SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
One of Murphy’s Laws is that when bad things happen, they happen at the worst possible time. I’m not sure which of Murphy’s Laws that is – number fourteen, maybe.
I was just trying to silence the pipes.
Not bagpipes, mind you. I suppose some people would like to stop those, but I’d kind of like to have Amazing Grace piped at my funeral. Or “Take This Job and Shove It”. No, I was trying to stop the water pipes in my house, which were moaning and groaning like a gaggle of haunted houses.
Months before, the pipes started making the occasional noise. I’d heard stories of noisy pipes, but didn’t realize two things: how easy it was to get used to it, and how incredibly annoying it could become if you started thinking about it. The longer and louder they made noise, the more I would think about it. I would think, “What the heck is making the pipes moan?”
My girlfriend thought it might be my puns making the pipes moan. Emily has recently instituted a pun jar – a quarter for every bad pun I make – with which she hopes to buy a new car, but that’s another column.
Now, I’ve had a separate water related problem, involving a toilet that sometimes continued to run on after it was flushed. (Yes, my plumbing is ancient – why do you ask?) After a time the old “jiggle the handle” routine stopped working, and one day I opened up the back lid in an attempt to figure the problem out.
I did the same thing I do when there’s a problem with the car engine: Open the led, stare down at it as if I know what I’m looking at, then poke around inside for awhile. I should point out, for those with even less knowledge than I have, that the water in the back of the toilet isn’t the, um, “ick” water – that comes after. Still, this method of mechanical repair remained less than useful.
But I did discover one thing: There’s a float in the back of the toilet, which does – um, it does something – and I discovered that if I pulled up on it, just a little, the noisy pipes stopped making noise. It turns out the problems were, indeed, related.
Now, I’ve been poking fun at my mechanical incompetence – one of the few times it’s any fun at all – but the truth is, I once replaced the innards of my toilet, all by myself. (It took two days, five Band-Aids, and three loads of towels.) At about the same time the pipes started making noise. Clearly, even when I get things right they go wrong.
After that, whenever the pipes would start moaning I’d reach into the back of the toilet, pull up on the floater arm a little, and the noise would usually stop. This was so much cheaper than hiring an exorcist.
Possibly some of you have figured out what’s coming next.
I was getting ready for work, and as I prepared to head out the door I realized the pipes were moaning like a Congressman getting his earmarks taken away. I quickly removed the lid, gave the arm a little pull –
And found myself standing there, with the float and its arm still in my hand but nowhere near the toilet. The snapping sound was a big clue to what had happened. So was the water rushing, unrestrained, into the toilet reservoir.
So was my language, which brought Emily running into the room. I’d just as soon not repeat what I said, but after so many years of having this kind of thing happen, you’d think I’d be used to it.
Emily, taking the whole thing in with a glance, quickly set to work trying to stop the flow of water while I stood there with a piece of toilet in my hand, looking – well, stupid. “Do you want me to call work and tell them you’ll be late?” she asked.
“Uh,” I said.
After a moment, I realized our only choice for the night would be to turn off the water to the toilet until it could be fixed. You know how there’s a little valve at the base of a toilet, which allows the flow of water to be stopped? I don’t have one of those.
I rushed to the basement and looked up, where a maze of pipes wandered around the ceiling like dried spaghetti from an exploded pot. There were, indeed, valves here and there. I followed the pipes around, seeing how they connected to this and that, and then located a valve that might be somewhere close to the bathroom and might turn off the flow to the toilet, or to the water heater, or the hot water furnace system, or all of the above. Frankly, water shutoffs didn’t appear to be a big worry in the 1800’s.
I always keep a coin in my pocket, for just this kind of crisis. Heads – it get turned off.
The rush of flowing water immediately stopped. It was some kind of March miracle.
After arriving at work I called my daughter, whose boyfriend has the advantage of actually understanding mechanics. “If Vinny comes over in the morning to fix my toilet I’ll give him a million dollars,” I told her.
“Small, unmarked bills, like when he fixed the garbage disposal?”
“I may have to write an IOU.”
Then I called Emily, who had stayed behind to make sure the furnace didn’t explode because I still wasn’t sure to what all I’d shut off water. “As soon as I get home I’ll take all the old hardware out of the toilet, so Vinny won’t have to –“
“Oh no you don’t! You don’t touch anything!”
“But I installed it in the first place! I was flush with success.”
“Yes, and see what happened? Now, you owe the pun jar a quarter.”
That’s why I love her; she understands my limitations. And so does Murphy.