Zen and the Art of Toilet Repair

For two years i have engaged in combat with the toilet in my guest bathroom. It started with a sticky handle. Being a two-banana mechanic*, i was comfortable doing the easy replacement myself.

With a little tweak here and there, i was able to keep it working, but eventually it stuck again. i dove in again, tearing down some of the bits and nuggets, and re-set the handle until it worked.

Success remained short lived. No matter what i did, which type of handle i used, i couldn’t make the repair stick. Or un-stick, as this case called for… How much did i spend on handles? Replacement innerds for the entire flush mechanism? i lost track.

Giving up, i put a note on it that simply said “Please lift handle after flush”.

i live alone, and primarily use the toilet in the master bathroom, adjacent to my bedroom. Studley is my most frequent visitor, and he’d learned the drill. Parties? Guests? i was constantly poking my head into the guest bathroom to make sure the handle had been lifted.

Right before i headed out west in July, the toilet in the master bath had colluded with the guest bath toilet, and the handle refused to lift. Wrench in hand, i dove in and tweaked until it worked again.

Until it didn’t. Headed out the door for the airport, i left a note for my pet sitter explaining the process. He apparently didn’t get it working, because i got a frantic text one morning – “I can’t flush the toilet! Help!”  i was able to video chat with him through the brute force process required to successfully empty the bowl.**

When i returned home, i spent more money on toilet repair gear, and settled in to tear both toilets down if needed. And i failed. Commiserating with Studley, i came to the only logical conclusion possible.

“i’m going to blow up that motherfucking toilet and put in a new one. Maybe turn the old one into a planter in the back garden to annoy the home owners association, and serve as a warning to all future toilets…”

Two days later, while slugging coffee, i had an epiphany. Call a plumber. It would be far less expensive, and stressful, to hire a pro. Choking on my ego, i made the call. “It’s just a problem with the handle, but i’ve tried everything i can do to fix it! i’m a moron, and i’m sure it’s something simple, but i give up!” The scheduler assured me it was a common thing, and set up the service call.

Jerry arrived, and patiently listened to me babble on about my war with the handles. The angst, the frustration, the rage… “Help me, Plumber Wan Kenobi! You’re my only hope!” 

He was patient. He was good at his job. He repaired both toilets in less than an hour, using parts i already had on hand. He talked me through it. He explained the problem, and imparted a few words of wisdom…

“This seal? This was the problem from the start. It degraded over time, and made it hard to pull the handle. It should be fine now…”

“i am SUCH a bonehead! i feel like a complete idiot! i should have checked that!”

He didn’t laugh or make fun of me. In fact, he smiled and said it happens quite often.

“You’d be amazed at how often we drive ourselves crazy fixing the wrong problem.”

let it go

image found here

* In the realm of the gear head, there is a ‘five banana’ scale for repair skills. When i started assisting with the rebuild of the old Jeep, my friend tagged me pretty quickly as a “one banana”. Over time, i’ve gained some skills. 

** And he mercifully did NOT reveal contents of the bowl during our video chat…

14 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Toilet Repair

  1. Aaaaargh.
    I am glad that your plumber was efficient, effective and not an patronising oxygen thief.
    Sadly when I had toilet issues it took me, my partner, two plumbing companies, local government contractors and (literally) thousands of dollars to resolve. And two garden beds were destroyed in the process. And the driveway had to be relaid.

    • i’m sorry your repair was so complex – i’ve been there recently with my son’s home. Try to fix one small thing and the next thing you know you’re finding black mold, asbestos and a gazillion other expensive projects. Plumbing in particular can be fraught with peril – which is one of the reasons i had to give up. i had been banging on that toilet so much i had knocked a connection lose and had a small drip. Better to hire the pros before i did more damage…

  2. There isn’t space in comments to recount all the plumbing issues now coming to light here.But if I ever catch up with the clown who built this place…

    The leaky seal in the “little loo” is fixed, but I’m scared to remove the ice cream tub, just in case. Wooden floor, y’see…

    • You clearly have trust issues – probably for good reason! My first home was built in 1928 – not super old, but old enough to have had a lot of work done by a variety of homeowners and contractors. We had some serious altercations with “Franken-plumbing” and mucked up wiring. My next home was much newer, and brick. This one? A condo, even newer. As much as i love older homes, i’m not interested in spending all of my days doing repair, maintenance and rehab…there’s plenty to keep up with in the newer places!

  3. Remember the Jefferson Airplane song “Somebody to Love”? Here’s my plumbing version:
    When the drain is found
    to be clogged
    and all the joy within you dies
    don’t you want somebody to fix-it
    don’t you need somebody to fix-it
    wouldn’t you love somebody to fix-it
    you better find somebody to fix-it

    I came up with that for a post I did about fixing a drain. It’s an old post from 2013
    May your toilets flush and your pipes stay clean.

    • THAT is absolutely brilliant! For years, i stayed away from electrical work at home – afraid of fires! Plumbing? i’d try, but keep it to the really simple stuff (gray water only). But you are absolutely correct – and lyrical – that it’s better to contract that one out to a professional! i probably spent as much on parts and repair kits over the past two years as i did for one hour of a plumbers time!

  4. Ah yes, toilet repair, i know it well… not long ago i was doing the same thing and replacing a bunch of worn out parts that had stopped an old toilet from working properly, of course there was one old rusty bolt that was impossible to get off and i spent Jah knows how long working at it from all angles, spent a good number a minutes spewing a string of expletives and flailing my arms in frustration, (Zen and the Art of Cursing like a Sailor) after one broken hacksaw blade i finally sawed through the bolt and yelled like Chief Brody when he blew up the shark… less than 8-9 months later the boss decided to re-model the bathroom, all my hard work down the shitter!!

    • Sorry to laugh at your misfortune, but i know you took the remodeling in stride. Just another “fuck you” from the universe! Part of what made me so mad was that i should have known to dig out that seal. A $0.50 part! The logic was obvious, but i was so fixated on the handle mechanism – i would go to a new hardware store and study all the different variants of handles, thinking there had to be a perfect solution to my problem. Because i am a world class MO-RON. i lost a banana through this process, and consider myself one banana again…

  5. “You’d be amazed at how often we drive ourselves crazy fixing the wrong problem.” I might just tattoo this to my forehead in reverse so I can be reminded every time I look in the mirror.
    My not-old-enough-for-things-to-go-wrong-yet camera died on me 2 days ago, and after zillions of online forums and youtube videos, I’ve decided to cease knocking more days off my life and send it off to get it repaired by someone who knows what their doing. So I understand that feeling oh so well – it makes perfect sense, but still feels like defeat…

    • My jaw dropped when he said it. A little twinkle in his eye, too…. i, too, have learned a lesson from this. Know when to call a pro. It’s right up there with “know when to hold ’em, fold ’em, walk away, run, etc. It DOES feel like defeat, but had i continued to battle that toilet, broke the water spigot, cracked the porcelain, etc. it would have been a far worse defeat. Lessons, everywhere you look! Thanks for stopping by!

  6. If you lift the tank lid on my commode upstairs, you will see a jury-rigged repair that features duct tape. That’s right…I have duct tape in my tank.

    Do you know what I keep in my toolbox?

    A roll of duct tape and a checkbook. If I can’t fix it with the first, I used the second.

    • One of the interim fixes to a tank included a bit of masking tape – the dog sitter had improvised.

      You should add one more thing to that toolbox — WD-40. For things that don’t move when they should…just as the Duct Tape is for things that DO move when they shouldn’t.

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