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Plumbing for amateurs

Posted: July 13, 2014 - 12:11am

– New England maxim

When you live in no-man’s-land as I do, and the closest handyman is either too busy or too expensive, you learn how to make do. Often, that means you learn to do.

Though I’ve never changed a flat tire or my car’s oil, I can paint my own mailbox, trim a hedge and do a mean plumber impersonation when the alternative is half a month’s pay. Or so I thought when I tried to repair a malfunctioning toilet.

“Easy. Just use pliers … then … and ...”

It still didn’t work. Corrosion kept the pliers from getting a good enough grip to remove the old part and install a replacement. Fortunately, I had sense enough to quit before I repeated a terrible experience my brother once had.

I wish he had practiced his trial-and-error plumbing at home before he visited that out-of-town church. The sermon was running long and he needed to – you know – so he quietly left his seat and found the restroom just outside the sanctuary.

When he noticed the water in the toilet was still running as he prepared to leave, he decided to fix the problem. But as he removed the tank cover, it slipped out of his hands, into and through the bottom of the tank. Not only did his intended good deed turn into a loud, worship-shattering bang, but the water began rushing out of the tank and the restroom, straight down the slightly inclined sanctuary aisle.

Though I’ve never plied my plumbing prowess on anyone’s facilities but my own, I’ve had some success jiggling flush handles and controlling minor leaks.

My claim to fame is the garbage disposal. Ever since the apparatus stopped up during the rehearsal dinner for my son’s wedding, I’ve rarely had to call a plumber to fix that appliance again. (More on the word “rarely” later.) Here, for the taking, is some of the garbage disposal wisdom I’ve learned:

First, spend an extra 17 seconds cutting up your banana peels, celery stalks and other stringy garbage before stuffing it into the disposal. Above all, use the wastebasket and not the disposal for small items like coffee grounds and apple seeds.

But if you’ve disobeyed the first rule and your disposal begins to be sluggish – key word “sluggish,” not stopped up completely – you still might not need a plumber. Just follow these simple steps:

Fill the sink with water. Then, with the water still running, remove the stopper, turn on the disposal, and listen for the giant whoosh as all that water clears out the drain.

No accolades, please. As I used to tell my piano students when they complained that their music was too hard, “If I can do it, it can be done.”

All the above, which I compiled some 10 years ago, came back to haunt me last night when once again, I had a clogged garbage disposal. Not to worry. I merely checked the above “step list,” and went to work. But no matter what I did, no amount of water – whooshing or tears – budged that clog. Oh yes, I remembered, if clogged, don’t whoosh! So I gathered my tools – screwdriver, adjustable wrench, pads for elbows and knees, and went to work.

All went fine at first: Three pieces of pipe dislodged, clog removed, and pipes ready to be reassembled. The first two went quickly back in place, but not the third. After about an hour, with water still seeping out of that misconnection, I gave up and went to bed.

The plumber is on his way, and I have new information to share with you: “If I can do it, it can be done.” Obviously, that doesn’t necessarily mean, “if it can be done, I can do it.”

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