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Jack Smith

Birthday celebrants become a party to events that leave them all a little bowled over

February 25, 1986|JACK SMITH

We went to our older son's house Saturday evening for his son Casey's seventh birthday party.

It turned out to be a situation comedy.

The best of seventh-birthday parties are slapstick affairs, but this one was disastrous.

Gail, our Italian daughter-in-law, cooked chicken cacciatore and zucchini sticks, which we ate with two bottles of champagne I had brought.

It was a happy family affair, with all five of our grandchildren present, along with their parents, and Gail's mother and her husband, and Gail's sister. It was a robust example of that vanishing phenomenon, the extended family.

The evening began to decline when I made my second trip to the bathroom. I noticed that the water level rose alarmingly when I flushed it, but then it subsided and I thought no more about it.

Half an hour later one of our granddaughters reported that the bathroom was flooded.

"Don't you have another bathroom?" I asked, knowing that a family of five could not very well get by with only one bathroom, although we had raised two boys with only one.

"It's flooded, too," she said. "I looked."

This news was no sooner delivered than Casey said he had to go. At once. He was told he would have to go outside, which he did with alacrity, evidently seeing some adventure in it.

The prospect did not seem so attractive to the rest of us.

My older son got a plunger and disappeared into one of the bathrooms. He came out, looking unsuccessful, and asked Gail if they had another plunger. She found one and he asked his younger brother to help him. They went into the separate bathrooms, each armed with a plunger. Great sucking and whooshing noises came from the bathrooms for several minutes. The two young men emerged defeated.

Meanwhile, my French daughter-in-law had had to go outside.

Our older son decided they would have to call a plumber, though it was Saturday night and they knew it would be expensive.

Gail began going through the Yellow Pages, trying to find a nearby plumber. She got an answer, explained the problem and asked for an estimate. It was $56 minimum, $88 if it took two men, plus 70 cents a foot beyond 80 feet of pipe. He said he could be there within half an hour.

Meanwhile, our younger granddaughter, Alison, discovered that she had locked herself out of her bedroom.

"How come her bedroom has a lock?" I asked innocently.

"To keep my brothers out," she explained.

The problem was that she had two keys, but she had inadvertently left both of them inside (she thought) and locked the door when she came out.

Our older son went into the hall to fiddle with the lock. He came out defeated.

Our older grandson decided to try picking it. "Has anybody got a paper clip?" he asked. Evidently he had seen somebody pick a lock with a paper clip on TV. They are always picking locks on TV with paper clips or pen knives or credit cards. I happen to know it isn't that easy.

Somebody found a paper clip and we all went into the hall and watched while he picked at the lock. It wouldn't open.

Meanwhile the plumber came. He sized up the situation and said it would take two men. He said he'd wait outside in his truck for his partner to come. That might take 15 minutes.

Our older son got a screwdriver and a hammer and went to work on the lock. He took the handle and the face plate off and tried to open the lock by driving the screwdriver in with the hammer and twisting it. It wouldn't budge.

In his frustration he was pounding the hammer harder and harder, and I was afraid he would miss and hit his hand and the next thing we knew the paramedics would be crowding in.

The second plumber arrived and they came into the crowded hallway. One of the men left to get on the roof.

Our younger son took the screwdriver and the hammer and tried to drive the lock through the door by sheer physical force. He pounded and pounded but the lock held fast.

"You ought to write a testimonial for that lock," I said to our older son.

"It only cost about $10," he said.

Somebody said it was time to call a locksmith.

"And add another $50 to the bill?" he said. "I'll drill it."

He went out to the garage and got his electric drill and plugged it in and began to drill at the lock.

Meanwhile, the plumbers finished and Gail had to write a check for $88. They hadn't had to go beyond 80 feet.

Our son drilled holes through the two poles that held the lock, and finally the shell fell out in his hands, leaving the mechanism itself exposed. He simply inserted the screwdriver and turned it to the left and the door opened.

He held up the dismembered lock and said to his daughter, "This goes on display in your room."

She seemed more excited than dismayed by all the trouble she'd caused.

Of course he would have to buy a new lock, or at least a new door handle, and there would be some work to do with plastic wood around the door hole; but he had saved the price of a locksmith.

The next morning my son phoned to tell us that our granddaughter had found one of her keys outside the room.

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