The Dream: First, you get all of your tools ready. Put on your coveralls, brew a fresh pot of coffee while you study the books you bought long before you had a plumbing problem, just to make sure you are going to do the job right. Then while well-rested, you take your time with the job and double check your work, so you can brag to the fellas down at Del’s Saloon about your prowess and how you saved a few bucks.
But this, gentle reader, is not how holiday plumbing problems are handled by the average home-owner or impatient apartment dweller. I know because it is a holiday tradition of ours to have plumbing emergencies during family gatherings. It’s how my father and I bond, often. I once thought it was just his house, but then he visited for Thanksgiving dinner and we got to spend hours bonding under my sink.
A traditional Holiday Plumbing Situation, or “HPS,” usually begins like this:
I’m comfortably settled into the couch letting the turkey sleeping sauce settle into my blood stream. A football game that I’m half-interested in plays out on the TV. My kids are quietly playing and not actively trying to kill each other or destroy the few remaining things important to me in the house. My father hands me a freshly mixed Manhattan and sits down without a word. There is no need to talk. Soon there will be pie, and all is well in the universe.
Dr. Wife sticks her head into Nirvana and ruins it. “Hey, my mom says the sink in the kitchen stopped working and she’s trying to do dishes so we have plates for pie. Can you guys take a look?” It’s not really a question; it’s an order. Like if an army officer asks if you “could take a look” in the hidden tunnel they just found.
I glance over at my dad (if he’s around, otherwise I look at the cat). The dad/cat nods back. We’ve both had a few Manhattans at this point and have achieved the perfect state of relaxed and sarcastic. If the cat has one more he may or may not turn into a smart mouthed jerk. If my dad has one more, he’ll be too clever for the room.
I briefly consider hiring a professional, but then shudder at the mere thought of what a plumber on Thanksgiving charges. I could call my landlord, and he’ll send some low-rent clown over sometime in the next three days and until then I’ll be screwed. I sigh and get up.
Now here is how you really plumb. You and your equally enthusiastic plumbing pal walk into the kitchen to assess the damage. A sink full of dishes and greasy food water greets you. You also hear the dishwasher running which, unknown to most people, means that the sink is now also back filling with that funky water as well. Things are getting better every minute.
So then one of you (hopefully your dad and not the cat) will go and grab your tools. This is the general set of random tools passed down to you from your parents and bought as needed. Unless you are actually a plumber there will be no proper plumbing tools in this kit. After the last nightmare you swore to yourself you’d buy proper tools but that never happened. The cat or your spouse may say something snide at this point about being prepared. Shoot them a withering look and ask if they’d like to have a go at it. No? Didn’t think so.
The next step is emptying the under the sink area of soaps and poisons to make way for your bulk and the cat or your old man.
Here comes my personal favorite part: using not-the-right-tool and a rag for grip you loosen the giant plastic nuts that tighten the trap (the u turn thingy) in place. Hopefully you are sober enough to remember to put a giant, empty cat litter tub under the trap, or at least a bucket, before you give it a ginger tug. If you failed at this part, get a mop.
If you succeeded, enjoy the surprise of a sudden rush of food filled water that splashing up on your face and in your nose and mouth. We call these free plumbing snacks.
Now here is the drunk test that’s included in every holiday plumbing nightmare, do you A: smartly take the tub of nasty water outside and dump it, or pour it in the toilet, or B: Like a moron, follow years of auto-pilot thinking and pour it back down the drain and soak your dad and or cat? B? Excellent, standards must be maintained after all. Apologize and get a mop.
Ok, so now you get to discover what potato peels will do when put down a garbage disposal, they slip past the grinder and create the most slimy disgusting thing you’ve ever pulled out of pipes with a bent coat hanger. You and the cat or your dad take turns saying snarky things to people who wander in and ask “how’s it going?”
Be sure to also throw in a “hey, remember when I said no more goddamned potato peels in the garbage disposal when this happened last year??” No one will admit to anything; they may even try to distract you by bringing up the “drinking problem” thing. Ignore them, the last thing you want to do while plumbing is mess with your blood chemistry.
At one point, when you leave to rummage for that ever wandering roll of plumber’s tape, someone will try to use the sink with the drain to nowhere. This will cause more comedy in the kitchen, and more mopping.
Finally you will get the whole damn mess put back together and have to apologize to your family for the cloud of swear words still hovering in the kitchen. Be sure not to let any young children near it until it has aired out, usually just in time for the annual Xmas HPS.
Now that is how you handle a holiday plumbing emergency.
Have another Manhattan. And maybe a shower – you smell terrible.