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"Sink or Swim"

05/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Because I am a journalist with only the lowest standards, there is no level to which I would not sink, no depths I would not plumb, for column material. This column is a classic example because the laundry room sink recently became clogged with material I can't describe in a family newspaper. Drained after several pathetically futile attempts to solve the problem, I called a plumber.

Harry Strawsacker, 63, the burly, friendly owner of Brookhaven Plumbing and Heating, showed up at precisely the promised time wearing a cap with a picture of a fish on it.

"You're a fisherman," I said. "I guess you can't stay out of water."

Harry nodded. "Fresh water, salt water or dirty water, I'm always in it," he replied.

The dirty kind was in the sink, which is used primarily as a receptacle for soap suds and linty residue from the washing machine.

"We're only two people here," my wife, Sue, told Harry, "but I'm always doing laundry."

The sink is also where I wash the litter boxes belonging to our three cats.

"You've got a lot of stuff down there," Harry said.

I told him that I had tried to unclog the sink with three applications of a liquid plumbing product that had about as much effect on the clog as a bottle of beer would have on a bowling ball. Then I took a piece of wire and attempted to dislodge the blockage. The wire broke.

After that, I called a national plumbing chain for an estimate that rivaled the gross national product of Finland. I will not identify the company, but I am not a rooter of its roto service.

Finally, I phoned Harry.

"This job calls for an electric sewer cleaning machine," he said.

As Harry spun the contraption's long cable through the pipe next to the washer, he spun tales of his many plumbing and heating adventures.

"One guy called me last week at 11 o'clock at night because his bathtub was clogged up," Harry related. "I said, 'Can it wait until morning?' He said no because he wanted to take a bath and that my ad in the Yellow Pages said I offered 24-hour service. I asked him how long the tub had been clogged and he said, 'About a month.' I said, 'Do me a favor: Rip out the page with my ad on it and throw it away.' Then I said, 'You don't have to tell me where you live because I'll be able to smell it.' Some people are unbelievable."

Like the woman who smelled smoke in her bedroom, where she had a fireplace, but didn't do anything about it for two weeks. "She went to work one day," Harry said, "and when she came home, she saw that her house had burned down."

Then there was the guy whose home became a skating rink while he was in Florida. "His boiler blew and the house froze," Harry said. "The pipes busted and the water kept running. His car was caked in ice, the cabinets were frozen and the floor had buckled. The guy called me from Florida and said, 'Meet me at the house tomorrow morning.' He took one look, handed me the keys and said, 'Here, take care of the house. I'm going back to Florida.' You can't make this stuff up."

The worst people are the "weekend warriors," said Harry, adding that he often gets calls on Sunday nights from women who say, "My husband tried to fix the toilet and there's water all over the place."

Harry fixed the sink for a fraction of the previous estimate and, as a complimentary service, took care of a small problem in an upstairs toilet.

"Now," Harry said with a smile as he left, "your wife won't have to call me on Sunday night."

Stamford Advocate columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of "Leave It to Boomer." More info at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. E-mail: JerryZ111@optonline.net.

Copyright 2010 by Jerry Zezima