Plumbing 101

The other day, my father came to me and told me his bathroom sink has been leaking “forever.”

Until now, I haven’t mentioned my father in this column. He is ninety and has been living with us since my mother passed away ten years ago. Like Mr. Hockey (my current husband) and the hockey pucks (our current children), my father didn’t sign up to be a subject of a personal essayist (me). In this column, I’ve gone to some lengths to protect my current family’s privacy by calling them Mr. Hockey and the hockey pucks (this is also the name of our improv group).

I feel I should do the same for my father and have been wracking my brain to come up with a pseudonym. In keeping with the hockey theme, I considered calling him Mr. Goalie because even at ninety, little gets by him.

But he doesn’t love hockey. He knows if he wants to keep living with us, he has to pretend to like it.

His defining characteristic is that he’s a ninety-year old grandfather who is still in decent shape. He can drive at night. He goes on daily one-mile walks, but only on clear days with temperatures between 40 and 80.

He introduces himself as Grandpa Jimmy to people who are not his grandchildren. He used to sign his texts, “GJ” until he learned how texting works. Now he just ends his texts with an emoji.

He’s extremely pleased with himself that he has made it this far and knows what an emoji is. He is proud to use his name, so I will hereinafter refer to my father as Grandpa Jimmy or GJ.

Back to my story.

The other day GJ told me his faucet has been dripping “forever.”

The people who live in my household think I’m house-omniscient and can sense when something breaks. I can’t. That’s why our faucets leak “forever.”

I asked him, “Can you fix it?”

“I don’t have the proper tools.”

I wasn’t really expecting him to fix it. He’s ninety, he can’t get under a sink! I can barely get under a sink. I had asked him because somewhere, in the recesses of my mind, I remember my father fixing a leaky faucet and explaining the process to a younger me. I have a vague memory of the word “washer.”

That’s when I decided: I SHALL FIX THE LEAKY FAUCET.

Here’s what I was thinking: (1) How hard could it be? GJ, not a plumber, did it once and cogently explained it to his child. Nowadays, this task is easier with the internet. There’s a YouTube video for everything. (2) What’s the worst that could happen? I thought could try it first, and if I wasn’t successful, I would call the plumber. I’d be no worse off. Plumbers are expensive. And don’t we pay more for things in the Hamptons, under the mistaken logic that everyone who lives here is rich?

Mr. Hockey was skeptical. Rightly so. I’m inept. Once, I poured motor oil into the transmission fluid pipe of Mr. Hockey’s car. I’m kind of like Lucy Ricardo, I mess up.

And like Lucy Ricardo, I was undaunted and forged ahead.

I Googled how to fix a faucet and printed a Wiki-How page with illustrations and headed to the dripping sink. The first thing I realized was I didn’t have the proper tools (as I said, little gets by GJ). I needed a wrench. I checked the kitchen junk drawer. I looked in a toolbox. It only had metal files – good to know we are prepared to break someone out of prison.

Mr. Hockey had been reorganizing his tools. Instead of asking him, I thought, what would Lucy Ricardo do? I bought a wrench.

Then, following the instructions, I shut off the water, unscrewed the handle and then the “stem” as Wiki-How called it. I looked for but couldn’t find the damaged washer. So, I reassembled everything, tightened it with my new wrench.

Now the drip was worse.

GJ had been running errands. When he returned, I admitted to everything and decided to show him how far I had gotten. I disassembled it again and showed him the washerless stem. We determined it was all one unit and the washer couldn’t be changed.

That’s when I decided: I SHALL ORDER THE PART.

Why wait for a plumber to order it? I went on the manufacturer’s website and found what I needed – a cartridge. Four days later, I returned to the drippy sink with the cartridge, my trusty wrench, and GJ in tow.

Unfortunately, all the disassembling and reassembling ended up being detrimental to the pipe underneath. At one point, it sprung a leak. This is when GJ and I had a protracted conversation about which direction would tighten the leaky valve’s bolt. He repeated the term flange. I don’t know what a flange is. I don’t want to know. It sounds like something Jerry Lewis would say, “fl-aaaange.”

Suffice it to say, Mr. Hockey was right. I had Lucy Ricardo-ed the whole thing. Even though I’d successfully installed the cartridge, all the tightening I did with my reliable wrench went awry. I had twisted the copper pipe that feeds cold water to the sink.

And it still dripped.

That’s when I decided: I SHALL CALL THE PLUMBER.

He’s coming next week.

East Hampton Press, November 13, 2019

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