A day in the life: installing a garbage disposal

Yesterday I installed a garbage disposal in our house.  This is just one of the projects that have been filling my weekends, and which I somehow usually fail to document properly.  This time I got pictures.

A proper "before" picture should have showed the sink with no electrical service under it.  The first step in this process was to bring in an electrician to install the wires and switch.  They're already here in this photo:

Step One of the instructions cheerfully said "disconnect the drain from the sink".  I had no idea how to do that, so I grabbed my largest wrench and started twisting things.  After a couple hours I had removed all the drain pipes that were in the way.  I had also replaced the "Y" pipe that the dishwasher was connected to (upper right) with a straight pipe, since the plan was to connect the dishwasher to the disposal.  Here's what it looked like after Step One:

The next major step was to connect the electrical.  That gray arc of wire housing in the cabinet was very stiff.  It was subtly incompatible with the hole in the disposal:  the hole was threaded and so was the cable housing.  Sounds good, right?  No:  if I turned the cable housing until it was tight and secure in the disposal, it'd be pointing the wrong way in the cabinet.  I had to leave it a little loose, which meant it was also free to swivel.  I secured it with the cable housing's nut on the inside of the disposal and moved on.

Physically mounting the disposal to the bottom of the sink was easier than I thought it would be.  The final time-consuming phase was rebuilding the drain pipes.  Again this was glossed over with a single step in the instructions.  I reused the parts, cutting many of the pipes shorter using a hacksaw.  I had to replace one seal/gasket that broke when I tried to clean the gunk off of it.  Here's the final result:

Careful observers will note that the tee on the right, where the drain from the disposal joins that from the other sink, is lower in the final arrangement.  I had to rebuild all that, twice, in order to get it to fit.

The result is the quietest garbage disposal I've ever used.  It's in InSinkErator "evolution space saver".  I happen to have a sound level meter here, so I measured how loud it is, with the meter at eye level, pointing upwards, one pace back from the sink.
  • Quiet house:  40dbA
  • Faucet on:  49dbA
  • Faucet and disposal on:  53dbA
The numbers changed quite a bit if I held the meter in different places, but the relative values were always about what I listed here.  It's pretty damn quiet.

Elapsed time:  six hours.  Trips to hardware store:  two, not counting the initial purchase.  Costs:  about $180 for the disposal, plus something like $100 or more for the electricians to put in the wiring, plus a few bucks for putty, drain pipes, and gaskets.

Half-life

We've sold a home and not yet bought another, living in a holding pattern until we can move to where we belong.  We certainly don't belong in this apartment.  This purgatory does strange things to me.

I can sleep and eat (and even cook in a limited way) and drive to work, but the things that made my life mine are not here.  I can't put a record on the stereo, I can't shake up a mixed drink, I can't pull a book off the shelf and read.  All of that is on a truck parked in a nameless warehouse.  This is temporary lodging.  And that prevents me, in some subtle way, from starting to really live here in Durham.  I can't let myself move forward until I clear this final hurdle and get into the house that will be mine.

Alice and I were looking at live shows last night and bought tickets to see a band this weekend.  Why hadn't I done that already?  Do I not want to attach the memory of a live show to this apartment?  Do I want to avoid attaching any memories to this apartment - to avoid getting attached to it?  Maybe that's it.  It hurts to make a life in a place and then leave it.  Better to be temporary, to have a half-life, for a month than to really grab it and then have to tear myself away.

Reminiscences of Cleveland

  • When I found out what peanut butter tastes like on a hot dog, at the Happy Dog
  • The guy that comes to the Barking Spider with his cat on his shoulder
  • That time at the Beachland when the disco ball wasn't rotating, so somebody threw their coat at it and it swung crazily
  • When a teenager got chased by some bad guys and hid behind my garage freaking out and I asked him if I should call the police but he said no so we chilled until the coast was clear
  • Introducing British Brian to Anna C., two people who know everyone else in town but somehow not each other
  • The manic energy of the early days of the Cleveland Social Media Club
  • Getting hit on by a gay dude right outside my office on the way to my car
  • The bloody dolls hanging from the ceiling of the Grog Shop after halloween
  • Discovering Liefman's Goudenband at Brewzilla during Beer Week
  • The lawncare company that did twice as much work as we asked for, then tried to get us to pay twice the agreed price
  • The look of mixed loathing and shame on my hung-over friend's face the morning after my birthday party
  • A night flight into Hopkins making a sharp turn around downtown, a perfect view of the town lit up on one of my last trips back

One week until we move, and we're homeless

We had chosen a home in Durham, NC.  The contract was signed, we sold furniture that wouldn't fit in a place with fewer bedrooms, we sold our house and arranged movers.  But the movers will be putting our possessions into storage, not our new home.  We had to back out of the contract.

The house had the right location and enough space, and it was affordable.  It even had character:  reclaimed doors and wood countertops, and artist-made railings.  But the inspector told us that under the surface, it was a mess.  From the shingles to the foundation, there were major structural issues that would cause the house to leak, sag, shift, and crack unless it was repaired under the supervision of a structural engineer.

To move forward with buying the house, we would have had to delay the transaction by who knows how many months while the current owners fixed it.  If we trusted them to fix it.  That's a big if, because some of the issues were created during renovation.  That means the fixes would be made by the same team that left issues in the first place.  And our dealings with the seller's agent were far from smooth:  it would be a fight every step of the way.  So when the inspection report came back, there was no question.  We walked.

I confess I'm a little relieved.  The transaction was a moshpit of incompatible personalities from the beginning.  On the one side, we have my wife and I.  Normally she is assertive about standing up for what she deserves; I often let others get away with things in order to keep the peace.  The second party was our real estate agent, a conflict-avoidant personality like me.  On the third hand, we had the seller's agent who also acted as the general contractor.  This individual was a charismatic pitch-man (which is great for a salesman) and a bully (which is common in construction but less so in real estate agents).  Putting these personalities together resulted in the seller's agent lying through his teeth and browbeating our agent into submission.  Then our agent repeatedly tried to convince us we were wrong about what we had heard the seller's agent say he would do, didn't advocate for us, and complained that we were attacking her when we stood up for ourselves.  That was how it went.  Even before the inspection report, we had all but stopped speaking with our own agent.  So I'm glad I don't have to finish the transaction with those people.

Have you ever told someone that since they work for you, they should go along with your recollection of events - and then had them respond 'I never told you you were wrong'?  It's pretty surreal.

I exaggerate a bit when I say we're homeless.  There's an apartment we can stay in.  So many people travel to my company's worksite that they rented an apartment for visitors instead of putting traveler after traveler up in a hotel.  But it'll take a long time to identify another house, negotiate an offer, and close on it.  We'll be living out of suitcases for at least a month.  But we won't be homeless.  I'm thankful for the safety net.

When in China, eat Chinese food

Eschew the "Spaghetti Bolognaise".  Venture not unto the "Russian Bortsch".  And under no circumstances sample the "Cheese Burger".  But get the "Beef Brisket Noodles In Soup" for $10 and you'll eat it all and order it again later.

I didn't need to be reminded of this, really, but in the past the Baolilai has done a damn fine steak.  Not this time.  It was gristly and gelatinous - on the cool side of rare when I'd requested medium rare - and cost $34 for an 8oz cut.  The revolving buffet restaurant on the 24th floor has slipped too.  When I was here in 2010 I gorged myself on the raw bar.  Shellfish, sushi, this is a port town and it was all pretty close to nature.  They still put out a half dozen kinds of small whole fish which they'll grill for you on the spot, and that's really lovely, but the raw selection has dwindled.

I've been eating lunch at my company's cantinas.  The system goes like this.  If you're a production worker, you live in the dormitories and you get an allowance for three meals a day at the cantinas.  If you're an office worker, you get one meal.  There are two cantinas; the downstairs one has spicy food and the upstairs one is less spicy.  Downstairs you get what a westerner might expect:  chunks that are more bone than meat; thin broth; lots of rice; and vegetables that are mostly preserved rather than fresh.  The upstairs cantina, though ... honestly if I got that food from a sit-down Chinese restaurant in the US, I'd be very happy.  When was the last time somebody made you fresh pasta in front of your eyes, starting with hand rolled noodles that had never been dried or frozen?  I was enjoying one of these lunches when I came to the realization that the food at the cantina was better than half of what the Baolilai offered.  My coworker was shocked when I told him so.  The production workers are a captive market, the food doesn't have to be this good, but it is.

So I've been eating a lot of tofu, and I don't mind at all.  In other news, it has been determined that if I had to eat with chopsticks for a week with no access to silverware, I wouldn't starve.  But it ain't easy to pick up wet noodles with polished metal sticks.

Chaos, stillness, labor

There's a peculiar stillness about an airport at 5:30AM. It's jittery, half-alert, empty of people but full of potential like the gray suction of the atmosphere before a thunderstorm.

I write from Newark airport, killing time through the first of two long waits. The second will be the flight to Hong Kong, 16 hours in a horizontal grain silo hurtling through oblivion at nearly the speed of sound.  In that purgatory it is not easy to lie to oneself. In Hong Kong, I will run the gauntlet of immigration, customs, car, and immigration again into Shenzhen. A car will pick me up at 8:30 to carry me to see face to face the coworkers I've been emailing since June, the last time I was there.

Yes, I've been silent here for a while. In October I agreed to relocate to Durham, NC, where my company has a site. Even before then, my travel schedule had ramped up until I was gone one week out of four, and then came the effort to sell the house. First repairs, then cleaning and cleaning and cleaning again, living in a theme park version of my house and periodically being shooed out for tourists.  Until finally, three weeks ago, negotiations. After that, a mad dash to Raleigh - Durham to tour other people's houses. A funeral. And a trip to China. Last week wasn't the most stressful week of my life, but it was close.

I would have liked to post about the many illuminating and infuriating things we went through to sell our house, but there was too much uncertainty. Now we have a contract to sell our house and (almost) a contract to buy another, so there is nothing left to do but execute plans.

There is a lot to execute. The current house needs repair to satisfy the city.  The next house is smaller by a third, which means trimming our belongings. After moving comes the settling in. And I have to move my lab as well - I thought I'd be able to leave some machines installed at the Cleveland lab, but the space has been promised to others.

So bear with me, please, as I deal. I do plan to continue to post, though I've handed the reins of the Lake Erie Moose Society blogger meetup group to my good friend, veteran Cleveland blogger Heidi Cool.  Watch this space. 

Hospital, interlude, blood

My day yesterday began with a routine checkup at my doctor's office, took a side trip to the hospital after I fainted at the sight of blood being drawn, and, after a brief interlude, ended with actual blood.

My employer gives me a discount on my health care premium if I get a yearly checkup from my doctor.  It's enough to motivate those not sensible enough to do it anyway.  I was in the examination room, a nurse drawing blood, while my doctor for some incomprehensible reason told me what happens to a baby boy's testicles during birth.  (I think we had been talking about hernias.)  But I had a rather brutal vasectomy in my history and I have a general aversion to needles.  I passed out.

Doctors, in my experience, take it very seriously when you pass out in their offices.  My general practitioner, bless his malpractice-insured heart, called 911.

I spent the next several hours in the emergency department at the Cleveland Clinic, my ass getting sore from their Buddhist-spec beds, my phone gradually dying, hungry and dehydrated because I'd fasted for the blood tests.  Eventually they decided that they (or the paint) had observed me long enough and they let me go.

I tried to have a normal day.  I worked, ate dinner, cleaned up the kitchen.  My hands were waterlogged and slippery with lotion.

Alice wanted me to grate some cheese.  Have you ever heard of a microplane?

Thankfully, the corner of my thumb that it dislodged went into the sink, not the cheese.  I gave up on the day and retired upstairs with a quarter inch of tape on my digit.