Saturday, November 22, 2008

Impersonating a Plumber

I have done a little plumbing and I know that it ain’t that hard. The faucets and garbage disposals and toilet workin’s are all really simple. So much simpler than the old days with lead pipe and copper tubing. PVC is really uncomplicated to work with. Saw it off, prime it, glue it and stick it together. Easy as pie.

I did a little plumbing this weekend. The faucet in our bathroom had been leaking pretty bad, and so I bopped down to the Hope Demot store and bought a replacement faucet and a toilet replacement part. More on that later.

The faucet was billed as “1/3 fewer parts, 2/3’s easier!” and had the “needed tools” list on the back, and it was just channel locks, a screwdriver and a crescent wrench. This was gonna be effortless. I looked casually at the supply lines they had in a little display near the faucets. I figured that the current supply lines would be dandy. I hadn’t crawled under the sink to check it out thoroughly, but knew it would be pretty easy. I have done this before. 45 minutes. Tops.

After everybody got out of the house, I got down to some serious plumbing action. I folded up under the sink cabinet to quickly undo the supply lines and loosen the basin nuts holding the old faucet on. Like I said. Easy.

Except for the fact that the basin nuts were really tough to loosen. Really, really tough. I tried to get the channel locks in there to get a grip and then twist it the right way. They put sinks in tight places and upside down, in case you’ve never been under one. After you break the things loose, you’d expect that the nuts are going to, at some point in time, be able to be taken off by hand. You’d think. For some reason, even after breaking the initial tight, the thing never got any looser.

The longer I laid on my big, fat back, arms elevated, the harder it was to handle two slip-joint pliers on each side of the stupid nylon nut, trying to coax it off of its home for the last 18 or so years. I nearly broke down and asked my neighbor if he had a basin wrench, but the bright idea of the Dremel came to mind, and the cut-off wheel became my hero of the moment.

I unfurled from the box I had furled myself into, and got my trusty rotary tool. In a short while, I was again contorted into the cabinet, but this time with a hope in my mind that I could actually make headway. Revving the ol’ Dremel, I bit into the black plastic and bore down until it bogged down, then backed off a little. The cut-off wheel did its work, and was soon spitting melted plastic in my face. I took a different angle on the other side and soon the slack was enough to release the cursed implement. I repeated the action on the hot water side and was soon in “bidness”.

After I removed the old supply lines, I realized that they would not do on the replacement faucet. For one thing, they were copper, with a two-inch section cut out and resected with clear nylon tubing and hose clamps. Not worthy.

So it was back to the home improvement center for the new hoses. Uneventful, but still annoying. I even took the new faucet and the old line in to make sure that I got the right one. Fortunately, that was a good move.

Back at the ranch, I wiggled my sore and cramping body into what seemed by now like a soup can and attached the supply lines to the faucet and in turn to the supply valves. Installed the new drain set and checked it; success!

With a victory under the sink, I turn my attention to the toilet that runs like the Brazos River. I swaggered in to the bathroom (limped, really, making old guy sounds) with the “Complete Toilet Repair Kit”. Upon opening the box, my lightening-quick mind discovered that the kit was lacking in the part that I needed. The float/filler mechanism. Great.

Off to Wildmart for the missing hardware. Upon finding the toilet kits, and the part that I needed, I noted that the same brand apparently has TWO “Complete Toilet Repair” Kits. One is obviously more complete, the one I didn’t purchase at first. No worries, I got the only thing that I came for, and headed to the checkout. Just moments from checking out, my daughter received a phone call from her mom; we needed to pick up stuff for dinner. Ugh, sometimes the cell phone is such a curse.

Finally, on arriving home, I rushed to the bathroom to finish the job begun. Another success. All that remained was to re-attach the water supply to the filler and flush. Due to the configuration of the bathroom, I had to literally hug the toilet to get the hose to the pipe. But I had to do it left-handed, without looking. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not get it threaded on there straight. I knew that I would have to actually look at the thing to accomplish my final task.

I laid down on the floor, put my feet in the tub, and with my left hand, again, threaded the coupling on to the finish line. The actual act of turning the fitting to completion was simple compared to getting myself upright from the position I had taken. There were nearly as many grunts and groans and involuntary sounds of exertion just achieving upright-ness as there was when I was under the sink. All tests made and tools picked up signaled the final chapter and a time to reflect on what went down in the course of the day.

I concluded that a plumber is not paid simply to install a faucet or fix a leaking toilet. It’s partly the knowledge and experience that enables him to cut the time by about three-quarters what you would expend in the completion of any given task. It’s also partly the possession of the tools that expedite the job in question.

Finally, it is the willingness to get into uncomfortable position in tight spaces or smelly places or a combination of the worst of both. My gimme cap is off to the plumbers who keep our society flowing freely.


charleyd said...

Great post aA, it reminds me of the time I replaced the built-in dishwasher.

The first thing I did was shut down the electrical circuit. I knew exactly which circuit breaker it was! Then I loosed the plumbing and screws that held it in place.

With screwdriver in hand, I began to separate the wiring. First the hot wire, then the neutral, and then the ground wire.

In the process, the wire broke off on the hot wire leaving it blunt at the insulation --no problem! I pulled out my trusty pocket-knife and started to bare the wire.


I convulsed, my arm violently snapped back and the pocket knife went flying straight up in the air.

I assumed the same position we were taught back in the 60's to prepare for nuclear holocaust.

The knife came flipping right down next to my ear and stuck in the floor next to me (just like the assistant standing in front of the bull’s-eye target at the circus).

After half of a roll of toilet paper, I decided to invest in a multi-tester. Got to love home improvements.

DammitWomann said...

I am LMBO. are all alike when it comes to "Honey Do" chores. I am so glad you share though becuz I still think male screw-ups are the funniest ever...........

*smile and a wink* for your perseverance...

aA said...

Mr Charley, thanx for reading, thanx for commenting and thanx for another great story! Great stuff! You need to squeeze out some more of yer stories. They're great!

Howlsatmoon said...'s all about the "crack". When it comes to most mechanical pursuits, it's the angle at which you stick your tongue out between your teeth....

But with plumbing? You got "jack" if you got no plumber's "crack".

aA said...

Wollf, that may have been my problem at first; i didn't have the respect of the old faucet, by having no "plumber's crack", I had no credentials.

Now, after squirming around for an hour trying to loosen them lock nuts, I had a bit of a wedgie, so there's a high probability for a bit of the not-so-grand canyon sighting as well.

Rob V. said...

Well after wading through this story, I am "plumb" tuckered out (as they say in East Texas).