Sunday, February 19, 2017

dirty water

I am not much of a handy man. My collection of tools with which I tend to the needed repairs around my house consists of three hammers, five screwdrivers — three straight, two Phillips — a set of Allen wrenches* and a lightweight pair of pliers. I also have a small container of short brass nails that I use to hang the many framed, autographed photos I have accumulated from the many collector shows I have attended. Aside from the occasional self-extracted nail in a floor plank that needs to be taught a good pounding lesson or a loose chair screw in need of tightening, I rarely have the opportunity to ply my limited home-repair skills. And that's good, because anything more challenging than changing a light bulb or... or.... changing a light bulb, well, then I'm in over my head.

I will tell you that I have advanced slightly above the level of my father's fix-it prowess. I remember a long-ago family project involving painting the bedroom I shared with my brother. My mother picked out and purchased paint and the event was planned for an upcoming weekend. Bright and early on Saturday morning, my mother (not my father) moved all of the furniture out of the way and covered everything with dropcloths and old sheets. She laid out brushes and rollers and turpentine and disposable trays filled with paint. She instructed my brother and me to dress in old clothes and then, when we were suitably outfitted, she offered additional direction on painting procedure. In the meantime, my father dressed up in what had come to be known as his "handyman costume." He'd put on a pair of white canvas pants speckled with assorted sizes of multi-colored paint splotches, a shapeless denim shirt decorated with a similar amount of paint and — as the crowning glory — a white painters hat that he scored for free when he paid for the paint. He smiled proudly as he paraded around the prepared bedroom, modeling his outfit for the family. He picked up a dry brush and mock-painted the faces of my brother and me, We laughed and he did this many more times until it was no longer funny. Finally, he dunked a roller into the tray of paint and made a couple of sloppy drags across the wall. Then, he plopped the roller back in the tray and announced that he was going downstairs for a cigarette. That was the last we saw of him until my mom, my brother and I finished the job ourselves. At least I now have the sense enough to hire a painter,

My father's constructive efforts left a lot to be desired. There were broken windows in forgotten rooms on the second floor of our house. There were frayed electrical cords and broken lamps throughout our house. I'm not sure my father even knew how to replace a light bulb. I was sure, however, that he knew nothing about plumbing. That did not stop him from hiring a plumber (who happened to be my uncle) and berate the poor guy as he banged around under our failing hot-water heater.

I know I am not handy and I don't pretend I am. I can tackle easy jobs, but even those can end with less-than-stellar results. (May I direct your attention to a door in our house that doesn't quite close all the way since I "fixed" a loose hinge.)

I have been noticing, for a few months now, that the toilet in our third-floor bathroom has been taking a particularly long time to fill after flushing. I have lifted the lid and stared into the tank for inordinate amounts of time, expecting to see — I don't know — a big, flashing arrow pointing to exactly what needs fixing/adjusting/replacing. So, I... y'know.... kept an eye on it. Surprisingly, it did not fix itself. It actually got worse, making high-pitched whistles and strange gurgling noises as the tank slowly refilled. A few days ago, after a flush, the water in the tank just ran and ran and ran. Again, I extracted the lid and I saw the flapper ball at the bottom of the tank was flopping at an awkward angle, nowhere near the hole at the base of the flush valve it's supposed to cover. (See? I learned something from working weekends in my father-in-law's hardware store for 25 years!) Quickly, I shut off the main water supply to the tank and stared helplessly into the porcelain abyss. After a day, I decided to take a trip to Home Depot to buy a new flapper ball and tackle this repair myself, goddammit! As I perused the many flapper balls on the shelves, I was very pleased to see that each and every package was labeled "universal." Good thing, because I took no measurements. I bought a lovely brick-red number with a sturdy-looking chain and a five dollar price tag and headed home to begin and end my little project before dinner.

I sprinted upstairs, filled with confidence. I yanked the lid off the tank. I popped open the blister-carded flapper ball and untangled the shiny new flush chain. With a fistful of paper towels, I reached to the bottom of the empty tank and deftly ripped the one remaining attachment of the old flapper from its weakened grip. The old ball, after who knows how many years of waterlogged submersion, had been rendered soft and gummy and tore away from its single mooring easily. With my path clear and my determination high, I fastened the new flapper ball into place, connected the chain to the flush handle with the recommended amount of slack and replaced the tank lid — all in a matter of mere minutes. I restarted the flow of water to the tank and, after a test flush, all was working properly. I was triumphant!

A day or two later, I noticed that the sink in our main bathroom was a little slow in draining completely. My wife had been feeding some organic, biodegradable solution into the drain on a semi-regular basis with minimal success. Drunk with my new-found "master plumber" power, I twisted the pop-up drain plug out of its chrome-rimmed hole. Clinging to the bottom of its four-inch plastic shaft was a wet, gray mass that looked like an animal tail. I pulled the stringy mess off and tossed it in the trash. I replaced the drain plug and ran some water into the basin. It swirled and wooshed down the drain with the force of Colorado River rapids.

So, am I ready to take on more complex home repair projects? A new counter-top for the kitchen, perhaps, or a little rewiring in the basement? No sir. I am not. I will stick to hanging pictures and changing light bulbs. I will leave the big stuff to someone who needs a big metal box to carry their tools.

* I'm not sure why I own Allen wrenches. I don't know anyone named "Allen."

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! I'm so proud of you. Pat yourself on the head :) I knew an Allen many years ago, but that doesn't explain why I have his wrenches either?