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…

It happens…

Birthdays are pretty laid back around here.  Typically, the family (used to be four of us, now there are three) goes out for dinner at a restaurant of the celebrant’s choice.  The meal is followed by cake, ice cream and low key giftery at the homestead.  All in all, very nice.

Through the years, there have been a few birthday events of note… Once, i had a scratched cornea, yet went to dinner anyway – baked out of my skull on painkillers and wearing an eye patch.  They convinced me to carry a fake pirate hook for effect.  Pirate jokes were tossed with reckless abandon, and an annoyed amused confused wait staff was the ultimate outcome.  There might  have been a pirate hat involved, too.  i honestly can’t remember… not even sure whose birthday it was… 

Another favorite?  The year The Boy turned 18*.  i was too busy that day getting a biopsy and completing the qualifying assumption on my home to get him a cake.  He and The Girl took care of this task, returning home from the grocery store with a cake that said “Happy Birthday, You Sexy Bitch”.  Would have loved to see the look on the face of the nice blue-haired lady working the bakery that night when this request crossed the counter…

Last month, The Boy turned 20.  A quiet day, spent with his friends, started with a trip to the local flea market, so they could buy “Air soft riflesBB guns and pretzels…. HUGE pretzels…”.  Since The Girl was still in Beirut, we decided to postpone the family dinner.  i offered to grill up some testosterone-encrusted man-sized steaks for him and two of his friends instead.

It was going quite well, until the young gents started to “process” all that red meat…  i heard a howl from downstairs.  Apparently one particularly gastronormous colon blow had sent the downstairs toilet into red alert – creating a shit waterfall.  For a variety of reasons, i was simply unable to deal with it at the time…  The Boy – frustrated and ankle deep in shitwater – asked advice.

daisyfae:  there’s a Shop-Vac** in the garage…. [returns to fetal position, sucking thumb, hiding under covers]

He bravely went about the business at hand.  Even firing off perhaps his best one-liner of the year (which reduced his now half-drunken friends to tears):

The Boy:  My birthday was going great… until a bunch of shit came up…

After cleverly disposing the muck***, he dutifully scrubbed and disinfected the downstairs bathroom.  This was followed by what was essentially a “sexual assault victim” shower.  Curled up in the tub, nearly boiling water assailing his body, scrubbing furiously at himself… never clean enough…

Managed to fetch a plumber the next morning to dislodge the offending clog****, but there was still a residual problem with the Shop-Vac.  i love my Shop-Vac.  i need my Shop-Vac.  It had to be cleansed…  The Boy promised to do this (bleach/water solution would do the trick), but asked for a couple days to allow recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder.

When the soiled Shop-Vac was still sitting on my lower patio last week – unclean – and The Boy was preparing to return to his apartment after Christmas break?  i had to bitch at him until he caved gently turn up the heat.  Returning from a trip to the local store to purchase a gallon of bleach, he and a friend hit me with the following:

The Boy:  We were going to buy some duct tape, rope, a shovel, rubber gloves and trash bags too – just to see if anyone called the cops on us…

Friend of The Boy*****:  Yeah, we thought about asking which aisle had “hooker killing supplies”, but that would have been over the top…


* It was December, 2006.  Not. A. Good. Month. For. Me….

** If you are going to own one piece of equipment that you must count on to save you from water-based disaster?  It is the lowly Shop-Vac.  Has saved me from many a mess…

*** i believe it was poured into the creek bed, far behind my lower patio.  i really don’t want to know….

**** Paid damn near $200 for a guy in hip-waders to stick a $50 “toilet auger” into the toilet.  Took him 15 minutes to do the job, and another 30 minutes to figure out how to use the electronic, wireless thingamajobbie to process my payment… Guess what my next hardware store purchase shall be?

***** He’s a “boy”, and he’s a “friend”.  But he’s NOT a “boyfriend”…