When you use a bathroom plunger to clear a drain in the shower and water drips on your head, it’s logical to assume you have a major problem. As with all plumbing problems, you go in thinking, “How hard could it be?” That’s when the little demons who live in the darkest elbows of the underground PVC network come out and bite you on the butt.
The story begins while walking the aisles of Home Depot where a gadget caught my eye.
CLEAN DRAINS QUICKLY AND EASILY
The device was a slim piece of plastic about two feet long, bendable, with sharp hooks facing toward the handle. According to the sales pitch on the packaging, all one had to do was insert the tool in your clogged shower drain where thinning hair from old people gathers together to weave massive clots and dam up the drain. I bought the thing thinking that one day this will be money well spent. That day was yesterday.
For several weeks, I had noticed (but tried to ignore) that the water was draining from the shower with a gurgle, gurgle, glug instead of the more common sound of the free-flowing brook that carried my gray hairs to a peaceful , albeit odorous, resting place in the septic tank.
Smug with foresight, preparations, and the shiny new tool, I jammed the devise down the drain, twisting as I went, fully prepared to see a smelly wad of decaying hair upon withdrawal. Didn’t happen. Oh, there were a few clumps of nasty stuff, but nothing to cause a gurgle, gurgle, glug. Hmmm. Out comes the toilet plunger. I run enough water to cause a little backup and lean into it. WHUMP! WHUMP!
But no. Instead of clearing the unseen clog, the water began to fill the shower basin at a rather rapid rate. The clog had worsened. “Turn the water off!” my brain screamed. Did so. Waited. The water showed no sign of going down. Hit it again. WHUMP! WHUMP! WHUMP! That was when I felt water dripping on my head. Wait. WTF. What was that about? Did it squirt from the shower head? No way. Can’t be. The knob was firmly on OFF.
Aha. I saw it, little beads of water around the…the…overhead light fixture. WHAT? The light fixture? IMPOSSIBLE! The demons of PVC purgatory were laughing their asses off.
Let us pause for a moment to delve into the world of plumbing technology. Under almost any kitchen sink, there is a curved pipe in the waste water discharge line called a J-trap. The purpose of the J-trap is to hold a little water in the bend to prevent gases from the aforementioned septic tank from working back into the kitchen and spreading foul odors all over mama’s fresh-baked bread. Works fairly well at catching wedding rings too.
I did not expect to find a J-trap in the attic above the shower, but there it was, collecting water and passing it on from…where you ask? The air conditioning system that’s where. Condensation from the evaporative coils gathers in a tray, passes through the trap, and joins up with—presumably––the waters from the shower. My somewhat aggressive plunger action had pushed the water from the shower drain upward to the overhead J-trap, back out to the collection tray, where it ran over, dribbled down to the light fixture, and dripped on my head. It’s a miracle I wasn’t electrocuted. The PVC demons would have declared a national holiday.
Mystery solved, but there was still the matter of the clog. I dug out my rusty plumber’s snake, a long, narrow, tightly coiled, wire that can worm it’s way down most any hole. Fully expecting the snake to jam up under the foundation where nothing less than a bulldozer and a backhoe could clear it, I breathed a long sigh of relief when the end of it appeared. Turned the shower on. The water ran free and clear like a mountain stream in a Coor’s commercial. And that’s what I had, a Coor’s. A couple in fact. Okay, maybe more than a couple.