The answer to life, the universe and everything is not the “42” that the computer Deep Thought calculated over a period of seven and a half million years in Douglas Adams’s curious novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Rather, the answer is “rotate clockwise.”
Seems simple really. Screws go righty-tighty. Clocks go … errrr, clockwise. And manually inserted drum augers which are also known colloquially as plumbing snakes? Same thing.
It starts with a clogged kitchen sink, probably dammed up by bits of potato and onion skin and rice grains and thick scads of grease from plate drippings. It progresses to a flooding sink, where dishwashing becomes an impossible, unsterile task that adds more grease to plates than it washes off. They sit in the rising backwash, waiting for the water to recede. And you stare it down, wishing it away, never really getting the chore done. It continues when you pour Liquid Plumr down the drain, hoping this magic chemical goop melts whatever’s in your plumbing– enough to let the greywater go in only one direction. But it never works. The plastic jug that holds the Liquid Plumr is emptied out and even hours after, the water takes forever to drain away.
So you look at your options: buy another chemical solution and pour your money down the drain, or buy a mechanical tool that can clear away the blockage, performing bypass surgery on your kitchen sink? Turns out the name for the tool is a drum auger, a “snake” made of coiled metal spring wire, which you find at Home Depot after asking a portly saleslady who could make a living as Mrs. Santa Claus come holiday season. The tool costs as much as a good dinner for one at a restaurant, which makes one pause. But only for a second. Because the need is more important at this point.
Back home, the tool goes into the drain but not all the way to the u-tube where the dish muck usually aggregates for a grime party. You force it into the hole by hand, wondering why it won’t go into the u-shaped tube. You pound it into the drain in frustration. So does your wife. And then she quietly reads the instructions that you yourself have pored over several times before even using the tool.
And she says, “Rotate clockwise?”
Except I have been doing that exactly as it says. Insert the snake then rotate clockwise to clear the block. I look at the instructions again, and realize it says to rotate clockwise AS IT ENTERS THE PLUMBING. So you rotate and your wife pushes the snake in — just a little bit, just to show you what a mule you’ve been, just to show you how easy it is if you comprehend the instructions you read — and the entire snake disappears into the drainage. More than you’ve ever been able to cram into the first third of the pipes by pushing it in alone. You keep rotating, drilling through the imagined muck, you do it vigorously, hoping to have to bear this humiliation only once.
And suddenly the water drains away as it is supposed to. And the kitchen artery is unblocked. And you shake your head in utter disbelief. Was it really as simple as that?
Already your wife looks at you with an arched eyebrow, the same arching eyebrow that once drove you into a frenzy as a hormonal youth, the very same one that’s still driving you crazy after all these years, which can be interpreted in many ways. And you both erupt into laughter. A laughter that is both hearty and stupid, honest and sheepish, mule-like and Chewbacca-ish, and good.