Thursday, May 01, 2008

It's good to be the King

Possibly related to something that popped up in the comments thread a couple posts ago:

Day before yesterday I go to flush the toilet. It flushes, but then the water doesn't return to its normal level, just levels off way down low where everything disappears. I remove the tank top and peer inside. Water's dripping, not spewing, out of the rubber refill tube. Most of the water's just bubbling out the top of the fill valve. At this rate, it would take two hours to refill the tank between flushes. I deduce that something's wrong with the fill valve. Solution? Fix it. I run up to the hardware store and come back with a new valve. I also grabbed a new seal because something in my memory told me to. I get home, gather some tools, and start reading the directions. Replacing the seal would be easiest. But according to the diagrams it looks like my valve is out of date and seal replacement won't work. I took the top off anyway and, sure enough, didn't see what the diagram said I should. Better to replace the whole valve anyway. So I begin, which requires holding the valve in the tank immobile while loosening the plastic nut beneath the tank with a pipewrench. It won't budge. The valve turns with the nut. Everytime. Plus there's another pipe in the tank interfering with my leverage. I try firming up my grip with a paper towel, a washcloth, whatever I can think of, but the valve keeps turning with the nut. I get really violent with it and a piece of the pipe breaks. It's made of plastic. Now I'm thinking I'll have to call a plumber and pay him a hundred bucks for a job my wife and I accomplished a few years ago working as a team. I wonder how we did it. The idea of paying a plumber makes me mad and I start yelling at the toilet, swearing actually. I won't tell you what. I was yelling at a heap of porcelain, plastic and metal.

I needed emotional support so I called my wife and asked her if she could remember how we had done it before. No, she said, but she'd be glad to take a look at it when she got home. Sounded faintly condescending. But if we can't fix it, I said, you'll be going without a toilet for the rest of the day and night. It was late afternoon already and most plumbers are closing up and I ain't paying their emergency fees. So I said I'd try again. She wished me luck and hung up.

I looked at the valve in the diagram again, really studying it this time. For some reason it looked different, just like the one in my toilet. Maybe I could get away with replacing the seal after all. I followed the directions and (things are never as easy as in the diagrams) finally got the top off, correctly this time. There was the magic seal. I popped the old one out and put the new one in. Then I put the top back on the valve. Then I turned the water on. The top blew off, and now I had a gusher rising toward the ceiling. I yelled again - screamed, really. Use your imagination. I shut the water off and spent five minutes mopping up the floor with the available towels, which was sure to get me in trouble with the wife, but I didn't care anymore. I then reseated the valve top by pushing down real hard, which sent the plastic sleeve that fits over the valve all the way to the bottom of the shaft. I tried pulling it back up. It didn't want to come. So I pulled real hard and it released suddenly, which caused me to lose my balance and fall against the sink behind me. I yelled some more. There was no way this toilet was going to work. A piece of plastic can't take this much abuse.

I reseated the valve top with greater care, adjusted the height (carefully), pushed the little plastic ring into place to secure it (which I'd forgotten to do the first time), tugged on the top to see if it would hold, reconnected the fill tube, and turned the water on. I flushed, still worried about the broken plastic beneath the sleeve. It worked. "Take that, you inanimate piece of #!$*&! You stench-filled conduit for..."(unrepeatable). For some reason it felt good to insult the toilet. It got quite elaborate. I remember at one point explaining patiently to an open lid that it was nothing more than the ornamental top end of a sewer line, its sludge-filled essence below ground where none could see the truth of its being.

I decided to finish up some other plumbing chores while I was at it, replacing the seats and washers in the leaky tub faucet, and the gate valves on the equally leaky outdoor faucets. Piece of cake.

When the wife got home I told her about all the work I'd done - that she might better apprehend my value as the masculine part of this one-flesh team - including a blow-by-blow account of my skirmish with the toilet. When I got to the part about the top blowing off, she nearly fell out of her chair laughing. "How about a little gratitude," I grumbled. "You might have ended up crouching behind a tree in the middle of the night."

"Oh, cut the melodrama. I could use the guestroom."

But the guestroom's a separate building. I doubt she'd appreciate having to go out there in the "wee" hours should the need arise.

"I'm sorry," she said. "You're right. Thanks for gutting it out." But I could see she was still stifling her amusement. As she left the room to go say her rosary, she muttered something under her breath that sounded like "Mr. Goodwrench."

Later, after she'd taken a shower and used the toilet, she came back out in her nightclothes to say goodnight. "Well, congratulations Mr. Plumber Boy; it looks like everything's working fine."

Mr. Plumber Boy.


TS said...

I recall many an frustration-filled moment (er, hours) when Steph and I teamed up to (barely) defeat a recalcitrant toilet. "Next time let's pay a plumber" was the thought.

Ellyn said...

At least you didn't have to spend your birthday toilet shopping at Home Depot as I did.

But, then, what sovereign doesn't want a new throne?

William Luse said...

Yeah, TS, it's hard for me to admit that it's a two-man - excuse me - two person job. That I couldn't have completed it without a woman's help just doesn't sit right.


That toilet in the guestroom I mentioned? The flush mechanism doesn't work right on it either. I'm able to keep it in service with a strategically placed metal shim. But it's so old it can't be fixed. The parts are not replaceable. A plumber told me. He said, "Go to home Depot and buy one and I'll tell you how to install it." Damn nice of him. He owns a neighborhood store. Owned, I mean. It closed down recently. So I see trouble on the horizon.

Lydia McGrew said...

I've got to show my husband this post.

We had a plumber here today to install new outside faucets. While he was here and we were paying the show-up fee anyway, I asked him to show my husband how to take apart the trap under the bathroom sink, which gets running verrry slowwwly from time to time. They really need to teach those plumber guys not to look so supercilious. But he showed us how to do it anyway, so we're all set for next time. I trust.

Paul Cella said...

That was a hilarious read, Bill.

Earlier this spring, when my lawnmower failed to start, I took up a very similar practice of hurling verbal venom at the machine. The thing is much more obedient these days.

William Luse said...

You must have a way with words, because I usually end up having to take the thing apart.

Of course, I've never tried it on a lawnmower. I only know it doesn't work with toilets.

Anonymous said...

I'd even been a good boy and put stabilizer in the mower gas before winter, and the !^&$@%*&# thing was still refusing to start. I didn't just yell at it, I threatened to replace it and stormed off. Wouldn't you know it started right up when I returned. She must have known it wasn't an idle threat.

William Luse said...

A female mower, huh? Could be. Maybe that's why I've never had trouble getting its motor running. But I have trouble thinking of my toilet that way.

MamaT said...


I think she could have at least called you Mr. Plumber MAN.

At our house, we think carefully before we set PapaC at fixing things. It always involves many trips to the hardware store and much cursing......

Lydia McGrew said...

The reason you never have trouble getting your lawn mower running, Bill, is because it's never shut down for a whole winter. Because you don't have winter. These are problems only we northerners can understand. :-)

William Luse said...

This is true. Plus, I don't believe Zippy mows his own lawn.

Anonymous said...

Plus, I don't believe Zippy mows his own lawn.

Ahem. I most certainly do, much to my neighbors' chagrin. (I like things with whirling blades on them. It is a quirk).

William Luse said...

Well, that's good to know. And it's not a quirk. It's a perfectly natural man thing.