The midnight cleanout.

Following our adventure the other night, that was Dad's suggestion for this column's headline. In fact, Dad had a lot of suggestions that night.

I'm convinced there is a cosmic connection between the holidays, having a house full of people and plumbing problems. To help prove my point, on a recent trip north for Thanksgiving, I heard a radio interview with an executive with Roto-Rooter who explained how the holidays are the busiest time of the year. Makes sense, you have 20 people in town for a big meal, the facilities are going to be taxed. And when the toilets stop working following the biggest meal of the year, well, that is truly a crisis situation.

Sometimes you don't even need a house full of people, just a holiday. The last major plumbing calamity I suffered occurred when I discovered that the septic tank was full on Friday afternoon of a Fourth of July weekend. Let me tell you friend, that was one long weekend.

But we survived, as I knew we would. After all, the pioneers roughed it for decades before there was a comfortable place to sit and solve all of the world's problems.

My latest plumbing problem was not quite as dramatic, but it was a challenge nonetheless. Around 11:00 in the evening on the day after Christmas we discovered that the kitchen sink was not draining properly. We tried the usual remedies first, the plunger and Rid-X. They didn't work.

Next it was minor surgery as we cleaned out all of the junk from under the sink and dismantled the drain lines. I really didn't want to do this in the middle of the night, but as I said, it was becoming a challenge and we felt certain that we would unclog the problem without having to go any further. Wrong again.

So it was off to the underworld, otherwise known as my basement, where I knew there was a cleanout cap.

Now this was new territory for me. I was relatively certain that there was a great deal of water in the pipe, but I didn't know how that water would respond when I unscrewed the cap. By now the plumbers in the audience are smiling and nodding knowingly. That's right, I was about to be covered in slimy, freezing cold water. Did I mention that it was close to freezing the other night?

You can guess the next sequence. I uncapped the pipe, water blew everywhere and the clog was still there. Now we're talking about options - call a plumber, find someone who owns a snake and borrow it, or wait until sun-up and hit the hardware store and buy one.

Or how about this? Dad suggested taking a shorter, smaller piece of pipe, inserting it into the uncapped pipe and blowing into it to try to break the clog free. Don't ever do this. Your lungpower will only be strong enough to cause a sort of blowback phenomenon and if you're not quick enough, the holiday meal will not be over for you.

However, if you want to give this a try, make sure all of your shots are up to date. Thankfully, mine are.

It's after midnight. I'm wet, cold and I have this strange grit in my teeth. Finally, Dad, who was warm, dry and full of merriment following the short pipe fiasco, suggested running a garden hose into the drainpipe as far as it will go, turning the water on full blast and trying to force the clog on down into the septic tank. Of course, that meant the potential for more blowback was tremendous. It didn't matter as long as my mouth wasn't anywhere near it.

At approximately 12:17 a.m. we liberated the clog. In fact I'm happy to report that we now have the cleanest kitchen drain pipe in town.

The experience has led me to a major decision. In my next life, I'm coming back as a plumber. But until that day, call Mark and Son if you have a plumbing problem. We can save you a lot of trouble by telling you what won't work.





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