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Dad's on Deadline: A very special weekend with a snake

I was on the roof, feeding a 50-foot drain snake into a 2-inch black PVC pipe that, theoretically, contained the unholy mass of egg shells, oatmeal and other garbage-disposaled gunk that had rendered both my kitchen sink and washing machine completely useless.

Then resistance.

“Anything happening?” I hollered downward. Nothing.

“Hellooo anything happen?” Nothing.

This was definitely not how the day was supposed to go.

It was a very special Saturday for my wife and me, because it fell on Date Weekend (DW), during which our oldest had agreed (sucker!) to babysit his three younger siblings, leaving mom and dad completely, utterly, gloriously alone. Over the next 45.25 hours — but who’s counting? — even our most mundane thoughts would be allowed to linger in our heads for longer than 2.3 milliseconds.

I love my kids, but when my wife walked through our front door after having dropped them off, a light whose ethereal purity could only have beamed here straight from Heaven itself exploded through the entryway and seemed to bathe our house with the joy and wonder of a thousand unspoken prayers. She looked at me, and I looked at her, and it was as if we were experiencing each other for the first time.

“I’m Joe,” I said. I didn’t really say that, but I should have.

We had big plans. First, we were going to do nothing. Then, more nothing. Then, the plan was to write or something before wandering back over to the nothing couch. Somewhere along the way we got to talking about the clogged drain. It was supposed to be fixed in a few days, and there was no earthly reason why we should have expended even one brain cell on the problem, but when parents who have grown accustomed to shoving forks full of food into their mouths en route to piano practice suddenly find themselves swimming in free time, you’d be surprised what they find worthy of it.

The silence was deafening. The house had rarely been cleaner, which was great, but that also makes the flaws stand out. We started noticing things. Maybe we should finally paint the coffee table. Nah. Break out the label-maker and organize? Pass. I looked up at the verse scrawled on our family room wall. Philippians 4:8. It reads, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praise worthy, think of such things.”

At least that’s what it’s supposed to say, but the stickiness of the wall words “of” and “such” failed months ago, creating a much less profound summary to the verse and, strangely, a fantastic conversation starter.

“What does that mean, ‘think things?’” they ask.

“Don’t worry about it, it’s over your head,” I answer (and it literally is).

So that’s approximately where our minds were early on in DW when plumbing came up. The water was halfway up the sink, actually, and it took about five seconds for that to become the most exciting part of our first night alone (kids, stay with the one you love for 25 years and you too can experience such intimacy). Gosh, we thought out loud, it’d sure feel good to unclog the drain ourselves, save some money. How hard could it be? Google, Google, Google. Nothing to it!

Off to Lowe’s we went Saturday morning, determined to find the right tool for the job, buy it and fix the problem like the responsible homeowners we were. Easier said than done.

“It’s overwhelming,” says my wife, a wall of plumbing tools before her. “Look, that one’s inflatable. Oh, this one’s motorized. How long does it need to be?” (Note: This is how parents always talk when kids aren’t around).

We asked somebody for help and eventually walked out with a 50-footer, and 30 minutes later I was on the roof being manly. You’ll never guess what happened next. Nothing. Turns out, 50 feet wasn’t quite long enough because when I pulled it out half an hour later all I had to show for my hard work was a slightly damp snake and at least a page of euphemisms, none of which were appropriate for a family newspaper.

My frustration at this colossal waste of time had just started to dissipate by the time I found a storage place for our new, useless device which will likely never be used again. I entered the kitchen to the sight of my wife holding a plunger over the sink. Some background: Every time we use a plunger on the kitchen sink, the J-trap bursts open and all the sink water spills into the kitchen. There are no exceptions to this rule.

“I really want to try the plunger,” she said. “Do you think I should?”


“I’m going to.”

Every towel in the house. That, plus a handful of random cleaning rags scavenged from the garage, is what it took to mop up the foul, putrid water that gushed across our kitchen floor. It was deep enough to skip a stone. So that was Saturday. But don’t waste your tears on us. Saturday night was much better. We watched Ocean’s 12 (or was it 13 they’re all the same). And Sunday? We actually did get some writing done, and talking, and reminiscing, and absolutely no plumbing.

So as these times continue to stretch us and occasionally snap us, as we absorb one gut punch after another, and as each of our self-contained little worlds seem to contract under the weight of it all, have no fear. Instead, remember those wise words never written but oft uttered to nobody in particular before a certain wall in a certain loud, musty Medford home: think things.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

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