Our first apartment had character. The walls were papered in a soft, yellow flock; the floors were covered by a blue-green wool carpet. The kitchen wallpaper resembled 1970s pop art, done in shiny, mustard tones. However, it was over 60 years old, and accordingly, it had charm. It had a fireplace. It had an ideal location.
It also had old plumbing, as we discovered two weeks after returning from our honeymoon. Admittedly, the first clog was our fault. (I don't know any garbage disposal capable of digesting an entire pineapple.) However, a couple of bottles of Drano cleared that problem in short order.
Four days later, our plumbing problems resurfaced. Since the only thing that had been dumped down the drain was leftover soup, we weren't sure what the cause of the clog was. Two bottles of Drano and 20 minutes of plunging later, we succeeded in backing the disposal up into the dishwasher and all over the floor.
After we'd bailed out the resulting flood and poured it into the yard, our linoleum was sparkling, and both the grass and our tempers were suffering.
Stumped and feeling slightly sheepish, we called our landlord, who kindly snaked the pipes with temporary, and limited, success. Twenty minutes later (figuring we'd let sleeping landlords lie), we raced to a hardware store and bought the biggest bottle of build-up remover we could carry.
The label on the bottle advised us not to be discouraged if there were no immediate results. After four days, however, washing dishes in the bathtub was no longer the pioneering thrill it used to be, and the kitchen still smelled of Drano.
That morning, my husband left for work, vowing to fix the sink when he returned. (I left for work, vowing never to return.) That night, we dusted off our Yankee ingenuity and dug out the plumbing snake.
We sent it slithering into every pipe we could find. We even dismantled the dishwasher, after bailing it out again. My husband shoveled suds with a dustpan, while I wielded a turkey baster a wedding guest had thoughtfully provided us. The glow from the flashlight was filtered romantically through chemically-induced fumes. It was rather cozy - until our eyes started burning and the sponge disintegrated.
At 10 o'clock, we moved our activities back down to the basement, where we attracted the attention of our landlord. He came down to help (and to make sure we hadn't damaged the pipes), and our lesson in creative plumbing began.
After a brief brainstorming session, we attached a garden hose to the laundry sink's spout, stuffed it as far down the pipe as it would reach, and turned the water on high. The sludge that poured out can only be described as noxious. It was the color of motor oil, the consistency of congealed grease, and smelled like moldy mushrooms. It spattered all over the floor and our T-shirts and filled half of a 20-gallon drum.
When we could no longer stand the smell, we turned the water off and stuck the snake back into the pipe. My husband got the implement to obediently turn several corners and travel the length of the basement. Back in went the garden hose, on went the water, and this time nothing came spewing out. I raced upstairs and, hesitantly at first, turned on the kitchen faucet. The resulting gurgle as the water flowed merrily down the drain was one of the most wished-for sounds I have ever heard. Leaving the water running in celebration, I went back downstairs to help clean things up. My husband, the landlord, and I all grinned in triumphant camaraderie. We had become a special breed: We were do-it-yourselfers.
That weekend, we traveled to upstate New York to my brother-in-law's wedding shower. He and his fiancee recently purchased a charming, old stone cottage. We gave them a bucket, two industrial-size sponges, a snake, and a plunger. "Here," we said, "You might need these."