Adventures in Plumbing

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A bit of grief last week as death visited the Kirsch family. Not that it came a surprise, exactly - poor little guy hung by a thread for months, at the end barely eating anything, regurgitating whatever scraps did go down. Still, it's a shock when a vital member of your household dies. So it was that fateful day, when our garbage disposal finally gave up the ghost.

I guess it's never easy to lose a kitchen appliance, especially one whose replacement involves messing around with pipes. Or wiring. Or, as with a garbage disposal, both.

Now, my wife and I share a domestic arrangement that defies most traditional gender roles. She's the primary breadwinner, for instance. I wax my bikini zone. But when it comes to physical upkeep of our house and everything contained therein, that's still my responsibility. Not because I'm the man, just underemployed and needing a productive activity. I mean, aside from waxing.

Problem is, I'm not exactly what you'd call "handy." Until I moved into my own house, I left maintenance to the maintenance man. Don't get me wrong. All those years of crappy rental apartments made me a wiz at assembling cheap Scandinavian furniture. It also fostered a certain resourcefulness. I remember on one occasion juryrigging a toilet flusher apparatus with dental floss. The fix lasted for weeks - until the landlord got around to calling a plumber - although I'm pretty sure the minty flavoring wore off.

But from the moment I first noticed our garbage disposal acting funky, I suspected I'd need more than dental floss.

Naturally, my first solution was benign neglect. It's remarkable how effective doing nothing can sometimes be. I also tried blowing really hard into it, which strangely enough also seems to work way more often than it should.

When neither strategy proved successful, I tried the next logical step: I unplugged it, waited, then plugged it back in. Then I unplugged it and waited a little longer. Then a little longer than that. Then I repeated the process in a different outlet. Then the first outlet again. And so forth. Nothing.

No, this was going to require tools.

And so I went to work a wooden spoon, with which, by means of vicious jiggling, I discovered I could sort of kick start the internal flywheel. That seemed to do the trick - until the disposal ate the spoon. I'm not a licensed bonded professional or anything, but I think that's what finally killed it.

Regardless, now the garbage disposal would have to come out. This was going to require real tools. Metal tools. Tools I probably didn't have.

The first holiday season in our house, my wife gave me a whole elaborate toolset. Problem is, she didn't ask a salesperson for help, and wound up with something better suited to a professional auto mechanic. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I didn't exchange it. But aside from the socket set, I have no idea what the other stuff is for. I pretty much just use it for weighing down tarps.

The rest of my tools, I purchased when I was living in New York City, tiny tools for a tiny apartment, better suited to hanging art or fixing eyeglasses. As such, here in Alaska, all my tools are a lot smaller than everyone else's. And I'm definitely self-conscious about it. I know it's ridiculous, and it shouldn't matter anyway, because I pretty much always get the job done (if you know what I mean). But still. That's why I bought a 26-inch chainsaw. It's hard to feel insecure about your masculinity when you're running a 26-inch chainsaw. Even if you are wearing bright orange Kevlar chaps.

Thanks to the disposal, I discovered yet another tool inadequacy, this time my pipe wrench. Talk about Freudian. So what did I do? Like any red-blooded American male, I went right over to Home Depot and bought myself the largest pipe wrench available. Want to see it? Maybe later.

Wielding such a huge tool, removing the old disposal was a snap. It really was. But as I stood there admiring my handiwork - a gaping hole in the sink, pipes leaking brown water into the cabinet - I couldn't help but wonder why I hadn't also bought a new garbage disposal. So did my wife. So I went back to Home Depot. Of course, only having to go twice for one project kind of seems like I got off easy.

That's because I've learned: no matter what the product is, the higher end the model, the easier it is to install. It's almost like the extra $50 buys someone who really speaks English to write the instructions. I have to say, our new InSinkerator (great name) is like the Mac of disposals - I took it out of the box and it set itself up. Didn't even require hose clamps, which is too bad, because I also picked myself up an absolutely monster screwdriver.

Man, I was really looking forward to whipping that bad boy out.

• Geoff Kirsch is a writer in Juneau. His column publishes every other week. Visit his website at

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