Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

Never much of a handyman around the house—like most Jewish men I know, my handiwork encompasses writing checks that don’t bounce—I’ve been honing my DIY (do-it-yourself) skills of late. Today, for example, using my jig saw and new cordless drill, I built a slanted foot stand on which to stretch my Achilles tendons. Total cost: $14.07. Not bad, considering that physical therapy over the last month has cost almost $300 per session! I also power-sprayed part of our slate patio. Amazing how much dirt can accumulate over 25 years!!!

Today’s successes notwithstanding, I’m in no rush to proclaim myself the next incarnation of Bob Vila. Back in September 1978, I learned the hard way to be humble when it comes to home repairs.

We had just moved into our first house, a 1932 three bedroom Tudor. Gilda was eight months pregnant with Dan. One Sunday evening, while she painted and wallpapered his bedroom (oh, stop rolling your eyes and shaking your head at the thought of her standing on a ladder. We wanted the job done right, after all), I occupied myself with more ground level tasks. I changed the cylinder on the garage door. I fixed the door on the washing machine. I was on a roll. It was now time to tackle the leaky flush ball in the basement toilet. Gilda had bought a repair kit. I simply had to follow the instructions.

I took the top off the tank. I removed the faulty plug from the valve assembly and immediately set off a gusher of cold water. It splashed off the ceiling, drenched me and would not stop. I screamed for Gilda. From two flights above she heard me, raced downstairs and feared she would become a widow from all the water bouncing off the light fixture above me. You idiot, she basically said. Why didn’t you shut the water off? I countered that I followed every instruction provided by the kit she bought. Nowhere, nowhere, did it say, SHUT THE WATER OFF BEFORE YOU START, DUMMY!!!

OK, all I had to do was shut the water off. Modern toilets generally have a shut-off valve below the tank. Did I mention that this house was built in 1932? Back then, at least for this toilet, the plumber didn’t think an exterior shut-off valve was necessary. I tried stuffing towels into the open valve to stem the flow, but like BP and the rest of the world are finding out, it’s not that easy stopping a liquid under pressure that wants to escape. Water was already several inches deep in the bathroom. The only consolation was we already were in the basement and no damage could be done to our living quarters.

We were about to call an emergency plumber when we remembered that during the recent inspection prior to purchasing our home, the inspector pointed out the main water pipe. Now if we could only remember where he said it was. It took several more wet minutes but we located it and managed to turn the water off. I re-inserted the plug, turned the water back on and asked Gilda to call a plumber Monday morning.

Jodie showed up the next day, cheerfully telling Gilda these old toilets are tricky, that if you’re not careful you could easily crack a pipe, which he promptly did. By the time he finished we were hundreds of dollars poorer, but richer in that we had a whole new toilet assembly, with an exterior shut-off valve.