The bane of the homeowner.

A few years ago, I learned that you can’t call the landlord, or the property manager, or your folks. Unless you want to pay the price of a plumber, the job’s yours.

We learned in our house that very small things can cause very large problems.

It all started with the kitchen sink, which has one of those little screens to keep the crud from going down the drain.

Well sometimes it’s easier to flush the crud down the drain than it is to try to pick it out of the screen thing, so I’ve learned that jabbing it with a fork and then giving a good twist means the screen will pop up, the crud will go down, and there will be peace in the world.

There is, naturally, a warning to go along with this, that being that you don’t want things to go down the drain that the screen was meant to trap… So you have to be careful. Twice I had to take the drain apart when a fork or a spoon went down there.

But forks and spoons have built in safety features. They’re straight, and the trap under the sink isn’t, so they stay.

Now imagine, if you will, that you’re running low on dish washing liquid, and to do the dishes you’ve taken the top off the bottle to pour water in and get all the dishwashing liquid out.

Imagine, if you will, that after the dishes were done, the drain seemed to drain a lot slower…

So I figure, hey, there’s something stuck in there… So I pull out the plunger and go at it like I was trying to win a butter churning contest.

No luck.

I pull the drain apart.

Can’t find anything.

I run the snake down.


I put the sink back together and try it again.

Still slow. I mean, if you left it there overnight, it would drain out, but otherwise it would start off fine and then act like it had hit a brick wall, well, more like a rubber wall, because it would go down, stop, and then start slowly coming back up again, almost like an echo.


Then the bathroom sink started draining really slow.

So I took that apart…

…and ran the snake down…

— and nothing…

Okay, I’d spent about 8 hours of a weekend under kitchen and bathroom sinks, ripping plumbing out and getting absolutely nowhere.

So I did the ever popular male thing, if it doesn’t work, get a bigger hammer.

I attached a hose to the sink downstairs.

I ran it up to the kitchen sink, and had my 7 year old son Michael go downstairs, with the instructions, “Turn it on when I thump once on the floor, turn it off when I thump twice.”

So Michael the Helper trotted downstairs, all full of pride that he was helping solve this Major Household Problem.

I wrapped a towel around the end of the hose to make a seal, rammed it down the kitchen drain, and then thumped on the floor.

The hose gurgled, and hissed, and burped, and wiggled around as the water came up, and then like a cannon blasted water down

the drain.

I didn’t hear or feel anything give way, I didn’t hear or feel any kind of a plug, or for that matter resistance…

So I thought I’d fixed it.

I thumped twice, and the water stopped.

I pulled the hose out and water started coming back up, like that echo I’d seen earlier, only this time it was much bigger…


I rammed the hose down again, and thumped…

… and the water started again…

And I kept at it until I heard this little voice from downstairs, “Papa-a-a-a-a? How come the ceiling is dripping?”

Uh – oh…

It was at this point that I instinctively knew what had happened.

The pipes were set up like a T, with the kitchen on the right side and the bathroom on the left side. Whatever was plugging things up was down on the vertical part of the T, and in essence, that one thing was plugging both drains.

You will see this material again.

I ran downstairs, and yes indeed, the ceiling was dripping, right from where the bathroom was.

I ran upstairs, and into the bathroom.

Or what had been the bathroom…

See, when I’d blasted the water down the kitchen sink and it couldn’t go anywhere, Mount Vesuvius erupted in the bathroom sink, cleaning all the crud in the drain on the way out and distributing it evenly all over the bathroom, and of course what didn’t stay in the bathroom went downstairs.

Oh good…

So now the bathroom sink’s full of brown crud, that echo effect has the kitchen sink in the same condition, and I obviously haven’t come anywhere near solving the problem, I’ve only made it worse…

But at least this time I know where the problem is, right?


So I go downstairs where Michael was, stepped around where the ceiling was still dripping, looked up and saw that there was a cleanout plug on the pipe that had to have the problem.

So I got this huge wrench and reefed on it.

No dice.

Bigger hammer time. (I’m a guy, remember?)

So I put a pipe on the end of the wrench and tried to do a chinup on it.

Of course that’s when it broke loose.

So I got back up on the chair, carefully, and started loosening it to take it all the way off to see where the problem was. Just to be safe, I got a bucket to catch any water that might dribble out. 

While I was loosening it, Michael, who’d gone upstairs, came down, and Alyssa, 12, came over to see what was going on.

The next part happened in slow motion.

As I was unscrewing the last little bit, the water (and black, unmentionable, icky crud) from the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, and all the pipes in between finally found a place to go.

My face happened to be about 4 inches from that spot.

My eyes, ears, nose, and throat were filled with water so black it was opaque. In the background, through the gurgling, I heard the the sound of two children laughing like only children can laugh.

They still talk about it, and the stains in the shirt are still there.

Oh, and I found the lid to the dishwashing liquid.