Toilet plungers really do suck: They stick to faces


Call the health department. Plumbing disease is contagious.

We left town and all our drain problems behind and headed to the coast. I lugged everything into our tidy little place and made a bee-line to the bathroom when a guest* large smelly boy said, “Oh, that toilet is weird.”

I flushed it. It burbled back at me.

We have lugged everything to this tidy little place** for nearly 18 years. It has two toilets, two tubs and four sinks. Never, in all that time, have I had to plunge a large clump of goo.

The Mini Pro Sink and Drain Plunger: like a joystick.  Monument ToolsAs I realized I was having another plumbing panic — my third in a week — part of me was in a suspended state of disbelief while the other looked for a plunger. In vain.

Here I had a lovely view of the Pacific Ocean, but I was roughing it. I did not have my impressive array of drain-cleaning implements.

I rummaged under sinks and in closets until I found one pathetic-looking plunger. It wasn’t a designer model. No sucky lips. No caddy.

I was embarrassed for its nakedness so I searched through the cupboards for a proper caddy. But remember, we’re roughing it. I didn’t find even a cheap Tupperware container.

I pushed the plunger up and down to no avail. It had a big problem. It didn’t suck. That’s when I did what any sensible amateur plumber would do. I went to dinner.

On the way home we stopped by a one-stop shopping store (yes, the very chain where the flashy, brazen garden nozzles are lined up in a red light district). My grocery list? Milk. Eggs. Juice. Plunger.

And cookie dough. We have a tradition at the beach of baking cookies each night. But remember, we’re roughing it. So we don’t actually make the dough. We just bake it. After we buy it.

One of the large smelly boys and I were picking out what kind of cookie dough to buy in a package when we both said, “Look, it comes in a tub!”

I compared prices. Sure enough. The tub was cheaper by volume. Then I realized we’d gain a bonus. We’d gain a plunger caddy. But we’d have to bake a lot of cookies.***

The basket was full: Milk. Eggs. Juice. Cookie dough. And I thought, “What else?” As I searched my brain, the large smelly boys discovered the squeaky dog toys. They were merrily squeaking away when it hit me: “Plunger! We need a plunger!”

I turned around and the bathroom cleaning products were right there. I quickly found a plunger — with sucky lips — but no caddy. I grabbed it, but I wanted a designer model. I wanted sucky lips AND a caddy. I wanted the plumbing department. So I turned to the large smelly boys, put down the basket full of supplies plus the imperfect caddy-less plunger, and this actually came out of my mouth:

“Stay and play with the chew toys until I get back.”

I found the plumbing department. If the flashy, brazen garden nozzles make up the red light district, then the big, beautiful, impressive array of drain-cleaning implements make up Wall Street. All flash, no action. All marketing, no engineering. They take your money but your toilet stays clogged. A few prizes in stock:

— A plastic faux wicker model for $8 off.

— A “Heavy Duty Toilet Plunger” for only $5.99 that looked like something Bamm-Bamm would use.

— One in a caddy that wasn’t good enough but it had marketing language only an ad person could love: “Hide-a-Plunger [Really!]. Includes Plunger With Flange [all A-line skirt but no sucky lips]. Storing a plunger in style! Now you can keep your floors clean and your plunger handy. Maximum plunger power.”

— Something called a Drain King (obviously not marketed at the more feminine amateur plumbers among us). The label comes in French and English. “Unclogs drains” looks romantic and slightly sinful as “Debouche les egouts.” Egads!

I wanted sucky lips AND a caddy. I was going to have to settle for either/or. But I found something else. I found a cute little yellow number that looked curiously like a joystick. For only $3.99 I could have a Mini Pro for “maximum plunging power, for sink, tub and shower drain.”

Gasp. This joystick was possibly the answer to my gray filthy mess in the big city. With a little glee I picked it up. I had a new addition to my impressive array of drain-cleaning implements. I could see the success story unfolding before me. Maybe I could write it off. $3.99 never looked so good on my taxes.

I went back to the large smelly boys. They had abandoned the squeaky chew toys and were sticking the imperfect caddy-less plunger to the floor. They got excited when they saw my cute little yellow number that looked curiously like a joystick. They asked to carry it. Along with their other new plunger toy.

I said fine but — this actually came out of my mouth — “Don’t lose the labels.”

We walked to the checkout. I put on the conveyer belt: Milk. Eggs. Juice. Cookie dough.

The checker started scanning our supplies. I opened my wallet. I turned to grab our new plunger toys. Each boy had one stuck to his face. But there were no labels. On either of them.

From the chew toys to the checkout, two large smelly boys managed to lose two labels on two new plunger toys.

“Go find those labels!” I said. One frantically looked around and produced a label. But the other label — for the cute little yellow number that looked curiously like a joystick — was clearly missing.

I looked at the two large smelly boys. They looked at me with the new plunger toys stuck to their faces. The checkout clerk looked at the two large smelly boys. They looked at him with the new plunger toys stuck to their faces. The guy behind us in line — who had a shaved head and a half rack of Pabst Blue Ribbon — rolled his eyes and turned to find another checkout.

“No! Wait!” I told him. “We’ll buy our stuff and go through the line again.”

So I paid. And waited. For the large smelly boys to come up with a label for the cute little yellow number that looked curiously like a joystick.

They returned with a new one that had a label. The clerk scanned it, I paid cash, and he handed me my new plunger toy — the one without the label.

I said, “I need the label.”

He said, “You need the label?”

I said, “Yeah. I want to write down the information.”

To be accurate. And this actually came out of my mouth:

“I have journalistic ethics.”

— Laura Grimes

*Our parenting thinking is so warped that we actually bring along an extra large smelly boy to mitigate the bickering between our two household large smelly boys.

**We’ve owned a tiny condo with three other families for nearly 18 years. In that time, we’ve e-mailed with them and have had pleasant phone chats. Met them? No. If we were lucky enough to sell the place tomorrow we wouldn’t be able to pay for a year’s tuition of college. Even at a public university.

***The cookies get bigger every night as we race to finish the tub of dough before we have to leave. Will we finish it in time? Will we get a new plunger caddy?