Monday, June 25, 2012

Reassembling the Kitchen Sink -- I Should Have Sought Professional Help

(Que the music from The Twilight Zone)
The cats found them to be good sport. Sloppy fliers, spotted pseudo-butterfly wings. Ugly creatures we thought were moths flew around the kitchen and bathroom. We couldn't get rid of them, though the traps my wife purchased were filling rapidly with stuck insectile corpses.
   I noticed that many gnats flew up out of the kitchen drains on a regular basis. A little on-line research told me they were not moths at all. They're drain flies. They lay their eggs in gunk in the drains. The suggested solution was to dump an enzyme based cleaner down the drain and hope it killed the larvae.
    I waited until my wife was gone and searched the house for the jug of stuff we used to use to get rid of kitty "accidents" from when our ancient cat, Zeb, could no longer be relied upon to make it to the litter box or would get mad enough to pee on the corners of the couches. The internet said that enzyme cleaners would eat the gunk.
    I couldn't find that stuff (it's long gone, I think, now that we have fastidious kitties), and so dumped a bunch of other stern chemicals down the drain. I did so with my safety in mind--had the windows open and held my breath over the sink.
    It wasn't working.
   Then, a dangerous sort of inspiration struck! I don't mean "dangerous" in terms of threat to life and limb (other than risking having my sweet, loving, martial artist wife rend me from limb to limb). I mean "dangerous" as in "low chance of success".
  I decided that the best way to clean the gunk out of the pipes under the kitchen sink was to...egads!...remove them completely, and clean them by hand!
   It helped not at all that I was as resolved as Don Quixote. It helped not at all that I know darn well that every IQ test I've ever taken has revealed my mechanical IQ is "impaired" and was a kind and generous assessment!
    Yea, verily, I say unto thee... I looked under the sink at the pipes and said aloud, "That's all PVC! I can take it apart by hand. I won't even need a tool. I can't do any harm with no tools!"
    (Twilight music grows in the background. Cut away to an inside view of the pipes and we see drain fly larvae doing a dance, holding hands, laughing and skipping.)
   DRAIN FLY LARVAE: (loudly) Nee-ner-nee-ner-NEE-NER
   I unscrewed each section of the kitchen sink pipe. I think my feet (sticking out of the cupboard) twitched when gunk, water, and goo dripped out. Yes, there was still some water in the pipes.
   I took the pipe hunks outside and cleaned them out with the hose. There was a lot of black gick in them. Thick black gick that probably smelled really bad. It was ugly. I'm sure that stuff started to accumulate before we bought this place, and had only grown while we lived here.
    I threw away the rag I used to clean the pipes. It was covered with thick black stuff and I was pretty sure I didn't want to clean anything else with it...ever again.
   Then it occurred to me that at no time did I ever think (not once, not for a second) to make a diagram of where the pipes came from so I could put them back together.
    I point you to exhibit A -- my mechanical impairment.
   I was in familiar territory. Dark, familiar territory. It's a masculine land called "Uh-oh". I was the new King of UhOh.
   As the King of UhOh, I was in firm command of my subjects. There was, of course, only one subject. That was me! I awaited orders for myself and found myself unable to give them. I just stared at the inert pieces of clean plastic pipe and said, "Uh oh." I even sang the word as the new national anthem. "Uh oh, OH... UH-OH!"
    The second through sixty-seventh verses are the same as the first.
   I wasn't sure when my wife was going to be home. I knew that if I had to, I could spoon a little crow into my mouth and ask my beautiful (and mechanically gifted) wife to re-assemble the pipes.
   Manly pride reared its head and told me that although her help might be required, it would not be an acceptable first choice.
   I got back down and put the pipes back together. There was only five pieces of pipe to connect, and they only went back one way. I assembled them with no problem at all...
...well...almost no problem at all.
   There's a plastic washer between each connection. I was missing one of those. I didn't lose it. It wasn't there to begin with. The pipe used to drip from that spot. That was when we first moved in. It stopped leaking from that spot, and now I know why. The black gunk grew over it! I had visions in my head of that black gunk that was now lying in hunks in the yard next to the end of the hose was reassembling itself outside and would soon be knocking at the door... Twilight music swells and reaches crescendo.
    I cranked the pipe joints tight.
   Then I turned on the water.
   It sprayed out two of the connections below the sink. I cheered. It only sprayed out two connections!
   I stopped cheering when I remembered I should turn off the water!
    I got down on my hands and knees and cranked the leaking connections.
   I turned the water on again, got back down, and cheered again (hitting my hands on the underside of the sink when I raised them to cheer) when I saw that the two leaks had been stopped.
    Then I saw the water coming out of the last connection, the one with no washer.
   A smarter man than me, a more humble man not caught up in the thrill of near victory, would have run down the street to the hardware store and purchased a washer.
    I was in a hurry. I wanted to have the new "bug-less" pipes assembled and the sink working before my wife got home.
   I tightened the last connection. Stuck a pan under it, and turned on the water. The pan took the drips. It wasn't on straight.
    I'm glad I had the pan. Like a moron, I unscrewed the pipe connection, forgetting completely...that the damn pipe was FULL OF WATER!
The water dripped in my handy-dandy pan. Then, in an increasingly moronic train of thought, I did what one normally does with a pan of unwanted water...
    I dumped it in the sink. Duh!
   The water I dumped in the sink ran out the open pipe under the sink. I caught it quickly by sticking the pan I had just dumped under the open section of pipe.
   That filled the pan.
   Then I repeated the exercise... Seriously! I took the water I dumped on myself and dumped it back in the sink...caught it again. This time I learned!
   I was laughing, and that's good. I was too busy laughing to offend me with the names I called myself!
  Fortunately, I had a spool of silicon tape handy. I bought it when I replaced our shower head, an operation that went extraordinarily well compared to this one. I wrapped the hunk of pipe that had no washer with the silicon tape and reassembled it.
  Success! It didn't drip.
  I did it! I cleaned the pipes, killing the larvae (no more giggling, dancing, and laughing in there), and successfully put it all back together.
   I stood to enjoy my work. Panicked when I saw white through the drains. I had never seen white through the drain, and I cussed. I wondered what I had left in the pipes that was white.
    Duh. Nothing. For the first time ever, I was seeing the PVC itself through the drain.
   I think my wife is proud of my plumbing, but she's too smart to say so. She probably thinks it's not good to encourage me. She doesn't need to worry. I can still hear the Twilight Zone theme playing.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I Took The Kitchen Sink Apart... Lord, hear my prayer!

Have you ever noticed that a lot of really, really bad ideas sound like pure genius when you start?
...I sure have. Like mixing hot cocoa with the milkshake machine. That one resulted in me painting the kitchen ceiling. Twice! Yeah, twice. The mixer has two speeds...and...uh...yeah.

Anyhow, we've been fighting what I thought were moths. We've been fighting them since we moved into this place. The cats have become pretty adept at catching the fluttering beasties mid-air. I've been smashing them one at a time for a while, but we've never been able to get rid of them.
   My wife kept bird seed on the covered porch, the one right off the kitchen, and moths got into the house. It took me quite a while to figure out that's where they were coming from, and now we keep the bird seed in sealed plastic bins.
   It wasn't until recently that I noticed the moths were coming out of the drains in the kitchen sinks. They started out as what my grandfather called noseeums. Little gnats. I thought they were gnats, but we never had flies. Well, we had some flies after we tried an indoor composting thingie in the kitchen, but the flies went away when I decided composting is a purely outdoor activity.
   Today I decided enough was enough. I had experimented with dumping bleach down the drains, and even ammonia. That seemed to get rid of them for a while, but then a new crop would grow. I got tired of washing moth gunk (that started out as living moths) off the kitchen walls.
   This morning I did some research on line and found out that the moths aren't moths at all. They're flies. Fuzzy, flat-winged flies. Drain flies, some call them. Further research suggested buying an enzyme product that would eat the gunk in the drains where the flies lay their eggs. We didn't have any of that stuff, and rather than go somewhere to buy it, I decided to dump a bunch of random toxic liquids from under the kitchen sink into the drains. I poured a bunch of stuff down the drain. If the government knew what I dumped down there and put some scientists on it, I would probably end up on a bad boy list. I have no sense of smell, but it's probably a good thing my wife isn't home.
   Finally, I decided that the problem is gunk in the pipes, oozy gunk where flies had been laying eggs in spite of  (or because of) all the dishes done in the sink, all the stuff dumped in the sink, and because the plastic pipes had been there for years. a fit of pure genius, I took the pipes apart. It's PVC stuff, and required no tools. It's good that it required no tools. I have no mechanical ability. In fact, I've been rated by top-notch IQ testers as impaired with things mechanical.
   I don't let that stop me when I'm in a fit of moronic genius. Not me!
   I took the pipes apart under the sink. There's only four or five of them--depending on how you count pipes. There was black, oozy gunk in all of them, particularly the U-shaped one at the bottom. I took them outside and scrubbed 'em good! They're clean now. Clean as new. Take that you fuzzy moth-imitatin' flies! Ha!

There's only one problem... I have no idea how to put them back the way they were.

Now I think I'll take a nap. I'll leave my wife a note asking her to please re-assemble the kitchen sink before she uses it. Wish me luck. Something tells me I'll need it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Unless You've Lost A Ball in a Golf Simulator, You Should Feel Good About Your Game

There's an old golf joke that runs, "That course was so tough, I lost two balls in the ball washer!"

   I'm not a good golfer, I'm a very sportsman-like bad golfer. I laugh a lot on the course, and in spite of my handicap of 39, people like to golf with me. I make it fun.
   ...But I've never lost a ball in a ball washer.
   ...I lost one in a golf simulator once. Seriously!

   A golf simulator is very cool. You use your clubs, and your ball, and swing just like you would on a golf course. The ball whaps the screen, and the screen reads the ball. Your ball bounces off for easy retrieval, and a virtual ball continues its virtual journey on a virtual course on the screen.
   Bad things happen to the virtual ball, just as they would to a real ball on a real course. You can shoot off into the woods; you can splash in the water; you can whiff, you can yip, and you can hit an awesome drive.

   What you can't do, unless you're really, really inept and should be jailed before you're ever allowed to tee up in front of someone's golf simulator, is lose a ball. The club goes whoosh, the head collides with the ball with a lovely tink! The ball collides with the screen...and falls to the AstroTurf in front of the screen for easy retrieval.
   That is, of course, unless you're me.

   My buddy and I were enjoying hacking up a simulation of a world-renown golf course. He was kicking the crap out of me with far better shooting, pitching, putting, etc. We were used to that, and were enjoying ourselves. I was blaming the screen for (what I felt was) cheating me out of spectacular drives. I theorized that it was mis-reading the spin on my ball because I'm left handed. That was pure-D, Grade A horse pucky, but my amiable friend let me life large and live the lie.
  However, when I reared back for a mighty whack with my driver...and came up under and behind the ball...
   The ball went high, almost straight up. It bounced off the metal ceiling in front of the simulator, vanished behind the screen without the courtesy of ever touching it, ricocheted off whatever machinery is behind the screen...and didn't come out. I was pretty sure it beamed itself to the Starship Enterprise.
   My friend and I stared at the simulator much the same way we might have stared at Betty Crocker if she had appeared with a baseball bat instead of a spoon. We stared at the simulator and waited for it to spit my ball out, or say tilt on the screen. We said nothing to each other. We didn't look at each other. We studied the screen.
   Artificial birds tweeted. Artificial grass grew. We gaped at the screen, waiting as if somehow, my artificial ball would fall from the artificial sky.
   We were sure--without saying a word--that there was absolutely no way in hell I could send a golf ball toward a screen not ten feet away...and lose it.
   Finally (and this might have been five minutes later) I said, "I don't think it's coming back."
   "Nope," he said with the kind of aplomb that comes only after several months of hanging out with me, "I think you managed to be the first man in the history of golf simulators to lose a ball."
   I started to laugh. With a shake of my head, I dismissed the laughter. Club in hand, I stepped toward the screen and started looking up at the machinery. I couldn't see the ball anywhere. I peered behind the screen, expecting to see the ball lying back there. Nope.
   "Is there a problem, guys?" The voice belonged to the pro, the man who owned the simulator. It came from the distance, which, I hoped, meant he was still behind the counter and didn't know or suspect what I was up to.
   My friend, as helpful as a thumb tack on a chair, started laughing. I don't think he meant to, but he giggled. "He lost his ball!" he finally spat.
   The pro's voice was still mild. "What?"
   "He lost a ball in the simulator!"
   There was a pause. A silence. The kind of silence brought out only by a fit of when a pink elephant steps on your toe.
   "That's impossible," the pro said. His voice came from behind me. I turned and saw him and my friend standing by the tee. "The ball can't go anywhere."
   I kept a straight face. "Just keep telling yourself that," I said. I walked over and stood next to them. Shoved my club in my bag. "Keep telling yourself there's no way a man could lose a golf ball in a simulator. I'll go get some lunch..."
   "The hell you will," the pro said. He laughed again. "Your ball must be stuck up there." He pointed at the ceiling in the simulator. "We'll find it."
   We didn't. We went all over that thing, and didn't find my ball. Thankfully, he didn't charge me for the price of the simulator. It worked fine, even after having eaten, or disintegrating my ball. I knew better than to ask if he would give me a replacement ball. I didn't want to kill him by making him laugh the way he did when I hit a girder during a golf lesson in his indoor range and wound up on the floor with my dental work dancing around in my skull like ball bearings in a plastic cup.
   Now you know why I don't put special markings on my golf balls. I need the anonymnity that comes from having...well...plain balls.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Accidental Lessons Learned -- Improving My Handwriting and Making My Own Fountain Pen Ink

My handwriting used to be bad. Really bad. In terms of legibility, it blew chow...big time. That's not all bad. If I had good handwriting, I probably wouldn't type at a rate of 120 words per minute. Seriously. I can type. People can read what I type.
   A couple of months ago I decided it was high time I improve my handwriting. My handwriting was so bad...doctors would look at it just to feel good about theirs.
   I decided to do something about it. I turned to my wife for advice. She's a teacher, a special education teacher, and she makes Job look impatient when it comes to teaching others. I believe her response was something along the lines of, "You're screwed." Yeah. I think she said 'screwed.' I might be projecting, but I don't think so. It was hard to understand her response because she was giggling through a spray of cola.
   I didn't say I was going to have good handwriting. I didn't say I wanted to learn calligraphy. I just wanted to be able to write something on a piece of paper and have people be able to read if after I wrote it. Shoot... Let's be honest. I wanted to be able to read it after I wrote it. I refer you to the bit that looked like a joke. I wrote a note to a doctor once, and he framed it next to his handwriting just to get his nurses off his back about his handwriting.

   I've done tougher things than improve my handwriting. If you've read many of my blog posts, you know what some of them are.

   Step one was to go online and gather whatever advice I could find. There wasn't much about improving handwriting. There were a few pointers -- like writing with a fountain pen. Fountain pen nibs move differently over a piece of paper than a ballpoint pen. I was already using a fountain pen because I learned a long time ago that those slick little balls in the average pen move of their own volition over a piece of paper and leave what I wish were words as a line with some squiggles in it.
   The one tip that was already helpful was simply: slow down! I needed to slow down my handwriting and form each letter one at a time, and deliberately. Small b's gave me trouble. My little k's looked like h's, and my w's looked like obese u's.

   I started writing slowly, carefully, and a lot. It didn't matter what words I was putting on the paper. I threw away each sheet as I filled it. Whenver I had a spare moment, I wrote stuff down on pieces of paper with my fountain pen. I started to see improvement after about 90 pages of random writing.
   Then I ran out of fountain pen ink. That didn't bother me. I decided that making my own ink, and the experimentation required for such a venture would make my wife stop laughing at the pile of paper in the bottom of the wastebasket--quickly filling the basket--was only part of a more insane quest: that of creating stuff other people sell by the bottle.
   I found a fountain pen ink recipe that called for using Mrs. Stewart's Laundry Bluing. I had no idea what laundry bluing was--but I do now, and I'm glad I know. Mrs. Stewart's Bluing is iron oxide, sold in the laundry aisle at the grocery store, and makes whites whiter by adding a wee bit of blue dye. 
   Cool! That's a different post for another day, but adding blue stuff to your whites makes the whites whiter by tricking the eye somehow. Seriously! My white shirts are really white now. Almost blindingly so.

   The ink recipe I found called for using 3 parts bluing and 1 part water. I mixed some up in an empty baby food jar and started writing with it. Writing a lot. Making each letter of each word slowly and deliberately. Know what?
   It wasn't good ink. I ended up with a bright blue that was the color of a highlighter. I used the bluing in the laundry and improved the white of my whites (Fruit o' the Looms like new!), and my handwriting was getting better. I tried using less water in the bluing, and finally tried to write with just the bluing. What I learned was that the bluing isn't dark enough to be fountain pen ink.
   It took me 50 pages of writing whatever came to mind, slowly and deliberately, with k's, b's, v's, and h's that were starting to look like they meant what they were supposed to mean. Did all that while wearing freakishly white shirts and underwear. I was so proud, I skipped pants for a while!
   Eventually, I added the little bit of black fountain pen ink I had to the bluing, and ended up with a midnight blue fountain pen ink that works great and looks great. My handwriting still isn't great, and probably never will be, but the complaints have stopped. People can read what I write, and each letter of the alphabet is starting to to resemble itself. My shirts are white (something about that blue tint makes white seem whiter), and the chapters I haven't  been writing while I've been practicing my handwriting, have been stewing in my head. Now I'm ready to continue Sexton Retribution (Sexton Chronicles V) with the confidence of a man who, when asked to autograph his books, won't leave the reader wondering what the hell he inscribed inside the front cover.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Attempt to Start A New National Holiday -- You Bastard, You Bastard.

I told the clerks at the Dollar General store it was National You Bastard Day. (They were already laughing at something else when I stepped to the counter, those two young ladies.) I don't know what tick of the brain makes me try things like this, but something triggered my funny bone when I went to the Dollar General store this afternoon.
   The smiling woman with the ponytail said, "That'll be $5.95."
   I said, "It's National You Bastard Day. You're supposed to say, You bastard, you bastard, after every comment. It's a friendly, you bastard, you bastard, not a mean one. Spreads joy around the room."
  They laughed.
  I said, "Here's six dollars, you bastards, you bastards."
  They laughed. "Five cents is your change," the one with the ponytail said.
  "...You bastard, you bastard..."
  They laughed again. "I can't say that," she giggled. "There are people behind you."
  "Those bastards, those bastards..." I grinned on my way out the door.
  I put my purchases on the front seat, and remembered the reason I went to the Dollar General in the first place was my new-found love of the generic grape soda. I don't know what possessed me to buy it in the first place, but I bought a two-liter bottle of it for 89 cents and to my surprise, I like the stuff.
   I went back in and the two clerks were alone again, having taken care of the other customers with the speed of light, and, I'm sure, without the you bastard, you bastard, I had instructed them was important on this new national holiday.
   I picked up a bottle of the generic grape soda and walked again to the counter. I said, "I got in the car and a voice said, You forgot the grape soda, you bastard, you bastard." 
   They laughed. One rang me up and told me the price. I said, "You forgot to add you bastard, you bastard. How can we perpetuate this National You Bastard, You Bastard day if we don't stick to tradition?"
  She said, "I would really like to...but there's people..."
  I raised a finger, kindly. "There's people, you bastard, you bastard."
  The other clerk had to walk away. She was caught in a fit of giggling. There were two older ladies behind me. I told them it was National You Bastard, You Bastard Day, and I wished them a happy one. My wife says I'm lucky I'm a cute little devil. Both of the older ladies, and the clerk were laughing.
  Have a nice day! ...You bastard, you bastard. I'm sure that was their parting thought as I walked back to my car with my grape soda.