too many words by laura lemay

The battle of the bathtub drain

Have you ever had a sudden moment of painful realization that you’ve been very, very stupid? I have them quite often, actually, but I’m here to tell you about a particularly bad moment of realization, one where my stomach knotted up and I had to sit and shake my head in disbelief and say things like “oh no. Oh god. Oh no. Please, no. Don’t let this be true. Please,” while fighting down an ever-increasing sense of dread that this was, truly, going to be one of the stupider events in my life.

But in order to understand the moment of painful realization, we have to have some exposition.

We have two bathrooms — the bathroom we use most of the time, and a guest bathroom that gets used rarely. The tubs in both bathrooms have some sort of strange escher-like plumbing, so that the drains get clogged up a lot. We’ve become especially good at unclogging the bathtub that we use the most often, but we’ve sort of left the other one alone since it gets used a lot less. Neglectful, we are.

The tub in the guest bathroom had always been bad, but had been getting steadily worse over the months. Finally after our more recent guests commented on it, and because I had some time to kill during my vacation, I decided that I was going to unclog the drain.

When I started in on it, the drain was especially bad. It was draining once every five hours or so. Not a real good rate of flow. And so, every day, when the mood struck me, I would work at getting the drain unclogged. All told, I used several different approaches toward this goal, up to and including:

  • Your basic drain snake, which, owing to the design in the bends of the pipe as it passed under the bathtub, would get about five inches in and then stop. The clog, I estimated, was about six inches in.
  • $15.78 in evil drain unclogging chemicals, including one with the label printed in very very small print so they could fit all the lethal warnings on it.
  • $6.50 for a bottle of “slow drain unclogger,” which apparently has these enzymes or nematodes or nanomachines or something that eat the clog. This is kind of frightening to me, the concept of having really small creatures sticking to the old hair and soap scum and other unmentionable goops and *eating them*, but it didn’t work anyhow.
  • An awful lot of plunging, which I discovered wasn’t working after several hours because the tub has a overflow valve that was letting all the air that I was plunging in, out. Ooops.
  • $7.95 for a strange sort of drain tampon that attaches to a garden hose. You stuff it down into the drain and turn on the water and it expands and then squirts water out the other end, the intention being that it blows the clog out from water pressure. Excellent concept. Didn’t work.
  • An interesting incident in itself involving a long piece of frayed brake cable attached to a power drill, which made a lot of sense in theory, but ended up having unfortunate consequences (the skin on my arm is just now starting to knit back together).

After all these attempts, I had managed to unclog the drain enough that instead of now taking five hours to drain, it was taking two hours to drain.

This was a war, it was, between me and the drain. I was not going to call a plumber. No way. I was going to fix this clog myself, dammit. I had managed to get it to a little more than a trickle, after all. Now it was only taking two hours to drain. I was making progress, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I?

It was on the eighth day of fighting with the drain that I got really pissed off, and after a long session with the plunger (with the drain overflow valve stuffed up with clay and duct tape), standing there being angry and sweaty and the water in the tub still just sitting and mocking me, I decided I needed a bath.

Fortunately, as I noted earlier, we have two bathrooms.

I really really like baths, although I lived in a house without a bathtub for three years, so I sort of got out of the habit of taking them (I still take showers, thank you). Baths now are sort of a major treat to be had on very special occasions. Like fudgesicles. Like $40 worth of sushi in one sitting. Like staying in bed and having sex all day. That sort of thing. Being angry and sweaty over the drain isn’t necessarily a special occasion, but I needed it, so there.

When I was a kid my mother was very stingy with baths. No more than two inches of water, lukewarm. Half an hour in the tub, tops, or you turn wrinkly as a prune.

Now that I’m 3000 miles away from her I fill the entire tub up with water, as far as the overflow valve will let me, and sometimes I plug it up with tape so I can get the tub even fuller. As hot as I can stand. And I stay there for hours. I look like a shar pei dog when I finally deign to get out. I love baths.

I am even so decadent in the bathtub that when the water starts to turn slightly lukewarm, I will let some of the water out of the tub and refill it with hot water. AND I’m accomplished enough in bathtub dexterity that I can do all of this with my toes, so I don’t even have to sit up and expose any skin to the air.

And so it was that after relaxing in the tub for an hour or so, letting the stress of my war with the clog slowly fade away, feeling relaxed and very very happy that I reached out with my toes to drain some of the cold water out. I turned the knob and listened to the quiet sound of water running through the pipes under the tub. I could feel the water flowing by my other foot, sweeping by my ankle and down the drain.

Down the drain.

I turned the knob the other way. The water stopped draining. I turned it again. The water started again.

Oh. Oh no. No.

We now rejoin our sudden moment of painful realization, already in progress.

I had never actually tried the drain plug on the clogged-up bathtub, assuming, all this time, that it was just clogged up.

I got out of the tub almost immediately, located a towel, and dripped all the way down the hall, through the bedroom, and around the corner to the second bathroom where the tub was still somewhat full of old water from my last plunging experiment. With ever-increasing dread I reached for the knob on this bathtub, the twin of the one in the other bathtub, and placed my wrinkled fingertips gently upon its surface.

The orchestral soundtrack began to build in intensity.

I turned it.

There was a gurgle.

And all the water in the tub rushed gaily down the drain.

I sobbed ceaselessly for half an hour.