Sunday, January 30, 2011

FML: Bathroom Issues

About a week ago, our bathroom sink started to drain more and more slowly. At first, it didn’t seem like anything to be too concerned about, but eventually the toothpaste-y water left over in the sink was taking so long to drain that the porcelain was left coated with white film, which I of course had to scrub off later, after it had dried.

So I decided to take my first tried-and-true step in home repairs: I poured boiling water down the drain. Alas, to no avail.

Step two involved using a mysterious flaky white substance labeled “glug” that my father gave to me when I moved into my apartment. This substance worked reasonably well when my kitchen sink had been draining slowly, so I was hoping for similar results in the bathroom. Unfortunately, the cleared drain only lasted one night; by the next morning, the toothpaste-y water was back.

My next idea was to combine the two aforementioned solutions. The directions on the glug indicated using “hot water” to flush it down the drain, so boiling water might actually work better. Unfortunately, this did not produce any different results: after one night of a clear drain, the sink was back to remaining full of water.

Finally, on Thursday, I decided to get serious and go to Home Depot. In the meantime, I asked R___ to find some other possible methods for unclogging the sink drain. He found a method that suggested using an entire box of baking soda and salt, but this unfortunately did not work, either, and so I returned home with two additional solutions: a Zip-It and a bottle of Pequa.

A Zip-It is essentially a long strip of plastic with little hooked notches running up each side. You shove it down a drain and then use the little handle at the top to pull it back up, along with whatever debris it snags.

This video shows how a Zip-It is supposed to work. In my case, the thing simply got stuck on the notches in the drainpipe and, once R___ finally managed to get it out, pulled up a whole lot of nothing.

Thus, we embarked upon our final solution: the Pequa. Pequa touts itself as “industrial strength drain opener,” and I chose it over Draino only because a Home Depot employee pointed it out while I was in the store. It works exactly the same way as Draino: pour some liquid down the drain, wait a few hours, and then flush the drain with warm water. We followed the instructions, only when we went to “flush out” the drain, the water backed all the way up into the sink . . . and sat there.

Finally, I was forced to resort to my final solution: calling the landlord. We had exhausted all other possibilities and were still left with a sink full of dirty water. So I rang T___, my landlord, and explained the situation. He informed me that he was out of town but that he would come over on Saturday. So for the rest of Thursday and all of Friday, R___ and I resorted to brushing our teeth in the kitchen sink and taking out our contacts over a closed toilet lid rather than the bathroom sink.

Finally, Saturday arrived. I have a standing “swim date” on Saturday mornings, so I woke up early to get ready and catch the PATH train to NYC. I was set to leave, dressed in a swim suit, sweatpants, hoodie, winter coat, and sneakers, and stepped into the bathroom to grab my toothpaste and toothbrush when I glanced at the sink and stopped cold. There was no water in it. Frantically, I turned on the spigot and watched in shock as the water poured straight down our now-perfectly-clear drain. How had this happened?

Before leaving, I scribbled a note to R___, informing him about the magically unblocked drain and also about the newly malfunctioning toilet, which insisted on filling to the brim with water before flushing, and then only giving a tepid “gulp” at the waste in the toilet bowl. I figured that T___ may as well still come over and take a look at that, rather than my calling and telling him the sink had been a false alarm. I also figured that I would call him once I reached the city and ask if he could come to our apartment a little later in the afternoon so that R___ wouldn’t have to contend with everything alone. However, not thirty seconds after I stepped off of the PATH train in NYC, my cell phone rang. T___ was calling to inform me that he was on his way over. Panicked, I called R___ to a) wake him up and b) make sure he would let T___ into the apartment.

Five minutes later, R___ texted me to inform me that the landlord had tried to clear the sink drain but that it was already clear. “Yeah, I know,” I texted back. “Have him check the toilet.” By that time, however, T___ had left, meaning that I was left not only looking like an irresponsible tenant (essentially “the girl who cried wolf”) but also with a malfunctioning toilet.

Of course, malfunctioning appliances (is a toilet considered an appliance?) will only put up with so much before they retaliate. R___ had the pleasure of experiencing our toilet’s vengeance that afternoon, when he flushed the toilet promptly regurgitated its contents all over the bathroom floor. Consequently, I was awoken from my afternoon nap by various curse words and a shout of, “Hey, can you come help me with this?”

How to salvage the remains of your bathroom after a toilet attack:
  1. First, make sure to finish plunging the toilet so that it will be certain to work properly the next time you use it. There’s already plenty of smelly water on the floor, so a little more won’t hurt.
  2. Next, take off your socks and throw them out. Wipe off your feet with some wet soapy paper towels and then change into shorts and flip flops. You are about to get dirty.
  3. If you don’t have a mop and there are two or more people in the apartment/house, have one person go out and buy a mop while the other person carefully removes everything from the bathroom that rests on the floor. Person #2: be careful to wipe off the bottom of everything with cleaning wipes or, at the very least, a warm soapy dish cloth. Depending what you store on your floors—as opposed to in cabinets, closets, etc—you may be forced to throw out a number of unsalvageable items such as anything stored in a cardboard box, floor rugs, etc.
  4. Now gather two buckets. Person #1 should use the mop to soak up as much of the water on the floor as possible and squeeze this water out of the mop and into the first bucket. Person #2 should, meanwhile, make a solution out of water and Chlorox.
  5. When all of the dirty water has been removed from the bathroom floor, mop the floor with the Chlorox solution. Wait ten minutes, and mop with the solution again.
  6. When the floor has dried, test the toilet several times before returning all of your possessions to the bathroom. The last thing you want to do is to put everything back, flush the toilet, and go through this process again!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Random Advice from a Homeless Man

When I leave work, I typically exit through the back doors, which open out onto a promenade along the Hudson River. Every day, on my way to the train station, I pass a homeless man who sits on one of the benches along the promenade. Every day, to every person passing by, he repeats his mantra, "Sparealittlechange, please? Sparealittlechange?"

One day, rather than averting my eyes and hurrying past, I looked directly at him and smiled (while hurrying past). Seeing that I wasn't stopping to give him anything, he said, "Have a good day, sweetheart," and I replied, "You too." After that, we started to acknowledge one another on a regular basis.

When the weather got colder, I began to add comments like, "Stay warm!" and "Make sure you get inside soon." Therefore, it was not unusual for me to tell him, a few days ago, "Put on some gloves! Your hands must be freezing."

"Nah, I don't like 'em," he replied. "Too constrictive."

I continued to walk past, when suddenly, out of the blue, he added, "And your husband, get him to root for the Steelers!"

Turning in shock, I smiled and raised my hands in the air. "I'm from Pittsburgh. I'm going to root for the Steelers!"

And then I went home and informed my boyfriend, who is a Cowboys fan, that he is required to root for the Steelers. Because even a homeless man said so.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Snapshot Book Review: The Blind Side

The Blind Side: Evolution of a GameThe Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would really like to rate this book with more than 3 stars. However, as a memoir or biography (of left tackle Michael Oher), it feels too fact-y, and as a commentary on the evolution of the game of football, it feels too much like a narrative. Therefore, as much as I enjoyed learning more about football through this book, I cannot give it a higher rating.

Football fans who already know most of the facts, rules, plays, and superstars described in this book will (I expect) quickly become bored waiting for the personal details of the narrative to resurface, while anyone ignorant of the game must expend too much energy figuring out all the technical details and remembering all of the players, coaches, and teams to enjoy the narrative that serves as the book's structure. This was my reading experience. It took me far too long to get interested in this book, because I am not a football aficionado, and that is essentially how the book starts. I was more interested in the character study, which developed later. However, once that part of the book began in earnest, I was so wrapped up trying to learn and remember the details of football, I felt as though I was being interrupted when Lewis began focusing on Michael Oher's life again. This back-and-forth did not make for a compelling, coherent reading, and although I enjoyed both the narrative of Oher's life and the opportunity to improve my knowledge of football, I enjoyed these things separately in spite of their being combined within one book.

I have heard that this is a movie (starring Sanda Bullock, no less), and I honestly think that this may be the one instance where the book is better than the movie. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to see this movie and make my own judgements.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Perspectives On the Go

When I am driving a car, whether in Pittsburgh, New York City, or Jersey City, I tense up the moment I see a cyclist. Here I am, trying to control this massive hunk of metal, and there goes some guy, exposed to the elements, wearing little more than an eggshell strapped to his head, pedaling away on that flimsy toothpick-thick vehicle. Right there in my lane! Merely driving a car is a big enough responsibility; I don’t need the added stress of trying to avoid hitting him.

When I am riding a bicycle, however, I fully expect the cars to swerve around me. If they can’t move a little closer to that double yellow line in the middle of the street, then they don’t deserve to be driving a car at all. And anyway, shouldn’t they feel some sort of compassion? Here I am, subject to wind and rain and dirt particles and deafening horn blasts, trying to burn a few calories and save a little ozone layer by riding my bike, and these big bullies in their hatchbacks and SUVs can’t scoot over three inches to give me a little breathing room.

Then, as I'm cycling along, minding my own business, a pedestrian steps out into the street. No matter if they are five feet or five yards in front of me, I start to panic. Are they going to get out of my way quickly enough? Can I possible brake in time if they don’t? I’m terribly bad at swerving, and there’s no way I’ll ever make it up onto that curb. How dare they step out like that! Didn’t they see me coming? I’m practically a pedestrian, too!

My most frequent mode of transportation, however, is by foot. And when I am crossing the street and see a bicyclist careening toward me, I deliberately keep my pace even and unhurried. Cyclists are driving vehicles, technically, so they’re subject to traffic laws, too! And a red light means “Stop!”

With cars, on the other hand, I’ll take my chances. Even if that crosswalk light has turned red, I probably have enough time to get across the street. After all, what are they going to do, hit me?

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Problem with Blogging

Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, or, if not easier, at least better. Word processing gives us tools like format painter and auto-correct—features no typewriter or mechanical pencil ever could. Email and the Internet have enabled us to communicate faster, father, and cheaper than any other form of communication. With microchips, we can now take cabinets, closets, and even warehouses full of information and distill that information down into a slice of metal no larger than a fingernail.

These are undeniably improvements upon “how we did things before.” What has not improved, however, is what all “advances” are supposed to better: our quality of life. Yes, I value the ability to chat with my Singaporean friend via gmail rather than scheduling expensive phone calls over a thirteen-hour time difference. And yes, it is fun to see pictures of my old babysitting charges on Facebook—something I never would be able to do if pictures were all still printed from film and kept in photo albums. However, the mandatory nature of computers in personal and—particularly—professional life has actually diminished my appreciation for all of these technological perks that I now take for granted.

I can still recall when I used to feel excited about using a computer: in junior high school, I had to beg my parents to let me commandeer our phone line for “just an hour” in order to check my Juno email account and sign into what was, at that time, the newest craze: chat rooms! In high school, I hurried to get my schoolwork done so that I could spend the rest of the night chatting with my friends K8y99 and SnOEcone59 and downloading music on LimeWire. In college, I spent more time reading textbooks and copying down notes by hand than I spent working on a computer, so checking my email was still exciting; back then, I looked forward to finding emails in my Inbox almost as much as finding physical letters in my CPU box. Computers were necessary (as many of my professors would never have let me turn in a hand-written report), but they were not yet mandatory—they did not yet dictate the pattern of my day.

Then I had to get a Real Job. Until I graduated from college, I had only ever worked standing-up, hands-on sorts of jobs: delivering newspapers around my neighborhood, lifeguarding at community pools, brewing espresso and cutting brownies at the campus coffee shop. I took a few summer internships that involved desk work, but most of these were part-time and, therefore, allowed me to continue to work one of my “active” jobs.

Then graduation arrived. Soon after leaving college, I took the job at Wiley and became one more slave laborer on a cubicle farm. Every day, I come in, hang up my coat, and log onto my computer. While the machine sets itself up, I change my shoes, boil a cup of tea, check my mail slot (and my boss’s), and finally settle in front of the computer screen for the next 4 hours. At noon, I usually go for a half-hour run, just to have an excuse to leave my seat and breathe some fresh air, and then settle back down at that computer for the last 3-4 hours of my day.

As you can see, I spend an average of 7 hours each day in front of a computer. This means that of the approximately 16 hours I am awake on any given weekday, nearly half of those hours are spent chained (and I use that word only vaguely figuratively) to a computer. Now, instead feeling excitement at receiving a personal email, I cringe, knowing that I will have to take the time to reply to it when I get home from work. Which, of course, means spending more time in front of a computer.

Which, ultimately, brings me to the problem of blogging. Blogging is one more activity that must be done on a computer. And quite honestly, the last thing I want to do when I come home from work—where I have already spent most of my waking staring at a computer screen—is be on a computer. I have no desire to reply to emails, look at Facebook, browse YouTube, or, alas, sign onto This, I must admit, is the primary reason my blog entries have trailed off over the past couple years: not because I dislike writing or have found fewer things to say, but because when I finally have the time to write a post, I must begin by sitting down at a computer—the biggest struggle of all.