Sunday, December 07, 2008

Fools & flappers

Most of the weekend was spent trying to solve what should have been a minor plumbing problem.  On Friday night, I opened our water bill to a sort of mental shock and awe when my eyes lit on the figure of close to $600.  I had noticed the bill was a bit high, close to $300, near summer's end, but, well, we'd had the garden and the slipe & slide parties for the kids (the kiddie water slide runs the outdoor hose continuously).  

Well.  I suddenly realized how serious that trickling sound coming from the toilet(s) was.  Yes.  The sound that had been in the background of my mind for a while, kind of a homeowner's white noise.  Next time I hear that sound, I will treat it as though it were a four-alarm fire.  All three of the 'flappers' on the three household toilets were warped and letting water escape continuously down the drain.  And the thunk of the water uptake turning back on, drawing water into the tank.  Over and over and over again.  

My husband went to the hardware store twice on Saturday, trying to figure out which part we needed and carrying one of the original flappers with him (yes, that's what the part is actually called).  The local hardware store is a small, locally owned chain, and the staff are great.  But, somehow, this slipped by them.  The first set of flappers purchased, when installed according to the directions, gave the slip to the trickle we'd been hearing.  Yet the water uptake sound kept happening.  And if we left the unit alone for a bit, the water level drop in the tank became visible.  The second set purchased produced a flapper that would usually both rise and fall, but occasionally would only rise, and remain there, perched smugly above the main drain.  

We did our best imitation of an Abbott and Costello routine, the low point of which for me was feeling not only the need, but the maniacal compulsion to explain to my husband the difference between a wrench and pliers in great detail.  And to ask him why he was trying to shorten the chain between the arm and the flapper by winding it up in the curls of a paperclip.  The low point for him was pointing out to me that when I asked him to look at something that he did not know he was standing in my light nor that I was convinced I was developing low pressure glaucoma.

So I went to the hardware store, which was, as my husband, said, packed.  Packed with people who probably used to have a lot of investments and high-yield 401(k) plans who are now realizing that there are things around the house they can probably do for themselves: like weatherproofing or covering over those basement window wells or flapper-fixing or probably basic wiring, for all I know.  

It made me feel better that I had spent all of that time in hardware stores with my father and that, despite the fact I had never really helped him fix anything, I could remember the difference between an adjustable wrench and a socket wrench.  It is hard for me to say this with a straight face, but I really love tools.  I do.  Something like my poor daughter at the age of about, oh, three or four, launching into a tirade about not being allowed to use a screwdriver, which involved multiple unfortunate misuses of the word "screw."  And poor me trying and failing, yes, absolutely failing, not to laugh, and making her angrier because I refused to explain what I was laughing about.  I'm going to teach her the differences among wrenches, pliers, and hammers, as well as screw drivers.  I will give her tools for her birthdays.  She will learn how to fix her own stuff.

The new flappers are bright red.  I measured pipe diameters, drew a diagram of the overflow pipe's seemingly odd configuration at its base, and wrote down not only the manufacturer, but the tank product number, the capacity, and the fact that it was a Low Consumption "water closet."  I was trying to explain to this very nice man who clearly knew a lot about flappers why the others did not appear to have worked, when he said, in passing, well, but you wouldn't need that kind of thing unless you had a 1.6 gallon flush tank.  And I practically shrieked: but I do, I DO HAVE that tank!  I have a 1.6 gallon tank!  And I really thought I was going to cry.  In the middle of a crowded hardware store filled with people panicked over home repair who had never looked at a parts package in their adult lives or known that there were so many different parts for so many different common household items, appliances, and utilities.  


datbot said...

*That* is household plumbing. The repeated trips to the crowded hardware store, the Goldilocks-like search for the right part, the frustration and near fights, the icky water on everything - that's one of America's most universal experiences. Have a beer. In a can.

Elizabeth said...

and wear your pants down low with no underwear