Zen And The Art of Fixing My Sink


I might have thought this was just a peculiar attitude of theirs about motorcycles but discovered later that it extended to other things … Waiting for them to get going one morning in the kitchen I noticed the sink faucet was dripping and remembered that it was dripping the last time I was there before and that in fact it had been dripping as long as I could remember. I commented on it and John said he had tried to fix it with a new faucet washer but it hadn’t worked. That was all he said. The presumption left was that that was the end of the matter. If you try to fix a faucet and your fixing doesn’t work then it’s just your lot to live with a dripping faucet.

- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

So the once-fearsome jetstream of my kitchen sink has waned gradually over the last several weeks to a puny dribble. Worse than the puny dribble, the switch on the faucet that toggles between spray and stream has been malfunctioning. Switch from stream to spray, and the toggle limply flops back to stream. Switch from spray to stream, and the faucet vibrates uncontrollably and sounds like a cat dying through a kazoo. It’s been a dark time for dishes duty.

Your author is a big fat yuppie who lives in a building that employs a few guys full-time to deal with things like this. The way it works is that I file a ticket through a maintenance request portal run by a real estate management website, and a few hours or days later a guy knocks on the door and fixes what’s broken.

As the dribble wanes, I’ve been thinking about the Pirsig passage atop this weblog and reveling in the nice and somewhat sad, poetic contrast between the quote (from Zen, no less, an early personal inspiration that pushed me towards math and science) and my lived experience as an engineer-by-job-title whose home-maintenance engagement consists of filling out web forms and resetting the WiFi router.

I thought about spending a whole blog post interrogating and reflecting on the symmetry. But I couldn’t do it. Too indulgent. Too pathetic. But to post no post whatsoever was simply not an option. So I was left with one choice: I’d have to fix my sink myself. Proof, I suppose, that the specter of blogsphere scrutiny is an effective nudge in the direction of wholesomeness.

Twiddling Wrenches

At the tip of a typical home water faucet, there’s a component called an aerator. It’s a plastic ring that surrounds a metal mesh screen. Water that flows through the aerator comes out as a luxurious, bubbly stream. The metal mesh that makes the bubbles can catch dirt and grime and constrict the flow of water. This was my first hypothesis. But when I unscrewed the faucet’s tip and take out the aerator, it was pristine—not a spec of dirt.

Faucet with aerator housing partway unscrewed.

Faucet with aerator housing partway unscrewed.

Moreover, even after I removed the aerator, the dead-cat-kazoo vibration remained. The problem must have been further upstream. The next stop was the problematic toggle. After popping out the plastic cover, I could see that the toggle switch simply pushed a pin several millimeters into the water tube. The pin must have opened and shut a valve that directed water either to the aerator or to the spray holes.

Exposed pin underneath the spray toggle.

Exposed pin underneath the spray toggle.

The rubber gasket which sat between the pin and the plastic water housing was covered in grime. Promising! I removed the gasket and the plastic housing and soaked both in a water and vinegar mixture for a few hours. When I reassembled the faucet, the vibration was gone and the pressure was back to normal.

No maintenance ticket was filed, no time spent mulling the human cost of yuppiedom. Eat your heart out, Pirsig.


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