Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Disposer Blew and the Water Flew

So there I was Sunday night staring blankly into a sink full of dirty bowls and pans left over from Gwynne's excursion into peanut butter cookie cooking excellence. I had just finished my second beer of the evening and normally would be cracking the third one within moments. For some reason I decided to roll up my sleeves and dispatch that dirty batch, the grunt's share of the cooking project.

As I broke out the scrubber and dish soap Gwynne gave me a strange look but went back to her book. Within minutes I was done, the feeling of having accomplished my largest project of the weekend fresh in my mind. Just before cracking my third brew I rinsed out the sink and, the water still running, turned on the disposal. A noise that didn't sound like the thrashing of mangled carrots, celery stalks or cabbage leaves assailed my senses. In a flash I reached over and turned off the disposal letting it's grinders come to a halt. With that innate fear-part of my DNA telling me not to do it, I lowered my left hand (I'm right handed) into the drain. I immediately felt metal that was not the disposal manglers. I gripped the remains and pulled it out. A spoon! A measuring spoon! Gwynne's measuring spoon, part of a set that she has had since she and her mother began baking cookies and cakes many years ago. The thin metal utensil (probably tin) looked like a piece of gray broccoli that had been run through a jet propelled Cuisinart.

She looked at me from the kitchen table and said, "That looks like the remains of my measuring spoon set." "Yup," I said, "I think this is the tablespoon." I fished out some more memories of her childhood and she identified each spoon size. I was suddenly aware that the water was still running and that my feet were getting wet. "I wonder where the 1/2 teaspoon is," she murmured as I stared down at my feet and belatedly turned off the water. "I think I know," I said as I opened the cupboard door underneath the sink. As water dripped out of the cabinet I crouched down and looked at the disposal. I gritted my teeth and said, "blank!"

Sticking out of the side of the disposal, like a piece of shrapnel blown through the housing of an unlubricated transmission from a 1971 Ford Maverick, was the 1/2 teaspoon. Water forced it's way through the opening and dripped onto the floor of the cabinet. I quickly pulled the garbage bag, Windex, Comet, Fantastic, grease jar, sponges, brushes and floor wax out of the cabinet and soaked up the water with every towel in the kitchen. Realizing that the next day was MLK Day and a holiday I resigned myself to what I was going to be doing on that Monday; buying a new garbage disposal and installing it like I did a couple of years ago when the old one seized up after an overdose of potato peels. Just what I'm great at; on the job plumbing. Yah right. I mopped up what water I could and cracked that third beer.

The next day we stood in the aisle at Lowe's staring at the garbage disposal (also called a food waste disposer) display weighing our options: the Insinkerator (which I'll call the ISE) or the Badger. The difference between the two names (which were both built by ISE) was like the difference between a Lexus and a Toyota. The ISE looked cooler, was quieter and had more options. The Badger was the stripped down version, basic looking and after activating the shelf-mounted display, noisier. Gwynne said, "I never liked the old one, it was way too loud." I'm now thinking was this a plan to sacrifice her treasured measuring spoon set for a quieter and cooler looking disposal?

OK, that left the ISE which offered models that included everything from racing stripes to a double barreled carburetor to leather seats to the high def version on the Satellite locater. After doing everything but take it for a test drive we settled on the Evolution Spacesaver version with Sound Seal & Multi Grind Tecnoligia, (whoops I meant Technology, I was reading the French description) with a 5/8 horsepower motor and racing hubcaps.

I was aware of a guy like me lurking in the background as we made our disposer decision and as we were leaving I noticed a small plastic container of plumbers putty and a few pieces of plastic pipe that had been placed on one of the nearby shelves. The putty container looked familiar and I stopped and picked it up, inspecting it. My fellow do-it-yourselfer glanced over from his disposer inspection and said, "That stuff is mine in case you were wondering." I didn't take offense as I knew it probably took him an hour to find his supplies, another hour to choose everything and God knows how many hours it was going to take to glue and connect it all to his new ISE or Badger. Suddenly I recognized where I had seen the container of plumbers putty; at home, downstairs in the basement inside one of our storage cabinets. "Yah," I said to the guy, "I've already got some of this at home; your going to need it to seal off your sink gasket." He stared at me as I put down his putty probably grinding his teeth at the presumptuous know-it-all. "He'll probably put it in upside down," I thought.

As we were leaving I'm sure Gwynne was wondering what I knew about sink gaskets and why I would have plumbers putty in my arsenal of fix-it tricks. I was wondering too because I couldn't remember when I had ever used the putty before and if I hadn't then how could I ever have installed a garbage disposal? That question was answered after we had returned home, I had unpacked everything and was reading the installation directions. I looked at the circular flange mounted to the bottom of the sink then, using my Christmas gift flashlight, looked in the cabinet underneath. Yup nothing had changed, the the disposal was still there with the 1/2 teaspoon protruding from the housing's wall. I could see a mounting bracket that was somehow attached to that flange inside the sink. I looked at the instructions again; all twenty-six detailed steps when it started to dawn on me. I stood up and looked closely at the flange again. Stamped into the gray steel on the top of the curve was the word IN-SINK-ERATOR with ISE DISPOSER printed on the lower part of the curve. As if seeing it for the first time in my life I turned to Gwynne as said, "I didn't put this in!" Seated at the kitchen table again, she looked up from her book and said, "Right, I think Jim Curley did."

"Oh blank," I said again. Jim Curley, the Einstein of appliance installation. This is a guy who could build a washing machine from the ground up with his eyes closed and one arm tied behind his back. If he had gotten into computers he'd be the guy you would call to restore your hard drive after it had frozen into a chaotic mess. If he had been an auto mechanic he'd be fixing a custom NASCAR engine while riding underneath the car on a skateboard. He always showed up to a job in a freshly laundered blue jumpsuit, a smile on face and all the right parts in his pristine white van. I hated him because he was just cheerily too-o-o-o good and he was retired.

I stared at the installation instructions which rivaled blueprints for construction of a nuclear reactor and contemplated either begging Jim Curley to come out of retirement like Michael Jordan, tracking down my own plumber/appliance installer or tackling the project myself. I read through the twenty-six detailed steps again then stared at Gwynne who was again happily immersed in her book. "We can do this," I announced. She looked at me over the tops of her glasses. "We?" she said.

So with Gwynne narrating, "If you are replacing an existing disposer, continue to Step 2" (yup that's us), and me plumbing I detached the old disposer and lowered it to the cabinet's floor. "Hey it's a Badger," I said noting the label on the budget version of the ISE. "That's why it was so noisy," said Gwynne, Ms. Disposer Expert. At Step 4 we reached the electrical part which is as scary as putting your hand inside the mouth of a real badger or a garbage disposal. She said, "There's all kinds of exclamation marks and warnings that say, WARNING: SHOCK HAZARD!! I cringed inwardly and outwardly and since I didn't want any communication problems in regard to whether or not I had a chance of being electrocuted, I read the instructions myself; at least five times. Steps #4 & #5 basically involved turning the power off at the source (these are code words for knowing where to find the breaker box). This is the way for the electrician (ME!) to avoid the chance of suffering any lasting effects from what would amount to be an INSIDE THE HOUSE LIGHTNING STRIKE! Since brain damage or paralysis were not options I was considering for the plumbing project Gwynne and I perfected a system of plugging her hair dryer into the plug outlet on the disposer on/off switch, turning the hair dryer on and me turning breaker switches off and on in the basement. I could hear the hair dryer (which doesn't have a muffler) running all the way in the basement as I turned breakers off and on. Three of the breakers were marked Kitchen and none of them turned the hair dryer off. This was confirmed by Gwynne, calling downstairs, that YES the hair dryer was still running. (That means that the electricity is still running LIVE to the disposal!) Finally I noticed an unmarked breaker switch at the lower level of the box and I turned it off. The hair dryer's noise immediately subsided! ALL RIGHT! I HAVE A CHANCE OF LIVING THROUGH THIS!

From there our luck changed as: 1. I detached the electrical connections from the disposer, 2. realized we could skip immediately to Step #17 as we could re-use the existing mounting assembly because we were using an ISE model and 3. Charlotte, our twenty-two year old daughter, showed up early for a home-cooked dinner. I was getting ready to re-attach the electrical connections to the new ISE as she inspected the instructions. "Hey dad be careful," she said. "There's a WARNING: SHOCK HAZARD! thingy here when you're doing that electrical stuff." I thought, "It's too late for that." "Thanks," I said, "I'll be careful."

With the electrical completed I figured we'd be done after attaching the new ISE disposer to the old Badger mounting-assembly then connecting some hoses. "Wrong you rookie amateur you're going to have to "pay your dues," the do-it-yourself Gods were whispering to me. With Charlotte narrating, as Gwynne had gone back to her book, I connected the Anti-Vibration Tailpipe to the disposer then prepared to mount the new disposer underneath the sink. First I inspected the old Badger and lined it up with the new mounting bracket which I didn't need because, as you may remember, it was identical to what was already connected under the drain opening. "Piece of cake," I thought as I screwed the two parts together. Charlotte nodded, seeing how the two pieces fit snuggly just like in the instructions.

Not able to fit into the cabinet, I balanced the new and heavy ISE in the palm of my right hand and pushed it up toward the mounting ring. I couldn't see if the two pieces were fitting together but I turned the disposer anyway expecting it to seed into the bracket, but it didn't. I couldn't get my left hand inside the cabinet to take the weight so time after time I pushed up only to have the ISE fail to fit then drop out of the hole. Charlotte could see my dilemma and offered encouragement but couldn't really help. Gwynne looked up from her book but she's real smart so she didn't say much.

Finally while taking a break with my right arm quivering uselessly, Charlotte bent down and inspected the connection I had made with the old Badger and the new mounting bracket. She turned them back an forth no doubt remembering the old adage her father had told her many years ago. "Righty tighty, lefty loosey." Scooting across the floor she said, "Dad move over to the other of the cabinet and let me slide in there, I'll help." I shifted over with the disposer in my lap and with a young girls flexibility she shimmied all the way into the cabinet and helped insert the new disposer into the mounting bracket. "OK turn," she said. I did as directed then she said, "Turn it the other way, to the right, you've been turning it to the left." I pushed up and twisted and the ISE locked tightly into place. "It's in," she said, able to look from her position directly at the connection.

"Well no kidding," I said laughing. I looked at my red-haired partner stuffed next to me in the cabinet and said, "I appreciate you showing me how to install a food waste disposer." "Hey dad any time you need any help just call," she said looking very smug. Gwynne looked up from her book and offered her congratulations. After connecting the drain and waste pipes we gave our new ISE a test drive and it performed with whispering perfection. I guess this shows that anything a certified plumber/appliance guy can do three amateurs can do just as well. Plus I've got a full container of unused plumbers putty all ready for the next project.

1 comment:

  1. glad you made use of one of the hundred lomen flashlights.

    this scene is so typical, i love it.