Thursday, June 19, 2014


     Kurt stared into a sink half-filled with motionless gray water. An occasional small bubble erupted from below the water’s surface, bringing with it the unmistakable pungent oceanic tang of Chicken of the Sea.
     “Mary?” Kurt yelled toward the kitchen door, “What’s in the sink?”
     She wasn’t far away.
     “Oh yeah, I meant to tell you about that.” she said, “I was cleaning out the refrigerator for  vacation.”
     “What is this stuff?”
     Mary glanced at the large empty tuna can on the counter. Kurt followed her glance.
     “You put THAT in the Disposall?”
     “It’s just tuna,” she said. “I tried to rinse it down, but, well, the water just kept getting deeper until it looked like this,” she gestured toward the sink.
     “It’s FOUR POUNDS of tuna!  Jesus, Mary, this is like something I’d do. I can’t believe the timing,” he laughed. “Where’s the plunger?”
     His smile had a calming effect on Mary’s hesitant response. She nervously put her hands to her mouth the way she always did when suppressing a giggle.
     “I’m sorry Kurt. I’ll go get it”
      “Maybe hot water will break it up,” muttered Kurt, moving the single handle faucet fully to the left.
     Kurt submerged the plunger’s pink rubber dome over the drain in the left basin of the double stainless steel sink while the hot water ran. As he pushed and pulled in a gentle attempt to dislodge the clog, the chunk-filled gray water appeared in the other side of the sink, mimicking his motions like a groundhog contemplating escape. The water was now hot and fuming, and smelled more strongly.
     The Disposall had apparently done the best it could with what it was presented. Gobs of emulsified tuna-water had been disgorged into the main pipe that led away from the U-fitting that joined the twin basin sink. The clog was firm and well beyond the reach of a simple plunger.
Kurt paused. “This isn’t working. Do we have any Drano?”
     Mary reached into the cabinet under the sink.
     “I guess you were right to always keep two bottles on hand Kurt!” she said, laughing.
     “Don’t patronize me. What does it say?”
     “Use half a bottle for stubborn clogs. Allow 30 minutes. Repeat if necessary. Drano can be poured through standing water.”
     Kurt looked at the label, and then poured an entire bottle carefully through the water at the approximate center of the sink.
     “We can’t leave this for a week,” Kurt commented pensively. They both looked intently at the water as if any second their problem would be whisked away in a vortex of triumphant clog dissolving action. Nothing happened.
     Mary blamed the Disposall. “It’s called a dispose ALL, isn’t it?”
     “I know Mary, but you just can’t stuff four pounds of tuna down a drain and expect it to be whisked away. Was that the can we just bought at Sam’s Club? It would have lasted in the fridge for more than a week.”
     “It would have smelled up the refrigerator. You opened it the other day.”
     Kurt resisted the implication that this was somehow his fault.
     “The toilet would have made more sense. That’s designed to carry away… chunks of stuff, you know?” Kurt laughed.
     “Let’s go pack and let it sit,” said Mary.
     Two hours later, the stinking chemical tuna ooze had obstinately refused to move. The acrid odor of sodium hydroxide now mingled with the essence of hot tuna water. It was simultaneously abrasive and offensive.
     “We need a plumber, but there’s no time. We have to be at the airport in six hours. We have to get this mess out of the sink or the whole house will stink when we get back,” said Kurt.
     He considered disassembling the pipes under the sink and draining everything into a bucket. The thought of gushing hot Drano/fish water in a confined space kept him thinking.
     “I know!” he exclaimed, “The ShopVac!” and he headed off to the garage.
     Mary fetched some old towels and a couple of large black plastic garbage bags from the laundry room. Kurt returned from the garage, wrestling the ShopVac on its rotating wheels and dragging the electric cord behind him.
     Kurt read the side of the vacuum, “Two gallons, that should be enough.”
     “I don’t know honey, that looks like a lot of water,” said Mary.
Kurt positioned the vacuum hose vertically over the sink, and then plunged the steel wand into the liquid mess.
      “Turn the vacuum on when I say ‘now’,” he instructed.
     Mary, with her hand on the switch, was a step ahead of her intense husband. She flipped the ShopVac on as the wand disappeared into the sink. The screaming motor bucked against the liquid that was blocking airflow into the holding tank, and the metal wand engaged the safety cutoff in the throat of the Disposall with a jarring ruckus as the old Disposall turned on. Banging cutting blades pummeled the wand, stinging Kurt’s hands like an off-center pitch against a metal baseball bat.
“MAAAARRRYYY” he shouted above the racket, “TURN IT OFFFFFFF!”
     Mary turned it off.
     Gray chemical water had splashed up onto Kurt’s arms, face and t-shirt. He stood like Arthur over Excalibur, holding the vacuum wand erect in the throat of the Disposall. Slime covered his forehead and nose. He turned his dripping face slowly toward Mary, who briefly considered reaching for the sink’s spray nozzle but quickly decided against it.
     “This is a nightmare,” said Kurt. “One more time, when I say ‘NOW’”
     The second attempt went much better. Kurt held the vacuum attachment above water level until     Mary turned the machine on, then cautiously dipped the sucking device into the water, giving the vacuum time to recover between punctuated mechanized slurps.
     Kurt stood straddling the ShopVac and looked triumphantly at Mary, who alternately smiled back and watched the water level drop.
     “See, I told you two gallons would do it,” he said.
     Looking down admiringly at the powerful little machine, he quickly understood its surprising capacity.  On the back of the canister, water spewed from a spigot intended to be used with an attached hose. The screw cap was missing.
     “Oh, son of a…MARY, SHUT IT OFF!” shouted Kurt.
     He grabbed one of the towels Mary had brought into the kitchen and stopped the flow of water with wadded up pressure like an army medic.
     “Open the back door!” he yelled, as he wheeled the ShopVac, holding the soaked towel over the spigot with one hand, guiding the rolling tank toward the patio door. The wand came free from the sink, disgorging its contents onto the kitchen counter and the laminate floor. Mary quickly reached for the electric outlet and unplugged the ShopVac before the cord fully extended.
     Kurt guided the rolling chemical hazard off the patio and down the sloping lawn all the way to the trees at the edge of their property. As the canister gained momentum, the rolling poison began to speed almost out of reach ahead of him but finally settled near the base of an old oak tree. He unlatched the canister from the vacuum head and dumped the stinking contents at the base of a patch of buckthorn.
      “I hope that doesn’t hurt the trees,” he muttered dejectedly. “God knows it won’t kill the buckthorn, but the raccoons should love it.”
     Inside, Mary was on her hands and knees wiping the floor with towels and clear water, tossing everything into garbage bags and shoving them toward the patio door. She stood to go to the laundry room for more supplies just as Kurt stepped into the kitchen from outside. Both Kurt and Mary flew off their feet, slipping on the soap-like sodium hydroxide slick that coated the linoleum floor. Unhurt, and erupting into laughter, they both lay on their backs and reached for each other’s hand.
     “It’s like black ice, this stuff, just like black ice,” laughed Mary.
     “Yeah, I need a vacation,” chuckled Kurt. “Say Mary, you didn’t happen to check the lint screen did you?”

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