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Perspective: The Science of Plumbing

SouthHamsian via Wikimedia Commons, lyperzyt via Pixabay

All across the nation, anxious cooks were preparing a bountiful Thanksgiving meal with countless side dishes and a picture-perfect turkey as the ahh-producing centerpiece. I, however, had abandoned all culinary tasks to my husband. I was in our bathroom obsessed with getting our toilet to gurgle.

Until that point, I had lived in blissful unawareness of this basic phenomenon. Without the gurgle, there is no proper flush, and once the proper flush is lost, backup ensues.

"It all has to do with the science of plumbing," explained the plumber. "Most people think exclusively of water, but there needs to be air in the pipes too". And with infinite patience he described the construction flaw in our toilet which made achieving optimal gurgling levels difficult, the changes in building codes since the 1960s when our house was built, and the economic futility of remodeling to fix the flaw. Science, history and economic advice all in one visit.

As a follow-up, I received the lesson on proper plunging techniques with a hands-on learning component. As I demonstrated my newly acquired skills, I marveled how this man was the perfect educator: he explained complex phenomenon involving physics in clear, precise language, he modeled new procedures, and he provided context on why he was doing what he was doing.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I will give a special toast to the generosity of plumbers and the science of plumbing... after making my toilet gurgle.

I'm Frances Jaeger, and this is my perspective.

Frances Jaeger is an associate professor of Spanish at Northern Illinois University. Her research interests include Latin American contemporary poetry as well as Caribbean and Central American literature.