During my thirteen years of parenting, this was one question I hadn’t anticipated.
“Why do you need a plunger?” I asked, dumbfounded. Besides unclogging a toilet, I couldn’t think of another use for one.
“Jazz band,” Noah answered.
“Why would you use a plunger in jazz band?”
He explained the plunger would be used to change the sound of his trombone. His teacher had given him a crash course on the technique. I felt clueless. I played the flute when I was Noah’s age, and I never needed a plunger.
“Shouldn’t we swing by the music store? They probably have something you can use.”
“Trust me,” he said confidently. “The hardware store is where we need to go. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper. My trombone teacher suggested it.”
If my thirteen-year-old musician needed a plunger, who was I to stand in his way?
Before driving to the hardware store, though, I consulted Google. How exactly were plungers used in jazz band? I found my answer on Amazon.com – the Mutec MHT 260 Plunger Mute for Trombone, Black Rubber. It was for sale – list price: $37.50. A few commenters wrote they had been using a plumber’s plunger for years but were happier with this model.
Later that evening, Noah and I stood in aisle fifteen at the local hardware store, near the toilet repair kits and the drain augers. Noah carefully examined each plunger, pondering his decision. I could almost see the wheels of his mind turning. Is this one the right size? Will it fit? He held each one in his hand and looked at the undersides. Isaac stood in aisle fifteen as well, getting antsy about the long process.
“Mom, I’ve decided on this blue kitchen plunger,” Noah said. “It’s different. I’ll stand out.”
“If you think it will work, let’s buy it.”
Isaac swiped the plunger out of Noah’s hand and raced towards the checkout. I trailed behind. As I slowly made my way out of aisle fifteen, I picked up a bottle of Drano.
“No, we don’t. Thanks anyway,” I said, as I opened my wallet and dug around for my credit card.
She noticed the two items we were buying: the plunger and the Drano Max Gel.
“Looks like you’ve got a project going on,” she remarked.
How many times had she seen someone come into the hardware store for these items, praying they could handle the clog before a plumber came to the rescue?
“What?” she asked. I had never seen anyone look so confused.
I looked at Noah for an explanation.
“You put the plunger in the bell,” Noah explained. Then he leaned back as though he were playing an imaginary instrument. He was demonstrating how it would work. “Then when you play, it sounds like this: wah, wah, wah, wah.” Noah had a cool confidence about him, as though he had been performing in hardware stores for years.
Noah can sing the trombone almost better than he can play it. It sounded like we were at a junior high jazz band concert, listening to a soloist on stage.
“The bell of what?” she smiled, trying to make sense of the story. She looked at me.
“A trombone,” I added.
“Yay, so much for privacy,” Noah grumbled.
The cashier didn’t miss a beat.
“Oh, you take the plunger apart?” She handed me my receipt and credit card.
“So . . . what are you going to do with the Drano?” she asked, hesitantly.
I almost laughed out loud. His trombone has a spit valve that’s clogged, I thought.
“Our bathroom sink has a slow drain,” I explained, as I threw my purse over my shoulder. I was grateful nobody was behind us in line because we had been chatting with her for a few minutes. I don’t remember seeing another customer in the store.
“Are you a pretty good trombone player?” she asked. She leaned in towards Noah and smiled.
He paused for a moment. Then he smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “Apparently,” he said.
“I just love your sense of humor!” she laughed, as she turned towards Noah. She was genuinely interested in his response and surprised by his wit.
Isaac quickly grabbed the van keys and raced into the parking lot carrying the Drano. Noah grabbed the plunger and followed.
“I was surprised, too, when my son told me he could buy his trombone accessory at the hardware store,” I told her. “But I guess you don’t need to know our entire life story. We've shared enough already.” I was grinning from ear to ear.
“Have a good day,” she yelled as I walked out the door. I thought I could hear her chuckling as I left the store. I was laughing, too, and hoped the entire encounter had been captured on store video.
As we drove out of the parking lot, Noah said he didn’t know what was so funny.
“Well, out of the hundreds of people the cashier saw today, she probably had a lot of boring interactions with customers. You surprised her and taught her a few things. I’m guessing she never expected to hear an imaginary trombone solo – and certainly not one that involved a plunger. I think you brightened her day.”
I was imagining the cashier later that night telling her family about her experience. “You’ll never guess what happened to me today . . .”
I like to think of these situations as autism unawareness. There was no need to tell her about an autism diagnosis, so it wasn’t mentioned.
Noah was right. The hardware store was where we needed to be. The plunger was less than ten dollars, we entertained the cashier for a few minutes, and Noah’s musical accessory worked fine with his trombone. And our bathroom sink? The next day it was unclogged.
That was music to my ears.