Circling the Drain

June 21, 2012 at 10:22 PM | Posted in Journal | 1 Comment
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After my fiasco with the plumbing in the kitchen–

And allow me to digress, ever so briefly, and tell *that* story:

In the course of the remodel, what I imagined the biggest hurdle would be was not cutting a hole in the wall and putting a door in, or taking out a window and framing it up, and putting in a smaller window, or even cutting a new doorway through an interior wall and closing off the old opening.

No, what I imagined the most difficult part was would be taking out the sink base and putting in a new corner cabinet and the new sink base and re-arranging the plumbing underneath.

And I was right.

Our basic plan–indeed, our philosophy–for the kitchen remodel is a complex paradigm that combines DIY and bargain hunting and recycling.  We don’t have much money–hell, we don’t have *any* money–so even though we aren’t out a lot financially, because we have had to cave, acquiesce, make concessions, and in general give up on our hopes and dreams, our style of kitchen remodel can best be described by these two words:

“Loser Pays.”

And boy, have we paid.

So far, we haven’t had to buy any new cabinets.  We reused some of the old ones, re-purposed a few, and a friend of mine gave me some for free, to clean out her garage.  The sink base I got for free from her daughter for helping take it out of her kitchen so that she could put a new stove in.

Some of the cabinets my friend gave me were those “kit” type, and I had used them before:  Laminated particle board with pre-drilled holes and what-have-you, and special parts and pieces to put them together.  Yay.

After taking several weeks off from the kitchen, I was ready to tackle it again–the hard part.  What I wanted to do was this:

Disconnect the plumbing and take out the sink and the countertop.  Take out the sink base, and then cut out the drywall and put in the cement board for the tile backsplash.

Then I was going to put it back together.  But I was going to put in the new corner base cabinet I had assembled, then line up the new sink base where it needed to go.  Because we had changed the window, the sink (and consequently the plumbing underneath it) would have to move so that it could be centered under the window, whose size and position had changed.  After I had it in its new position, I might try to put in the new sink, and also hook up the dishwasher.  There was going to be a space of indeterminate but approximated size for which I would build a custom cabinet, because apparently I do that now.  But that would come later.

Math is fun; too bad this didn’t involve any.

Looking back, I got further than I realized.  Sink and counter out?  Check and check?  Remove old sink base?  Damn skippy.  Remove old tile, cut out drywall, and install new cement board?  Sure, why not?  Work on the electrical in anticipation of the dishwasher and garbage disposal?   Er…in a manner of speaking, I suppose.  Get the new corner base cabinet and sink base installed?

Let me stop you right there, Sparky.

This is where my well-laid plans fell apart like a loose-meat sammich.  Or, it fell apart like a goddamn cabinet that I had assembled and tried to move to the kitchen.

It was Sunday, and I had been at this most of day.  I could see me rounding third base here.  I was moving the cabinet from the garage to the kitchen, and although it was awkward, I was making progress.  Then, the cabinet started to feel a little loose, exactly the way you do not expect a cabinet to feel.

Without warning–other than that loose feeling of which I had previously spake, I suppose–the cabinet completely fell apart, like an over-emotional middle-school girl.

If you can’t kick ’em when they’re down, when can you kick ’em?  I was frustrated as all-fuck, and I knew–I just knew–that this shit was not going to go back together.  I kicked it and stepped on it, flattening it out completely.

It was at that point that I took a break.

At this time I was also enjoying some bronchitis and its subtle transformation to walking pneumonia.  I didn’t know that; I’m kind of oblivious.  As I told my doctor a week later when I finally went to see him, while I don’t have a very high tolerance for pain, long years of marriage has given me a high tolerance for discomfort–I can put up with almost anything.

However, I was beaten at this point.  I took the next day off of work so that I could back up, regroup, and tackle this problem fresh.  We had no sink in the kitchen, however.

At the very least, what I needed was something to hold the countertop up on the end where the corner cabinet was supposed to have gone.  In order for me to not move backwards after all of this, I wanted to be able to put the new sink base in its proper position.  After what passes for careful calculation on my part, I determined that what I actually needed–instead of the 36 inches from the wall that the corner base gives–was 38 inches.  I can live with that.

I then took the old sink base and cut it down to the size I need and put it back together.  This was neither as graceful or as easy as it sounds.  So much for a career as a master carpenter and cabinet-maker.  It looks like torture device, and that’s what it was like to make it.  I put the temporary cabinet in place, then lined up the sink base.  After making cut-outs for the plumbing, I put it in place, attached it to the wall, and shimmed it.

But not the temporary cabinet.  As I said, it’s temporary.  Not only that, I need it out of the way to work on the plumbing.  After I put the sink and countertop on (coincidentally going in exactly the same place as before, so I didn’t have to cut anything off the countertop), I slid the temp cabinet back out, and moved it out of the way.

You see (or perhaps you don’t because maybe I’ve been explaining a lot but leaving out details–who knows?) the drain is loose.  Luckily, where it is loose is in a part of exposed wall, but that is where the temp cabinet goes.  In addition to putting all the plumbing together under the sink–a dubious task at best–I also have to fix this fucking loose pipe.

“Loose” as in “it would spin all the way around if the wall wasn’t in the way.”  Also, It would separate from the main drain by more than an inch if the hole in the wall was bigger.

Since I had time to think about it because I had put off dealing with it, the solution was able to bubble to the surface in my brain.  I had to do the same thing that I had done to the bathroom sink, which the guy at the hardware store told me:  “Yea, verily, thou needest some silicone.  Caulketh that shit up.”

Here’s why it makes sense.  First of all, this is a drain, so it’s not under pressure.  Secondly, it is where two unlike pipes connect:  the plastic from under the sink meets the metal drain pipe in the wall.  This is the same deal that was under the bathroom sink as well.  The only way to join them was with silicone–and it was very likely that it was done in some similar fashion FIFTY YEARS AGO when it was first put in.  I know it has not been touched since then.

I still had the silicone tube from when I did the bathroom.  It’s like fate, only in a good way.  So, here we are, it’s Monday, and we’ve already been without a kitchen sink for two days.

So I get all the shit, and I get ready.  You know, some of this I know I’m not smart enough to figure out on my own.  Luckily, one of the voices in my head is a mechanical engineer.  Saul–he knows some shit.  I take the utility knife with me when I go to lie on the floor under the counter behind the sink between the stove and the wall with the silicone and gun, a towel, some cleaner, a sponge, and a bowl of hot water.

First, I take the utility knife and cut more of the drywall away.  I need to be able to get at the pipe from all sides, and this cut out is only as big as the pipe.  Somewhere my subconscious said to me, *You’re going to be frustrated as a mother-fucker and not be able to get the caulk all the way around if you don’t give yourself some room.*  Damn, I’m smart.

I cut some drywall away, and then I use the rag and cleaner and stuff to clean the contact points between the two pipes.  It says here on the directions to “Thoroughly clean all parts where application will be made, for better union.”  Or some shit like that; I’m not going back to read it again.

Silicone caulk is like…imagine peanut butter grown from peanuts in Hell.  The very properties that make it good at what it does make it fun to work with.  It sticks to everything, especially things you don’t want it to stick to, like a hairy arm.  No, it doesn’t wash off–that’s the point.  I get it all up in between the two pieces, pull them together, and then I run another bead around the outside of it and smooth it down with my finger.  Done.

Of course, I won’t know if it has a good seal until tomorrow, because it has to set for 12 hours before being used.  Twelve hours–but I tell them 24.  All that is left is to hook the stuff up under the sink…and I’m going to wait on that.  I don’t any assholes (I don’t know about you, but my house is full of them) accidentally running water, or forgetting and pouring something down the drain.  These people–let’s say *some* of these people–are idiots about anything mechanical, like a drain, or steps, or a door knob.

When I had first taken it all apart–disconnected the sink from the plumbing–I found out why the kitchen sink drained slowly.  When I took the J-trap off, I found a goddamn fork, with so much hair around it (plus a piece of spaghetti) that I thought it was a mouse.

All of this is because of Kim’s mom–my eventual mother-in-law.  I guess she’s so old that she was born before plumbing so she doesn’t really get how it works.  Plumbing–drains, anyway–are mostly gravity.  Maybe she was born before that, too.

So I let it set, and Tuesday after I get home from work, I put the plumbing under the sink back together.  Easy-peasy.  Too easy–

I run the water, and I watch the drain.  The connection in the wall was what I was most worried about, but under the sink there are one, two, maybe eight or ten connection that can possibly leak.

It was all good.  Unbelievable.  I examined it closely with the trouble light.  No drips, no leaks.  I was already lying on the floor with my head up under the sink.  Slowly, I lowered my head and rested.  If there was a patron saint of plumbing, I would have converted to Catholicism right then.

With everything right in the world, I put the temp cabinet back into place and then put the stove back into place and hooked it up.  I picked up all the tools and parts and things and got them out the kitchen so that it could operate normally again.

Three days–three days–if it wasn’t for the sink base being in position, the entire ordeal would have been a bucket of futility.  With a hole in it.

So now, my original story:

A week goes by, maybe more.  Time is meaningless when you’re in love.  I am informed by the creatures that live below the surface that the sewer drain in the basement bathroom is backing up.  You know, it’s funny:  I don’t even have to ask “What fresh Hell is this?” because I know that it will find me.

I go look at it.  Yes, yes it is.  But it seems to have gone down.  I do an experiment wherein I go upstairs and turn on the bathtub faucet, then come downstairs.  The water, she is no come up.  Que?  I flush the toilet right there.  Nothing moves.  Well.  I must be a genius.  It seems that through my inaction, it cleared itself on its own.  Yay me.

That was Saturday.  Monday I find out that the sewer is indeed still backing up, but apparently only when the kitchen sink is run.  I’m thinking that the fork and the mouse-sized hairball in the drain that slowed it down kept it from backing up.  Maybe I should put it back in?

Well, I worked late on Monday, so I’m not doing anything Monday.  Tuesday we discuss renting a snake from the hardware store.  I don’t have any money, but the Kim’s mom gets her check Wednesday.

Wednesday I was going to do it–but I was just tired.  Beat.  It got later and later, and I wasn’t going to the hardware store to rent the thing.  “How about this:  I can go into work late tomorrow, like ten or eleven.  I’ll get up early and do this with the drain.”  My proposal was accepted.  Good.  I could take my shoes off.  I don’t even know why I put them on.

This morning, I gets up rested and refreshed, and ready to tackle the day.  I figured the hardware store probably opened at seven, but I didn’t get there until after 7:30–which was good, because they actually opened at 7:30.  I would have left and went home if I had to wait half an hour.  I’m not saying it’s smart, I’m just saying it’s what I would have done.

I had done recon on the previous day and knew which one I wanted.  They had a pretty big selection of these to rent, from a 25 foot crappy one for 16 bucks that you turn by hand, to a big 100-footer for over 50 bucks.  The one I wanted was 50 feet, with a motor.  As we make the deal, the guy explains that you can’t snake out the floor drain.

“Uh, why?

“There’s a trap in there, under your floor.  Like the trap under your sink.  But–” he drew it in the air with his finger.  “It has sharp corners, and these snakes will get stuck.  It might damage your pipes, or it might break the snake, and you’d get to pay for it.  I need you to sign here saying that you won’t use it in the floor.”

I thought quickly.  Every year in the spring, we have to have a plumber come out and root out the sewer.  And I don’t remember previous years, but this year he got up on the roof, and went through the vent.  I could do that.

“I’ll take it up on the roof and through the vent.”  Okay.  But I had a question for him.  “So, what if you need to go through the floor–what do you do then?”

He looked straight at me.  “Call a plumber.”

I signed the papers.

I didn’t pay attention to the fact that he had called someone to help carry it out for me–I just picked it up.  He did mention that it was heavy, and good luck getting it up on the roof–it weighs 80 pounds.  I picked it up with one hand and carried it out to the truck.

I don’t think it weighed 80 pounds.  I’ll give it fifty.  Eighty pounds I’m not picking up with one hand and traipsing out to the parking lot with.

When I get home, I bring it in through the gate to the back to the patio.  I sit and have a smoke, and plan how I’m going to do this.  I have it for four hours, but I don’t want it to take four hours.  Or even three.  Two is too much.  It’s a little after eight right now.

I want to test the drains again first.  Run some water in the tub, and see what that does.  Flush the toilet.  Then run some water in the kitchen sink.  Everything but the kitchen sink was negative.  Okay.

I moved some stuff around on the patio, then I got the 12-foot ladder out.  I had Kim’s son stationed in the basement, to holler up to her when the water started to go down.  I had Kim in the kitchen, ready to run water and adjust the level based on need.

Ever carry something heavy up a ladder?

If you have, you know what it’s like.  If you haven’t, I can’t explain the fear, pain, discomfort, uncertainty, and desire to be somewhere else.  There should be a German word that means all of those things at once.

I had already thrown the extension cord up to the roof, like I was trying to lasso a dinosaur.  When I got the unwieldy machine to the roof, I moved to set everything up.  There’s the vent, I want to be near that.  I set everything up, and Kim was watching from the ground.

I said, “Okay.  I’m going to start the snake.  You start just a little water.  When Brandon tells you it’s going down, turn it on more.  Then let me know, so I can stop.”

Maybe she didn’t hear that part.  But I didn’t hear them say it was clear, either.  I just kept snaking.  She finally came out and told me.  Good thing, too–I had about four feet left.

She said it had cleared really fast.  Okay, then.

“If it’s clear, just let the water run for a while.”

Okay, cool.  Done.  I just need to pull this out–

The snake was stuck.

Fuck me.  It’s only before nine AM, but it’s summer and I’m on the roof facing the sun, and it’s fucking hot.  I’m sweating my ass off and working my ass off, and now the thing is stuck.  I considered being able to show the guy at Handyman that even though I didn’t go through the floor, it still got stuck.  I wondered how much one of these cost.  I’d kind of like to have my own, maybe.  If they had come out and shouted to me sooner that it was clear, I would have stopped, and not gotten stuck.  Fuck me.

At one point, Kim came out and watched me, while I tried to get it out.  Yes, it’s stuck.  No, I don’t want to talk about it, or my feelings, or anything.

I worked it  up and down, spinning it, trying to get it free.  At one point the whole machine lifted up and started to go sideways because the snake was spinning and there was no where for it to go.

(An Officer and a Gentleman.  Richard Geer, up on the roof, in the rain, doing sit-ups.  “I got no where else to go!  I got no where else to go!)

I felt like that.

Whoops-what was that?  I had slack.  It came free.  Then I had to pull.  And pull.  And pull and pull.  The snake is actually the heaviest part.  It might have only been stuck a little, and the rest of it was pulling fifty feet of snake back out of the pipe.  It was finally all out, then I wound it back into its nest.

I packed it up to take down, and threw the extension cord down.  I had a plan.  I had Kim on the outside of the ladder, to hold it against listing, and I had Brandon stand on the inside, to my left, to help grab it when I got low enough.

Of course some of that was useless.  For a big boy he sure is weak.  “You got it?  You got it?”  He kept saying yeah, but I still had the full weight of it.  In order for you to “have it” you have to have the weight of it, dumbass.

I was done.  I was sweating my balls off, my back hurt, and I was dirty, but I was done.  My eyes were bloodshot from sweat dripping in them.

I cleaned it off–it wasn’t too bad, actually–and returned it.  Instead of carrying it bare-handed, I grabbed my two-wheeler.  This thing, this whole ordeal, had used me up.  I summed up my feelings for the guy at the hardware store.  “I don’t know if the ass-kicking I got was worth the money I saved by not calling a plumber.”

“Yeah, I hear that a lot.”

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  1. […] 21, 2012 at 10:22 PM | Posted in Journal | Leave a comment Tags: home improvement, […]


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