Monday, August 07, 2006

Plumbing the depths

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


  1. nicely done clara. you got all these stories, why didn't i hear that one before?

  2. omg - your poor, poor mother! Holy shit - I am laughing because you described this so well!

    Remind me to tell you about the time we hooked a washing machine and it drained and flooded the whole bathroom. Fun times!

  3. More great writing! I'm laughing so hard picturing that handle soaring over Maryland.

  4. All day yesterday I didn't have internet at work, and I felt so empty inside.

    This post more than made up for it, Mike. I loved it! Your poor mom! Your dad sounds like my dad and every other dad in the world.

    Thanks for the giggles and snorts... (yeah, except I don't REALLY snort, cause that would be UNladylike...)

  5. Once, when I was in Japan with my head resting firmly on the edge of the toilet seat for having drunk the emperor's weight in sake, curiosity got the better of me and I pushed the row of buttons.*

    (*You know the row. The row that has become lore in all Japanese travel guides? The ones that automate the toilet through the pleasant application of scents and discrete noises to make you think you aren't actually, erum... you know. Doing business?)

    Anyways. Ignorace is not my excuse; Even in my very bad state, I knew what would happen. What did escape me, however, is that pushing those buttons is usually done whilst one is sitting ON said toilet. Which means the perfectly tempered water, whist startling, only makes it as far as the prosterior covering the lid.

    When, like me, the only part of your body covering the receptacle is your green, vomit-struck face, well... guess which part of you gets a good old dose of butt water?

    It's about as refreshing as a thirteen year old that knows how to shut off the water main. (this twenty-six year old sure don't.)

  6. that is to dam funny, maybe I have to do soemthing like that to actually get my husband to fix our sinks. hehehehee

  7. My husband's name isn't Maurice, but he also purchased new sink hardware sometime over the winter and will get to it soon. But I know to turn off the water first. Hey, Roto Rooter pulled twenty bucks out of our can the other day. Hey, money is money.

  8. Yo' Mike Todd! Guess what, it's MONDAY MORNING.........

    and unfortunately, my monday morning giggles are NOT HERE...

    get to work, funny boychild....

  9. Melodyann -- Ha! You're on the ball, dude. How come I'm not? The new one's up 'er now, such as it is.

    Just got back from vacation, so I'm a little behind in Internet Land. But it's good to be back. For real. Thank y'all for stopping by and dropping your ever-witty kids off in the pool.