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Plumbing New Depths

By Alan Resnick / Detroit

There’s a long-running stereotype that, when it comes to home repairs, Jewish men are somewhat less than handy around the house. Our primary skill has been said to be leafing through the Yellow Pages (now conducting a Google search) to find a repairman. I used to be one of those guys, but not after last week.

I’m not completely inept. My comfort zone is changing light bulbs and batteries, programming a thermostat, and hanging pictures. My proudest handyman achievement before last week was changing the flapper in a toilet, although it took three trips to the hardware store before I purchased the correct model. So you can understand my panic when I went down to the basement and found my brand new golf putting mat, and the carpeting around and under it, completely drenched. I’d been in the basement less than six hours earlier to use the elliptical machine and seen no water on the floor.

I opened the door to the area the where the furnace and water heater are located and saw standing water around them both. It seemed like an awful lot of water in such a short time period, so I surmised that our 20+ year-old water heater had finally died.

Springing into action, I went back upstairs, changed into a pair of waterproof boots, told my wife about the problem, and, consistent with the stereotype, called our plumber. I left a voice mail for him to call ASAP because we needed a new water heater. Worst case, he was already scheduled to be at the house in a couple of days anyway to fix a leaky bathroom faucet (a repair beyond my confidence level).

A quick Google search indicated that the water line to the heater should be turned off immediately. As I trudged back down into the basement my mind shifted into contingency planning. We could use paper plates and plastic ware for our meals and have sandwiches, salads, and other things that required no pots or pans. If necessary, we could shower at the health club. And no doubt family or friends would take us in for a couple of days if it came to that.

I found the shut-off valve for the water line and tried to turn it to the right to stop the flow of water. It wouldn’t budge. So I tried it again, this time using a pair of pliers in the hopes of gaining more leverage. All I accomplished was to scape a couple of knuckles.

The water was slowly but surely spreading to other areas of the furnace room, and the plumber had not yet responded to my SOS. Fortunately, we have one of those wet/dry shop vacuums, so I plugged it in and began sucking up the standing water.

Hell, yes! Water immediately began to collect into the vacuum. Unfortunately, the vacuum also was inhaling the assorted nails, screws, and bolts that had collected on the floor over the years.

I shut off the vacuum when it was full, unplugged it, and rolled the collection drum over to the basement toilet to dispose of the water. I felt like one of those prospectors in the old TV westerns, kneeling and swirling water around in a pan looking for gold nuggets. But my treasure was finding metallic hardware before they were mistakenly emptied into the commode.

It took about 40 minutes to collect the standing water in the furnace room. The only remaining area in need of attention was the drain on the floor adjacent to the furnace. It collects water from the furnace and humidifier via a plastic hose. I sucked up the water and shut off the vacuum.

But water immediately began to bubble up from below the drain. Aha! It wasn’t the water heater, but rather a clogged drain. I excitedly texted the plumber to disregard my voice mail as it was a false alarm.

My go-to tool for clogs
My go-to tool for clogs

I got out my go-to tool for clogged drains, my trusty plunger. But the drain cover was corroded and the screws holding it in place were frozen. Resorting to wishful thinking, I attempted to plunge through the drain cover. No luck – the water began continued to slowly seep up and collect over the cover.

I once purchased one of those fancy drain snakes that are supposed to work like an auger to cut through nasty clogs. But I threw it away in frustration out after all I managed to do was scratch the porcelain bowl. Then I remembered I had a wire hanger that I had cut open and straightened out to apply lubricant to the treadmill belt.

I retrieved the hanger, gently jiggled it down into the drain, and was quickly rewarded with a gurgling sound. Success! The standing water immediately emptied into the drain. I used the vacuum on the wet carpeting around my putting mat, turned on a large fan, and checked the drain again. No standing water.

I went upstairs, strode into my wife’s office, and proudly announced: “I fixed it!” She turned toward me, noticed the stupid grin on my face, cupped my face in her hands, and gave me a big smile and a hug. I don’t know if she was more pleased with my success or amused by my reaction.

Most people would probably celebrate an afternoon of hard labor by kicking back, popping open a beer, and sitting back and relaxing. But I never developed the taste for beer, so I went to the microwave, heated up a cup of water, dropped in a chicken-flavored bouillon cube, and reflected upon my triumph.


Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.



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