Plumbing work, or Keeping the Ego In Place

It is time for a critical step in the rain garden project: connecting the gutter downspouts to the garden by way of a rather lengthy drainpipe. An organized and methodical gardener¬† would perform this step at the beginning, but since I’m doing the project, and doing it in chunks, I am performing this step when I get around to the location where the pipe will lie (or more honestly, when I simply get around to it).

A 4-inch plastic drainpipe already connects to a downspout in the corner of my L-shaped house. It runs beneath our deck and empties at the edge of the deck stairs, where it waters a small garden bed with a very thirsty rose (David Austin’s ‘Gertrude Jekyll’). I’ll extend this pipe’s run along the edge of the brick patio and into the middle of the garden, where it can receive and process my roof runoff. And because my shed happens to contain all manner of assorted construction materials, leftovers from previous projects (“hey, that might be useful someday!”), I had to hand a coil of matching pipe.

pipe in the garden

I went to the local big-box store and found a connective pipe collar to join the two pipe segments. It consists of a flexible yet dense rubber sleeve and two metal pipe clamps, which are fastened at one point to the ribbed metal collar backing, although the clamps themselves may be completely opened.

This is where the comedy begins. Having done a small amount of garden plumbing before, I know that it helps to lubricate the pipe and collar with a bit of petroleum jelly. But I can see the absurd and undignified maneuvers that lie inevitably between my present and my completion of the task. There is nothing but to do it.

I kneel by the length of pipe and try to slip the collar down onto the pipe’s rim. It’s very easy to get it three-quarters of the way on. I feel unusually hopeful as I try to fix the last quarter in place. When I get it most of the way on, another segment slips off. It only has to slide down about an inch and a half; it shouldn’t be so hard.

Fifteen minutes pass and I have no progress to show for it. It’s cold outside. Looking around to make sure no neighbors are watching, I straddle the pipe and imagine myself to be a fearless and mighty wrestler of crocodiles and other daunting wildlife. Wrestling commences. The pipe is winning.

After a few minutes I sense a slight weakness in my opponent (it’s getting warmer and the pipe is less stiff). I pin it to the ground with the length of my body and, pressing my forearm to the back of its neck, I yank the collar firmly down. Success. Who’s the dominant species, eh?

Dominance asserted.

Now I must repeat the challenge, but in limited space. Before I do, I decide to slip the collar onto the pipe and tighten it on the one end. I sure don’t want the rubber sleeve popping off again.

The space beneath the deck stairs is perhaps 30 inches, tapering to about 18 where the pipes will connect. I load up my jacket pockets with the necessary tools, put the pipe under one arm, and shimmy in, commando-style, on my stomach. I am halfway under the stairs, my legs sticking out into the rosebush. I assume that I look like a clumsily-disposed-of, not-dead-yet body.

I remove the equipment from my pockets and repeat the process outlined above. I realize almost immediately that the metal band is in fact hindering progress, so I take it off. I pin the pipe under me and grease it up. The maneuvers are more challenging this time, as I have to push the pipe trapped beneath me uphill and onto the existing drain, rather than pull that drain down into the sleeve. If I use the pull approach and detach the drain from the downspout, I’ll have to shimmy through even tighter quarters to reattach it.

Everything I touch becomes both dirty and greasy. The sleeve pops off and now both ends are loose. My glasses are fogging with effort and I don’t want to think about how peculiar I must look, my legs dancing around this length of plastic pipe as I am trapped beneath my deck stairs.¬† Please, gas meter reader man, don’t take this opportunity to visit.

Half an hour and much yogic breathing later, I locate success (it has been hiding very well). Using the screwdriver, I carefully tighten the clamps enough to stay attached against the force of a strong water flow, but not so tight that they crack the pipe (oh, please no).

pipes connected

I shimmy out backwards, feeling a peculiar mix of pride in having accomplished the task and humility at having accomplished it so absurdly. The next step is to lay the pipe in a trench from this point to the garden, but I need a break. I’ll tell you about it next time.


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