Monday, June 29, 2020

What Number Is It?

What Number Is It?
Sometime this past week, our kitchen sink started draining really slowly. None of our usual tricks, like plunging the sink, or running the garbage disposal or dishwasher to try to push through the clog, had any real effect. If anything, they made things worse.

By Thursday, the water wasn't receding at all. I resorted to scooping the water I could out of the sink with a big mason jar into a bucket and dumping that into the backyard. 

I disconnected the pipes under the sink to get the rest of the water out, and tried to snake the drain with a little manual snake from Amazon. The thing kinked up and turned on itself (behold my DIY skills) so after an hour of that, I did what I hate doing: admitting I can't fix something myself and calling a professional.

While I was waiting for the snake to come in the mail and, later, for the plumber to arrive, we kept making dishes. So I had to fashion a system to keep us in clean plates and silverware. Behold, our camp-style dishwashing setup.

What Number Is It?

It worked better than I thought. And like with the greywater setup we have for the washer, I got a weird bit of satisfaction pouring out a plastic container of dishwater under our tree. "Here's a drink, buddy. Yeah, we were going to just throw this away but thought, hey, why not give it to our tree friend?"

I hit a low point after I couldn't get the snake to work: mostly because of some toxic ideas I have about supposedly being able to fix all this shit on my own. 

Plus, the cast iron pipes in this house are fifty years old now. We knew from a prior plumber that we might already be on borrowed time. Maybe the main had collapsed. 

Maybe we'd be looking at a five figure bill, along with having to tear up the tile and concrete all throughout our house, and during a goddamn pandemic, too.

Why didn't I have someone run a camera during the inspection period? 

Why didn't I look into doing one of those trenchless sewer repairs before this shit happened?

Why can't I finally grow the fuck up, and deal with shit proactively instead of waiting for problems to show up?

I had a bunch of unhealthy thoughts the past few days. I'm not particularly good at dealing with failure, or what I perceive to be failure, at least. My therapist gave me a technique years ago. I am allowed to feel bad emotions all that I want, but before I give in to them I need to put the situation on a scale of 1 to 10. A one is being a few minutes late for a meeting, a ten is the house being on fire and needing to get my loved ones out immediately.

Then I try to scale my emotional reaction to whatever the number is.

Most everything in my life these days is a one. A minor inconvenience that temporarily interrupts a preposterously cushy life. Maybe it always has been that way for me.

The rub is that the ones don't feel like ones, at least not initially. They feel bigger. Sometimes something tiny feels like an eight or a nine. I don't have perspective, at least not until I remind myself to put things on a scale.

The plumber came on a Sunday, & wheeled in a motorized snake that blew right through the clog. It was probably grease that built up. (Like any good Filipino son, I keep a jar of the kitchen grease we create in a cupboard. So, logic be damned, I'm blaming this problem on the prior owner. Even though we've lived here for three years.)

Anyway, after an hour of work, he'd fixed what I struggled with for the better part of a week, and was gone. He didn't think our pipes were necessarily in any kind of bad shape but we could run a camera and take a look, if I felt like spending $350 to get it done later in the week. 

Which I should. That's what an adult would do, right?

The thing is, this whole plumbing problem was a one. I just thought it was like a five or a six for a few days, and I let it kind of fuck with my head that whole time.

But it was a one. The whole thing cost $59. 

So why stress? Even if we ran into the worst case scenario, maybe ten or twelve grand to excavate and install a new sewer line, it's not like this an expense we could not handle.

So many of my problems stem from this one root problem. I think small things are actually big, and then react accordingly. Work life, personal life, social life: I reliably make the same mistake. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The catch is that I can get the numbers wrong the opposite direction, too. I end up mischaracterizing big things as immaterial ones. Things like global warming end up seeming like a one most of the time: something I can just, like, deal with later. Sure, this climate thing is urgent, but I am also hot right now. So I crank the AC.

I imagine it's the same for a lot of people with the pandemic. Unless you know someone who's died from this, and maybe you don't because the disease is disproportionately killing Black Americans, I can see how someone can come to the conclusion that maybe this is no big deal. You feel healthy. No one you know is sick. The media lies all the time so they're probably doing the same with this COVID nonsense. To you, maybe it's a one.

Same with Black Lives Matter. Sure, you may not know very many Black people. But from where you're sitting: is it really that big of a deal? Is it worth all this protesting? Maybe, when you think about it, this whole policing thing could be a one, too.

Because I, too, have this recurring problem of placing a situation on the wrong part of the spectrum, of not properly understanding how important something is or is not, I try to be sympathetic at the times when others get it wrong. So, so wrong. As always, we are not so smart.

Still, the problem is different when I'm taking a small thing and making it seem big, than when it happens in the other direction. 

When I freak out about a clogged drain for a few days, the main consequence is that I feel embarrassed for overreacting. A few dollars down the drain and some feelings of humiliation later and I end up with, hopefully, a little better perspective on my emotions.

But when I minimize a big thing, like when I end up going tubing on the Salt River with my friends but without my mask, because I think this whole coronavirus thing is overblown, then the consequences are different. I might feel the same feelings of embarrassment later when I realize I was wrong. But the cost is different.

It doesn't just cost us $59 and a few days of frustration, does it?

*Photo is from fdcomite at Flickr Creative Commons.


  1. You and I are alike! I tend to get all stressed out over similar shit. Funny enough, the last thing that stressed me out was a clogged pipe running underneath our basement floor about a month ago.

    I like your therapist's "1-10" coping mechanism and will keep it in mind next time I lost it.

    Another technique I used to deal with similar issues is asking myself if it will matter in 5 years? If the answer is "no" (and it always is), I ask if the issue will matter in 1 year. Again, the answer is always "no."

    1. I love that "will it matter in five years" approach, Carl. Like, literally nothing that upsets me will matter in like five days, let alone five years.

  2. I love the concept of putting things on a scale, and will try to apply this in future. Super helpful in keeping things in perspective

    I don’t know if I will be able to explain my thoughts clearly but... there’s also something about how much stress we as humans can take on an ongoing basis.
    So if I go around thinking of climate change as a 9
    All the time, and I see everyone else treating it as a 2, I get really stressed. After a while I start feeling depressed at my lack of power to change things and start thinking maybe I should treat is as a 2 as well. So I have to remind myself to focus on what I can control .
    Does that make any sense ?

    To end on a lighter note - I used to live in an apartment with truly ancient plumbing and the kitchen sink blocked up with some regularity.
    I would castigate myself for not being careful enough after food debris getting in, but the fact is the pipes were tiny and at one point practically doubled over themselves !

  3. After following your hot takes on Twitter, I'm finally reading your blog. Pretty entertaining. :) Saw that you used to live in SD...that's where we live, Bay Park area. Our pipes require drano every few months - even though we keep most of the grease out. They get slow, we do drano and hot water and then we're good again for another few months. We figure it's old pipes? I replaced my sewer line 13 years ago when I moved in. At any rate, I feel your pain. I figure it's a combo of sand, body hair (that's mostly my partner's fault, he is hairy!) and hair and body products we use gunking things up. Cheers!

  4. I'm also amazed that the plumber only charged $59 (even if its USD) - here we pay at least $60 for a 'call out' - then add the cost of whatever needs to be done!

    Getting pipes dug up and replaced can be very expensive, and the 'trenchless' repair jobs are simply snaking the clogs out and then putting in a flexible liner (which reduces the pipe diameter and makes them more prone to blockage) in order to avoid penetration by roots etc.

    Personally, as soon as it starts to drain a bit slowly I'd put in a dose of Drain-o (caustic acid crystals) to clear out any hairs, grease etc that are building up. Just make sure you rinse it out per the directions, as it will corrode the pipes if left standing too long.