I have a brief vivid memory from my childhood because I thought I had broken something and was going to be in trouble. Back then, computer mice had a ball in them, before optical and laser options. One day while using the computer, the mouse was really frustrating me because it was slow to respond and not rolling smoothly. I flipped over the mouse, twisted off the cover to the mouse ball and let the ball roll aside. Peering into the opening, I saw a vertical axle and a horizontal axle. Perfectly symmetrical and matching on each axle, there were two foam circles about 1/8″ wide on each axle immediately to the side where the ball would make contact with the axles. I reached in and poked an axle and watched the mouse move to the right. I rolled the horizontal axle the opposite direction and watched the mouse move to the left. I did the same experiment with the vertical axle and came to understand how the analog motion of the mouse could be translated into movement on the computer monitor.
As I experimented and saw that the axles were not the cause of the poor performance of the mouse, I noticed some dust on the axle between the two foam circles. I carefully tried to remove it with a pen, thinking it might be the cause of the problems. It was on there good and it was hard to do anything with a single point to work with – tweezers would have been a better option. Suddenly, the pen slipped and cut one of the foam circles loose.
“Oh no! Now, I broke it.” I fished out the torn foam circle and set it aside. Hoping the mouse would still work, I popped the mouse ball back in, twisted the cover and tested it out. The cursor continued to move, maybe even better than before. “Phew! Maybe I won’t get in trouble after all.” I carefully inspected the torn foam circle and saw it was made of dust, hair, and other gunk.
“Ew! Yuck! Bleh, blech, blech!”
I twisted open the mouse ball compartment and scraped the three remaining foam circles from the axles and into the wastepaper basket. I popped the mouse back in and twisted on the lid. Flipping the mouse over, it was good as new. There was no more lagging and skipping.
Fast forward about 15 years and I had another similar experience.
A few months after taking ownership of our house, I was washing my hands in the bathroom attached to the master bedroom and saw the sink was draining quite slowly. It had been doing so for a while but this time the water level had gotten quite high as the water drained so slowly. I went and got some tools and a bucket to take apart the plumbing beneath the sink. Once the water finished draining, I put the bucket under the pipes and twisted off the nut securing them in place. A lot of water spilled over from the P-trap. There was some gunk free floating in the water that spilled over, so I hoped that resolved the issue.
I had the long pipe between the sink drain and the P-trap in my hands. To make sure it wasn’t the problem, I held it up to the light and looked through it like a telescope. I saw there was a circular covering in the middle of the pipe, nearly filling it. There was a small circular hole on one side of it and it looked to have some flex to it to move with the water. To test that it wasn’t the problem, I ran some water through the pipe in the other sink of the double vanity. The water drained out slowly.
“Ah ha!” I had found the source of the problem. A simple straight pipe should have water flowing at the rate of gravity but that definitely wasn’t the case here. Trying to clean, clear, or knock this strange gasket loose, I flipped the pipe upside down and ran some more hot water through the pipe. This time, nothing came out at all. That gasket was completely stopping the flow of water. I dumped the water out into the other sink and tried it again. It was definitely stopping any water from going the opposite direction. I flipped the pipe over and pour water down its normal direction of flow and the water slowly poured through again.
This was very weird. Was it intentional? In the middle of this foot-long pipe there was a gasket that controlled the flow of water in one direction. It was like the semiconductor of water. I was unaware of anything like this, not that I am a plumber or have that much experience, but I had a hard time understanding why there would be a need to stop water from backing up at that point or slowing down the drain flow intentionally. I called my father, who is a very experienced plumber, electrician, welder, mechanic, and what have you, and tried my best to describe what I was seeing. He wasn’t familiar with anything like it either, so I was still left with quite a conundrum.
I don’t remember if I undid the plumbing for the other sink to compare and didn’t find anything in that pipe. I may have just been desperate to get more information about this gasket, so I could prove that such a thing existed. I used a long screwdriver and scraped it out. It ripped on its way out, so I guess I would have to try to find a replacement. When it toppled out of the pipe onto the counter, you could see the gross, glob of a disk that looked like it was made out of rubber or silicone. You could now also tell that it wasn’t manufactured and was just some collection of gunk like old toothpaste, hair, and other matter.
“Ew! Yuck! Bleh, blech, blech!”
It was quite gross, particularly since we had recently moved into the house so it was probably somebody else’s gunk! I scraped all of it out of the pipe and ran water through it. As one would expect from a clear pipe, the water ran quickly through it (in both directions).
I reassembled the pipework and tested the drain for any leaks. The water now drained very quickly and I could see no problems with the sink at all. I did still have a lingering thought that it was missing something and I would one day regret not replacing that weird gasket thing, not that I would be able to find an equivalent in any store. It may very well have been the grossest, neatest thing I have ever seen.