The Garbage Disposal

at 12:35 AM

One night when I was in high school the garbage disposal broke. My father decided to fix it. This infuriated my mother. In a steely voice she told my father not to be ridiculous and to call the plumber. Anger rising in his voice, my father replied that he would fix it.

My mother decided not fight that one, and marched out of the kitchen. I wasn't fast enough -- or smart enough -- to follow her, and was immediately recruited as plumber's assistant.

Over the course of the next 2.5 hours, my father systematically dismantled the garbage disposal. My job consisted of handing him tools, occasionally holding something, and standing around waiting for the next instruction. I spent the first hour hoping the ordeal would end quickly, but somewhere in the second hour things got interesting. I'd never seen the inside of a garbage disposal before. Honestly, I'd never taken a good look at the plumbing under a sink before.

My father took each component apart, looked for some factor that might cause the disposal's malfunction, then carefully placed the pieces aside -- in order -- and proceeded to the next component. Piece by piece, we worked our way to the very core of the garbage disposal.

Finally we located the problem: a piece of corn silk had gotten wrapped around the drive shaft and wound tighter and tighter as the motor spun. The corn silk was so fine it was translucent, but it was strong, it didn't break, and eventually it had overcome the horsepower of the motor. My father carefully unwrapped the corn silk from the rotor, then -- piece by piece -- we reassembled the motor, the garbage disposal, and the kitchen plumbing. When everything was back together, we tested it.


It worked. Two and a half hours into our project, we felt triumphant. I consciously use what my father taught me that night every day of my life. Method. Care. Persistence. Curiosity. Every so often it allows me to solve some intractable problem I have no business solving. When that happens people look at me strangely and ask where I learned my arcane skills. I smile and tell them, "My father taught me."

With a Perspective, I'm Evan Sagerman.