Don’t try this at home

We’ve all been there. You’re washing your dishes for the week, and just when you think you’re all done, you flip on the garbage disposal. You don’t hear the blades gargling on a cereal spoon. This is a victory in your book. So you turn off the disposal, and you start to walk away, and then you stop because the drain just burped a sudsy gallon of chunky salsa into your sink basin.

I am generally a fan of modern technology. But I am less a fan of ancient technology. Plumbing has been around literally since Roman times. It predates everything else I use in my daily life, with the possible exception of breathing. Yet for all its longevity, plumbing has received fewer updates than my iPhone. And kind of like my iPhone, it works really well, until it doesn’t.

So with my sink brimming with Satan’s mouthwash, I figured I better take quick action. I dropped everything else I had going on, and I went straight to bed.

Why not? Maybe whatever was stopping the pipes would pass by morning. And I always first attempt to solve home-related problems by ignoring them until they go away.

This method works really well, for instance, with an icy sidewalk. I could risk my own neck to sprinkle salt or sand on the ice. But if I just let Nature run her course, that ice will melt via entirely chemical-free processes by at least May.

Plumbing, though, is a more sensitive beast. Because plumbing is entirely concealed by walls and dirt and mystery, you cannot ever actually see what is wrong with it. It simply tells you, in no uncertain terms, that you have a problem, and that problem is you.

Oh, yes. Stopped plumbing passes judgments unlike any other house issue. Tornado ripped the roof off ? That blows. Mice chewed up your insulation and your electrical wiring? Those little buggers. Your plumbing is backed up? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE.

I think we are judged by our plumbing problems because of what we regularly put down the tubes. Each and every one of us does it, except for women, who don’t do that. And, sure, you can take a certain pride in stopping the flow of traffic to an entire house. But you at least want to earn your bragging rights.

It’s the pits when the pipes betray you for something you didn’t do. At one point in college, I was visiting my then-girlfriend’s parents’ house. Dinner was just being served, and I excused myself to wash up in the hall bathroom. I was not there for an inordinate amount of time — it was, in fact, extremely ordinate — and when I pushed the lever, the toilet did not even pretend to flush. It rose like King Triton himself was exhaling water from the other side.

What does one do in a moment like that? It’s not like one can hold back the tide with one’s hands. Sure, one can grab every towel in the room and build better dikes than New Orleans has, but when the toilet does not stop gushing, one has no choice. Even though one did only a Number One — and it wasn’t even a hefty Number One! — one must still go back into the dining room, take one’s seat at the table, and seize the moderate pause between dinner and dessert to say, “I’m afraid we can’t see each other any more.”

All this to illustrate that, unlike other life problems, plumbing concerns do not disappear simply because I ignore them. When I woke the morning after my sink yarked the dishwater, I decided I better enter the world of addressing problems head-on.

So I persevered with a slow-draining kitchen sink for another four or six days. And then I opened the cabinet doors under the sink to discover actual pipes. I drew on my intensive training in literary analysis to determine that I had no business under there.

That’s when I texted the landlords, because they have a vested interest in maintaining the property and I have a vested interest in recovering my security deposit. They called a real, professional plumber, who came to the house and ran the water for 20 minutes and promptly declared that there was no problem after all.

I didn’t believe him until I experienced the drain myself. The sink now empties like a champ. That’s how I learned this invaluable lesson about home repair, and how it is just like a standardized test: go with your first answer. So next time, I’ll just stop doing dishes altogether.

Zach Hively writes from Durango, Colo. He can be read and reached through http://zachhively. com and on Twitter @zachhively.

From Zach Hively.