“Into each life some rain must fall,” wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (the poet, not the less-than-reputable actor.) Yet tragedy always shocks when it strikes a member of your own household. And so it was, the day our garbage disposal died.
Of course, it’s never easy to lose a kitchen appliance, especially one whose replacement involves both plumbing and electrical wiring.
You see, my wife and I share a domestic arrangement that defies most traditional roles. She earns a professional’s salary; I have a sewing pile. She brings down the hammer on our kids; I cook them French toast and omelets to-order every morning, even during the school year (since COVID, I’ve added bacon and hash browns). She goes out drinking with (socially distant outdoor cocktails, but still); I stay home barefoot and pregnant (with a food baby, but, also, still.) However, when it comes to home repair — that’s my responsibility. Not because I’m a man, just chronically underemployed and seeking a productive activity. I mean, aside from fattening myself up for winter.
One problem: I’m not exactly what you’d call “handy.” Where I’m originally from in suburban New York, nobody fixes anything themselves, except maybe a build-your-own sundae. Until I moved up here and 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 jerry-rigging a toilet flusher apparatus with dental floss. The stopgap lasted for weeks — until the landlord finally acquiesced to calling a real plumber — although I’m pretty sure the mint flavoring wore off.
But from the moment I first noticed our garbage disposal acting funky, I suspected a problem no amount of dental floss might fix.
Naturally, my first solution entailed benign neglect (tip: Never under-estimate the effectiveness of doing nothing!) Then I tried blowing into it really hard. What? That’s how we fixed glitchy Nintendo cartridges back in the day (I also tried up-down-up-down-B-A-B-A-start).
When these strategies failed, I enhanced my approach: unplugging, waiting, then plugging back in. Then, I unplugged and waited a little longer. Then, a little longer than that. Then, I tried a different outlet. Then, the first outlet again — and so forth for about a half hour. Nothing.
No, this would require tools.
And so I went to work a wooden spoon, with which, by means of vicious jiggling, I kick-started the internal flywheel. This seemed to do the trick… until the disposal ate the spoon and started spitting sparks and smoke. Now, I needed real tools. Metal tools. Tools I probably didn’t own.
The first holiday season in our house, my wife bought me a whole elaborate toolset. Problem is, she didn’t enlist a salesperson’s help, and wound up choosing something better suited to auto mechanics. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so I never exchanged 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.
Most of my other tools I purchased 20 years ago, tiny tools for a tiny apartment, better suited to hanging art or fixing eyeglasses. As such, here in Alaska, my tools tend to be a lot smaller than everyone else’s tools. And I’m definitely self-conscious. I know it’s ridiculous, and it shouldn’t matter anyway, because who cares about the size of your tool as long as it gets the job done. But still. That’s why I bought a 26-inch chainsaw — hard to feel insecure about your masculinity when you’re running a 26-inch chainsaw.
Thanks to the disposal, I discovered yet another tool inadequacy, this time a pipe wrench (talk about Freudian.) Like any red-blooded American male, I drove right down to the hardware store and bought the biggest, fattest pipe wrench available. Want to see it? I’ll text you a pic.
Wielding such an immense, powerful tool, removing the old disposal proved a snap. But as I stood there admiring my handiwork — gaping hole in the sink, drain leaking brown water into the cabinet — I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t also bought a replacement garbage disposal. So, back to the hardware store for me! Of course, only two trips for one project seems like I got off easy.
Something else I learned: no matter what the product is, the higher end the model, the easier it is to install. I have to say, our new InSinkerator (great name) is like the iMac of disposals — it practically installed itself. 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 out that bad boy.
• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears twice monthly in Neighbors.