A couple of weeks ago, I sauntered into our local plumbing supply store and swung my plastic grocery bag full of crusty, fifty-year-old valve stems onto the counter. St. George did not have to work as hard to remove the dragon’s head as I did to remove those valve stems from our shower.
“It took me a lot of swear words to get this far,” I told the guy behind the counter.
He glanced down at the contents of the bag, looked at me and said, “I bet it did.” I’m still trying to figure out exactly what he meant by that.
Of all the things I’ve learned to do through trial-and-error (heavy on the error) around the house, plumbing scares me the most. If you mess up painting a room or installing a new ceiling fan, you don’t have to call the fire department to come drain out your basement. My specialty around our house is more along the lines of light bulb changery, a task that can ordinarily be accomplished by just one of me.
But I fear that I may have inherited my plumbing acumen from my mom. About fifteen years ago, she took a brief but eventful foray into the world of household plumbing. She had been asking Dad to fix the loose handle on the kitchen sink for ages. Their conversations went something like this: “Maurice, when are you going to fix the handle on the kitchen sink?”
“This weekend,” Dad would reply every week.
I love that my dad’s name is Maurice. That’s a strong name. Steve Miller made it even cooler in his song “The Joker,” with that little “wow woooww” on the guitar after he sang, “Some people call me Maurice.” It may surprise you to learn, though, that my dad rarely, if ever, speaks of the pompitous of love.
Anyway, in Dad’s defense, he did buy the replacement parts for the kitchen sink, and he told Mom that all he had left to do was remove the old handle with his wrench and replace it with a new one. In retrospect, he probably should have mentioned something about shutting the water off first.
One day, when Dad was going to be coming home late from work, Mom decided that there was no good reason that she couldn’t just fix the sink herself. The good reason would present itself shortly. She grabbed Dad’s wrench out of the garage and went to town on the faucet handle. After a couple of turns, the handle shot into the air, propelled by a geyser the likes of which are normally not seen outside of Wyoming.
I was downstairs watching “What’s Happenin’?” reruns (and Rerun) when I heard the shrieking from the kitchen.
“Get towels! How do you turn it off? Get towels! Aaaaaahhh!”
The water was shooting hard into the ceiling, spraying in every direction, puddling on the floor and running down the steps into the living room. At thirteen, I had absolutely no idea how to turn off the water without the handle, which was last photographed soaring over rural Maryland. While I was little help to resolve that particular situation, if Mom had needed me to supply her with the cheat codes to get thirty lives in the Nintendo game Contra, she would have been all set.
Eventually, we piled enough towels on the geyser that the water started flowing down the sink for the most part, until the neighbor’s teenage kid came over, went straight to the basement and shut off the main water valve. Showoff.
Plumbing is just one of those things that works out great in theory but doesn’t always pan out in the execution, like those fake wooden gardeners’ behinds that people put in their lawns or the strategic missile defense system.
You can send Mike Todd your wrenching stories online at email@example.com.