Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kitchen Sink Crisis: Tough Lessons from Home Economics

Biodegradable Potatoware

We should have seen it coming. Our kitchen sink was draining slower than usual. But nobody in the house took action to address the problem preemptively. After all, it still worked well enough, and we are all just renters. Our landlord is unlikely to respond to such a trifling complaint as a slow drain. And in a house of economics graduate students, we all theoretically have more important things to do than to call him.

The next thing we know, we have a full blown crisis on our hands. The sink is entirely full of sludgy water, vegetable particles, and a sponge or two that have seen better days. Dishes seem to pile up all at once (we have no dishwasher). We analyze the situation. Did someone pour coffee grinds down the drain? The bathroom sink seems to be draining slower too. Or was it always like that? No, it is definitely slower now. Is there a common cause?

We cut back on our dish usage. We soak our dishes in a half inch of water, and wash efficiently, flinging water off of the back porch. We discretely wash a thing or two in the 5th floor restroom of Evans Hall (why is it so much larger than the 6th floor restroom?)

We call the landlord. Urgent, take action now! He promises to send relief the next day.

Relief is a day late, but arrives at last. The contract is awarded to our landlord's crony. He begins to attack our sink with a plunger. Thunk, thunk, thunk. We wait with baited breath. Is it working? we ask each other. The thunking continues. Our kitchen looks disgusting, and I notice that the rest of the house isn't much better.   I clean my room. By the time I have moved onto the hall closet, the handyman has moved on to unconventional tools. By the time I vacuum, he is applying the unconventional tools to the bathtub. I was not aware that the crisis had spread to the bathtub.

The bathtub fills with gray water and refuses to drain. An adverse consequence of the unconventional tools, or the unavoidable next stage in the unfolding crisis? We have no way of knowing the counterfactuals.

At this time our handyman announces that the problem is not with the indoor plumbing, his domain, but with the outdoor plumbing. Powerless to do more, he leaves. Now we wait, hoping our landlord will consider the tub too big to fail.

What does our future have in store? Will sponge baths in Evans become culturally acceptable? Will we grow habituated to eating with Berkeley-friendly disposable plasticware made of potato products? Will we take the plunger into our own hands? When we finally get through this, will we retain our water-conserving washing habits? Will we respond more quickly to signs of future household crises? Will my clean room last until the weekend? For now, we can only speculate and blog.

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