Sometimes a plugged toilet demonstrates the value of “Made in U.S.A.” labels.

Before you scoff too loudly, consider the background for that patriotic statement. This scribbler uses an electric razor to prune stubble from his chin. The resulting accumulation of swept-up whisker stubs typically covers a square inch at the bottom of a small red bucket.

A quick dump of the bucket sends less than a thimble worth of stubble into the “facility” maw and a twist of scribbler’s puny left wrist dumps the barely visible mound onto a gurgling theoretical trip to stubble heaven.

The human energy involved in that few moments of facial grooming and waste disposal requires no more ergs than a tree uses to drop a piece of fruit ground-ward. An erg is a scientific term for a small unit of work and energy. Think of the classic definition of an erg as a micro mouse-fart. By the way, that embarrassing exaggeration is from a storyteller with far too little serious mileage on his quill.

The insignificant total energy used is also the amount of time in micro-ergs this scribbler spent contemplating the formula bequeathed us from 19th century scientist Oscar Erg.

That erg-ward digression ignores the juxtaposition necessary to assign value to the patriotic labels in the first sentence. Plugged toilets are typically the provenance of the invention that receives far less praise than it deserves: the toilet plunger or plumbers’ friend. In most homes Scribbler visits, that helpful hardware stands patiently awaiting the call to action before another visitor crosses the threshold.

Scribbler and his wife live in a home that was crafted about 160 years ago. As plumbing ages and the number of flushes increase exponentially, predictable wear and tear make the trip to stubble heaven more tortuous.

That’s where Earl, our plumbing savior, enters this household drama. He doesn’t always perform miracles only on our aging labyrinth of pipes and ducts; our cellar muddle includes enough tanks and plenums to challenge his vast familiarity of the how-to inventory of plumbing repair.

That’s where this scribbler’s second most used plumbing equipment, duck tape, enters the fray. That sticky stuff really is all its quacked up to be. But that’s another part of this unworthy yarn about the noble Earl.

A digression into how this writer was introduced to Earl’s skills: A blowhard neighbor told another neighbor he could install a drain at no cost to help remove water from a second-floor shower. That statement was mostly true except for the part where the allegedly skilled neighbor required repeal of the laws of gravity to make his alleged skills useful.

An admittedly unskilled neighbor with multiple college degrees and sufficient common sense to recognize that water has as much chance of draining uphill as this scribbler has of writing Shakespearian sonnets or similarly acceptable paragraphs. Degreed neighbor has the same plumbing acumen as scribbler and called Earl to make the repair. Scribbler was asked to house sit while Earl transformed the plumbing crazy quilt into a useful device that would let water drain downhill.

Sufficient to report after a few simple twists of wrenches and pipe cutter, the muddle of pipes brought forth a repeal of anti-gravity and the plumbing nightmare.

That was almost a decade ago and nobody since has mentioned the errant neighbor’s inelegant waterway and Scribbler and wife have thanked their lucky stars for the accidental discovery of Earl.

During a recent plumbing outage, Earl examined Scribbler’s collection of ineffective plumber friends that had done little more than transform Scribbler’s right bicep into a painful knot. He then explained the size and composition differences of the inelegant “friends.“ Scribbler’s versions were flimsy, cheap and, Earl noted, contained no evidence of manufacturing site.

Earl’s version was twice the size with an obvious different in heft and with one plunge unplugged the previously stubborn plug. Earl eschewed obvious cliché’s such as “you get what you pay for” and pointed at the readable caption “Made in U.S.A.” that even looked sturdy as he patiently explained why the design was more effective and more likely to work well for at least a lifetime.

The evident summary: “Better to be Earl’s acolyte than the believer of the value of tape named after the relative of a mallard.”

 

Columnist Al Bruce covers education stories for The Spectator.