Plumbing, Part 2: It Gets Worse



Last week, I described how preparing to fix my home’s only toilet turned into a half day ordeal. The rest of the day went pretty much the way you’d expect:


After staring at the instructions for half an hour and muttering to myself, I figured out how to get the new piece of toilet innards in. (At about that point my wife popped her head in, and I went on a ten minute diatribe that basically consisted of “Easy! They said it was easy!” along with some hysterical laughter.)

The new piece had to be reconnected to the water line, and the instructions gave four different ways to do that, depending on the incoming line. Flared? Flanged? Screwed? Something was screwed, all right. (Later I would mispronounce the word “flanged” to the guy at the hardware store, even though I knew how to pronounce it. My head was that screwed—and nailed—by then.) My setup, I determined, was flanged.

That took the “already installed” washer, which I’d thrown aside because it had deteriorated to a little ring of black pond scum. The rubber washer that came with the new parts, which took me ten minutes to separate from the other washer that came with the new parts, wouldn’t be necessary. Really?

With the old washer back in, everything was complete. Right? By then I’d skipped over steps fourteen through seventeen and was desperately craving a beer, even though I hate beer. I headed downstairs to turn the water back on. Instantly the sound of the tank filling could be heard upstairs.

At least, that was hopefully what the sound was. Running upstairs revealed that the toilet was indeed filling, and it even stopped when it was supposed to. I’d saved the day!

Of course, there was also that water spraying out from under the toilet.

It may seem like a good idea: Constantly cleaning your bathroom floor with a good, steady spray of water. In reality, I’ve learned that water spraying all over a room tends to end badly. I ran back downstairs to shut off the water. Then back upstairs to tighten the nut. Then back downstairs to turn on the water. Then back upstairs to get sprayed in the face, and tighten the nut more.

The old rubber washer, built by Korean kids who are now Korean elders, just couldn’t handle the strain of being taken out, then put back in again.

I ran back downstairs and turned off the valves, which also turned off the supply of water to my home’s heating system. One of the valves sprayed me in the face.

This was new.

Apparently that fixture also had a rubber washer that couldn’t take the strain.

By now I’d run up and down the stairs often enough to prepare for a marathon, my back was screaming in agony, and I’d started to wonder where that half bottle of vodka had gotten to that I stashed away somewhere after New Year’s, 2008. But I persevered, because when you gotta go, you gotta go, and my property’s outhouse disappeared a long time ago. I tried to tighten the nut again, and when that didn’t work I started going through the steps, one by one. Again.

The dog, by then, had retreated into the living room and was lying on the couch, trying to be invisible. He began casting fearful looks in my direction when I wandered into the room, compulsively folding and unfolding the directions, clothes soaked and eyes wild.

“I have to start over from scratch. Heh. It must be the washer inside. I gotta start all over. Ha. Ha ha. Hahahahahaha!!!!!!!”

At which point the dog wisely left for wherever my wife was hiding.

At the hardware store, the hardware guy patiently listened to my explanation of what I needed, which was peppered with a lot of “little round thing”, and “goes on the other thing for the stuff”, and a few words I can’t relate here. Finally I demonstrated on an actual model of a toilet, which I discovered was bolted to the wall when I tried to lift it to show him the bottom. It occurred to me later that an awfully lot of people must come in there, trying to describe the things they need for their stuff.

But finally he understood. “We don’t have that.”

Uh huh.

What he did have was a little package of plastic pipe connector whatsits, which included a little plastic washer, which might or might not do the trick. “I’ll try it – why not? Also, do you have any whiskey?”

Looks like I picked a bad decade to give up drinking.

I completely disassembled the assembled assembly, reassembled it, added the new washer, and tromped downstairs, where the water spray soaked me until, ironically, I turned the water back on. Then the leak there stopped, and since that valve has to be on to supply the furnace, I figured it should be called even.

I heard the sound of rushing water. Edgar Allen Poe never wrote a more suspenseful moment.

Upstairs, I discovered the toilet was working perfectly. Also, a little stream of water was wandering its way down the water line behind the toilet, onto a pile of wet towels. Absolutely nothing had changed since before the job started.

The instructions say the connections holding all that goshdarnit inside the toilet, and hooking it to the water line, should be hand tightened only. I got a wrench. Crawling under the toilet, I cranked that water line as tight as it would go.

The stream stopped. The dripping started. Drip. Drip. Drip. Right down the water line, in a way that made it impossible to catch in a container.

And that’s why, if you should visit my home and have the unfortunate need for a bathroom run, you’ll find a towel wrapped around the line under my toilet, a towel that has to be replaced daily. Hey, it’s a lot less water than was going down the drain before I started.

Besides, I know when I’m beaten.


Note: The toilet has since been replaced … but not by me.


The "new" toilet, along with the old flooring. If it's not the sitting, it's the footing.
The “new” toilet, along with the old flooring. If it’s not the sitting, it’s the footing.

The “new” toilet on installation day, along with the old flooring.

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8 thoughts on “Plumbing, Part 2: It Gets Worse”

  1. Writing the manual on toilet innards is something you would never get out go your system.

  2. Every single one of my “home improvement” projects contains that exact same burst of maniacal laughter somewhere between me saying, “How hard can it be?” and whenever I call the professional.

    1. Exactly, but I’m having trouble convincing my wife of that. She’s much younger, and still thinks she has the home maintenance world by the, um, nuts.

  3. It’s time to call in the professionals. I sat through a two-hour Home Depot session on how to install a toilet and the real thing is never as easy as the demonstration.

  4. This reminds me of a time when a celebrity riding instructor spent an hour working with me and my uncooperative horse. At the end of the session, he looked at me and announced for all the auditors to hear, “I’m sorry you had no successes today.”

    Please accept my condolences!

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