Sunday, December 4, 2016

inkblots and plumbing: this is a test and a revelation

Because of a weird picture of my mom that my sister sent—my mom had a big square of bright yellow blanket on her head that looked like, among other things, a gargantuan pat of butter—I began thinking about the ink blot test, the Rorschach Test, and when I looked it up on Wikipedia I gave $10 to Wikipedia because what better place to stop on the Internet than Wikipedia. It is free. There are no billboards, no tolls, no ads; no moving parts, no noise. It is like Dragnet: Just the facts, ma’am. No one claims to knowing it all or to getting it all exactly right, but, rather, this is what we know and this is how we know it and if you can add to it, please do, please join us, and it was a Swiss man named Rorschach who developed the so-called inkblot test in the early 1900s and it’s evolved since then, others getting their fingers in the well, so to speak, and the inkblots aren’t even inkblots: they are precisely constructed images. And there are ten of them. And we all know the first one looks a lot like a bat. Or a butterfly. Depends on who you are. had me believing I could take the inkblot test online and get the results and I figured it would be funny to do that, to write about it, then I’d have Josie and Elliott take the test, write about their results—The Big Reveal—with Josie mostly seeing “food? more food?” and Elliott mostly seeing “mouse” but I’d throw in a twist or two, that would be the funny part, but then I started the test and realized it wasn’t for real, it was a joke, a somewhat funny one, but writing something funny about something already funny, well, might not work.

Authentic Ink Blot #8
By Hermann Rorschach
Public Domain Link
I see two bears climbing a mountain.

My mom once made me take some personality tests to help me determine what to do with my life. I guess I was rather aimless after college, or so it seemed, and so I spent three days taking tests to please my mother. (Believe me, I did not want to do this.) Mostly I remember the tests as multiple choice, asking questions like “If you were in a room full of people, would you … a. b. c. or d.” and what I would do was never a. b. c. or d. so I made best guesses and felt frustrated. I had to go down to the south side of Chicago for this—to the Illinois Institute of Technology, which sounds weird now, but that’s what I remember—and it was an interesting el ride and then walk from the el to the testing site. It seemed barren, bleak, a lot of concrete, steel, and glass. One of the tests revealed that I would be most happy as a merchant marine, and I didn’t even know what that was, but the guy interpreting the results for me (the guy talking to me) said we could just throw out that merchant marine business. I was never clear on why. And I suppose I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that we can throw out results we don’t like or that seem an aberration. But maybe it was just that the test result guy didn’t know what a merchant marine was either, so why talk about it.

I never wanted to be a plumber, and I don’t think it came up in those tests, but I have a leaky faucet and I have fixed leaky faucets in my time, though it’s been a while. I was putting off fixing the current leaky faucet, letting the idea of it sink in, when I noticed a messier though perhaps simpler leak happening under the sink, around the sink’s strainer flange, it was all damp and cruddy, and this explained why there so often was a little puddle of water underneath the plastic watering can I keep under the sink. I thought the watering can was leaking. Anyway, I unscrewed the locknut attaching the pipe to the flange and was reminded why there is reluctance for plumbing projects. As the pipe separated from the strainer flange, black and slimy stringy clots of yuk flecked with gold were exposed. Gold? I pulled the stuff out with tweezers and dumped it in the garbage. The gold was just the light over the sink shining through the drain hole reflecting off the yuk and stuff.

I had found a diagram of parts online so proceeded to unscrew the locknut that was holding the strainer flange in place.


But not so fast. The locknut—a large, black, plastic ring with nubs—would not budge. I mean it did, but not without moving the whole strainer flange thingy. So, getting nowhere. I got a screwdriver and tried to hold the strainer in place while moving the locknut and still no go. Plus, a little awkward. I had that faintly familiar moment: Boy, it would really help to have a helper right now, and I looked at Josie, who was and had been looking at me with great interest, following my every move, really keen on that yukky black stuff flecked with gold, and he just looked at me, wagged his tail. I remembered that in the past those successful plumbing projects never involved a helper, so I got a hammer, started tapping at the locknut, working it ever so slowly, patience certainly helps, and eventually the damn thing moved and came off. The friction washer followed, peeling off in soggy gobby pieces, but the rubber washer was fine. I pulled the strainer flange out and washed everything and Josie and I headed to the hardware store with strainer flange and rubber washer in tow. Goal: Buy a new friction washer.

As soon as I walked in the store the guy at the counter asked if I needed help. I followed him down the plumbing aisle. I think I’ve had more nonsensical conversations in hardware stores than anywhere else on Earth, though, now that I think about it, it’s possible this time it wasn’t a conversation but rather an inner dialogue happening out loud, the hardware helper guy just a poor innocent bystander as I studied the one package available that contained a rubber washer just like the one I had in my hand and a round thing that looked like a piece of cardboard. I dismissed the cardboard “washer” as just a weird part of the packaging, and I didn’t need the rubber washer, as, see, I already have one, but, anyway, to make a story much too long already a bit shorter, turns out the cardboard washer was, in essence, the friction washer I was looking for. On the package there was a rather oblique reference to a “fabric washer” and it would have been helpful … well, anyway, for $1.19 plus tax, and, seeing as there were no other options, I went with this new rubber washer and its companion friction aka fabric aka cardboard washer, and, the good news, there is no longer any leaking under the kitchen sink. All this bolstered my confidence in regards to the leaky faucet project I’d been putting off, and, with the turning off and on of the hot and cold water valves under the sink (as long as I was down there) it became pretty clear that that leak is coming through the hot water handle, even though the drips are cold, so, once I get to it, that is where that project will start.

Under the sink, everything all fixed and cleaned, though Josie is sure
some of that good black yukky stuff is lurking somewhere.

So I was going to write about all this, calling it “inkblots and plumbing: this is a test,” and that made me think of those test patterns that used to be on TV when stations signed off for the night, maybe around one or two in the morning, after the late movie and you’ve fallen asleep, woken up, and you’re staring at the test pattern on the TV. Just a screen showing a grey and white bull’s eye with numbers here and there and arrows. Seems to me there was one with the head of an Indian chief in profile. And in later years a colorful flag undulating in a breeze, “America the Beautiful” playing, replacing the annoying buzz that accompanied the bull’s eye and Indian head. If you couldn’t sleep, this is what you got until around 5 or 6 a.m. when the farm report came on with some mock serious guy with short slick dark hair wearing a white shirt and skinny black tie talking about corn.

By RCA - Public Domain Link
Wikipedia has everything.

Can you think of one instance in the TV sitcom world when a plumbing project ended in something other than a great hilarious geyser of water?

By Jack H. Kubanoff
Public Domain Link
Wikipedia has everything and then some.

And I sometimes don’t know how I get to the big revelations in life, but at the end of all this, from the butter pat on my mom’s head through Barney and Otis and the pink bears and aimlessness and the beauty of facts and gold-flecked gunk and the hardware store and personality tests and test patterns and everything having a purpose, I realized that what I want to be when I grow up is an usher at Wrigley Field.

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