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Plunger Etiquette

Occasionally, when one is using a bathroom, one will need the assistance of a device that was created to spare innocent people embarrassment, while solving a basic problem. This device is called a plunger. We all know the drill. At least I believe my readers are plunger familiar folks.

I have seen the kinds of toilets that go solo. No need for Tonto the plunger. No kimmosabee. Maybe we could think of the toilet as the skipper and the plunger as his little buddy. But, I tell you in good faith that I’ve had opportunities in my travels to visit the porcelain shrines where nothing goes wrong and there are never panic moments searching for the rubber savior, watching the rising tide. These caviar powered flush machines do exist- just not for the rank and file users.

At Christmas, while visiting my parents, I had the good fortune of using one of their bathrooms. Everything was going well. The room is decorated very nicely by my mom. The only thing to get used to is the taller, old-person-friendly toilet. After staying several days and going back to our normal height pants-less resters, I have to say the ease of that taller sit reflects poorly on our regular sitters (and no, I didn’t mean to put an “h” in there).

Just when you think things can’t get any better in life and one quick flick of the wrist will send all your worries away, putting a bounce in your step and getting you back out into that big world – just then, everything turns upside down. You see, dear grimacing reader, I can only assume that one of those children came in ahead of me and did one of their patent pending wads of toilet paper to unjustly incriminate me. But wait, no one knows my panic. I’m in here all by myself.  All I need to do, calmly, as the muddy river banks rise from this unnatural disaster, is locate the plunger and get to work.

Once I can get that plunger in hand I know what to do. My good friend and old college roommate, Andrew Kerwin, is more expert in plunging than anyone I have ever seen. He honed his technique while growing up in a house with four sisters. Oh, how could four innocent girls ever cause a problem in the restroom area? Well, for the specifics you’ll have to contact Andy, but as far as I can tell his sisters were like toilet clogging sleeper cells. It’s the kind of terrorism that hits too close to home – usually not accompanied by a note taking responsibility for the heinous crime.

As I was looking for the plunger, I kept Andy’s rules of engagement fresh in my mind. Ok, here’s the problem. The bathroom isn’t that big. If it’s not by the toilet in plain sight, it could be under the sink or maybe in the floor of a linen closet. I looked everywhere to no avail. It looked like I would need to expand my perimeter. I quickly, calmly, walked out of the bathroom.

My mom and dad were in the living room watching Murder She Wrote on the television. I told my mom I couldn’t find the plunger. It was near the end of the program and I had to pose my question twice, as my mystery was not as important as the one she was watching. Admittedly, I didn’t have Ernest Borgnine appearing in my mystery. Once I got my mom’s attention, she said, “I don’t keep a plunger in the bathroom, it’s in the garage.”  What?

“Why, what’s the problem?” My mom said, trying to also focus on Angela.

Why would she ask me what the problem is if I’m asking for the plunger. Is my mother taunting me? Is my Angela Lansbury loving mother taunting me? No time to get to the bottom of that right now. Must get plunger.

“Where in the garage is the plunger?” I implore with a slight tone.

“Right by your dad’s work bench,” she responds as if it could be no other place.

“Why’s it in the garage.”

“What?” she says, from a Murder She Wrote haze.

Nevermind. I’ll have to get to the bottom of this later. I rush to the garage and find the plunger and get back to the front lines and start kerwinning with the plunger. And…… finally, success. I put some paper towels down on the floor and place the plunger buddy safely near the toilet.

When I go out to the living room the Murder is just ending. I ask my mom why they keep the plunger in the garage. She says she doesn’t like the look of a plunger in the bathroom and that they never have to use it – until I come around.

So it comes down to decor and how the plunger doesn’t fit into the decor. I asked about all the quaint ways to hide the plunger. There is plunger attire available to dress it up and hide its ugly self until it literally jumps into action. She doesn’t like any plunger attire and thinks its a dirty thing that should be kept in the garage. End of story. My dad shrugged his shoulders from his favorite chair. The plunger situation is the way it is for him. One learns to pick their battles and this obviously didn’t rank for him.

I quizzed my mom on several visitor scenarios, all involving the use of a plunger. She was undeterred from her garage placement. She didn’t seem to be concerned with the walk of shame involved in searching out a plunger. My dad chimed in with information about the toilet not holding more water than bowl, putting overflow at low odds. My argument always goes back to the idea that it’s best to leave the resting room area in a clean and tidy fashion. One of the main criteria for this is to exit with a clear toilet bowl. Maybe it’s just me.

The next day I had a the fine opportunity to visit the bathroom again.  This time, I swear, my five year old son- I’ll call him Hoyt – was in the bathroom just before me and left a large amount of toilet paper deposited in the bowl. I flushed and, anticipating a problem, reached for the plunger that I had conveniently placed next to the toilet. My reach was for a ghost plunger. It was gone.

I marched to the garage and found the AWOL soldier. Maybe my mom was protecting the plunger. Maybe she just feels bad for the life of the plunger. Maybe she’s on the plunger’s side. She’s looking out for the plunger.

On the way back to the bathroom I saw my mom. I held out the plunger to show that I needed it again. She just made a face to demonstrate her disapproval of the plunger. So, I guess it really just comes down to the decor. She does not really care for the plunger.  So, anyone visiting my parents need to understand that when that private tide starts rising you’ll need to take that walk to the garage – head down and not talking to the older woman watching the murder mystery. She will only want to question you about your crime and possibly show you some of her decorating magazines.


Jason Spafford


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