, we had a very clogged tub drain. The flow slowed down over the past few weeks, but our vicious attack one ┬ámorning of Julie’s shaved legs and my shaved head put an end to almost all of the water flow. The first day, I used some vigorous plunging, which did little except to cause minor debris to flow back into my tub. The next day, I poured in the other half bottle of Drano that I had, which cleared the drain about as well as hairy water.

Like a washroom hypochondriac, I took to the internet, which suggested that the only remaining fix would be to snake the drain. The first step in the process was to understand how a snake works. If you are as clueless as I was, here’s the short version. There’s a flexible line that you feed in until you hit a bend. Then, you lock the line into the cylinder you’re holding, then rotate that to fit the bend. Then, you unlock and feed the line again. I learned all of this around midnight while staring at the ankle-deep pool in my tub, so I resolved to address the problem first thing in the morning.

Consider the following situation that the Target checker witnessed: a youngish guy comes in to buy Drano at 8 in the morning. That should be yelling disaster. I didn’t find a real snake at Target, but there was Drano with a plastic snake, which I tried. It did nothing.

During lunch, I went to Orchard Supply Hardware to pick up a snake, and I happened to find the stocker in the plumbing supplies aisle. He was surprised as I explained how the Drano and plastic snake had failed, and he recommended the best drain cleaner available before trying the snake. As he explained, there are steps in escalating the situation, where each step is more expensive than the last. The end of that process is calling the plumber, which I considered a failure.

I took the bottle of liquid magic home with me and began the next step. First, I had to take the bottle out of the plastic bag because the cleaner is apparently just that dangerous. Next, I read the instructions, which specific that I should use 2 cups of cleaner on a bathtub drain and let it sit for at least an hour (preferably overnight) before flushing it with hot water.

I’m still not quite sure how exactly one is expected to measure 2 cups of cleaner. One presumably could pull out the kitchen liquid measuring cup, but I don’t think I would ever use it again after pouring such a powerful cleaner into it. Other solutions included measuring that volume out, filling a cup with that much water to get an approximation, then dumping out the water and filling the cup to the same level with cleaner. But if anyone ever used the cup, I would feel terrible. I decided just to eyeball it.

Since I didn’t need the drain until I showered that night, I poured in approximately 2 cups of cleaner and let it sit while I went back to work for the day. For a bathtub drain, I was surprisingly worried about the situation. Just like with my mailbox lock, I had various options and clear procedures on how to deal with it. Even then, however, I was worried. What if the procedures didn’t work in my case? What if the clog was beyond the greatest cleaner ever?

In real life, there’s no reason why things should work. I grew up in a very safe environment, where school was the main challenge, and in school, everything works. Homework problems have solutions, “failure” is recoverable by predetermined steps, and setbacks usually have clear sources. When you’re taught something, it’s fair to assume that in all relevant metrics (primarily grades), those things are true. Even sports and other competitions have clear structure, and failure comes from opposition in a controlled environment.

But with bathtub drains, there isn’t always a way out. Well, in one sense, there is, but no solution was guaranteed to work. When I got home, I boiled up some water, poured it down the drain, and hoped it would be fixed. The hot water sat around the drain for a moment, but eventually went down. I boiled up another batch of water and flushed the drain again. Julie showered first as I anxiously awaited my final grade, which thankfully came back great as the drain worked better than ever before.

So maybe I cheated true discovery by asking the guy at Orchard Supply Hardware what to do, but that didn’t take away any satisfaction of a job completed. In bathtub drains and mailbox locks, there are no rules to follow or break in the first place, and that truly makes success your own.

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