An occasional soliloquy from author Aline D. Wolf

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dealing with Drips

This rainy pre-Thanksgiving day seems like the perfect time to post this reminiscent blog.....



            As the mother of nine children and seven sinks, I am looking desperately for a correspondence course in “Plumbing for Housewives”.  I admit that “Child Psychology” would be a course I could more readily discuss at a cocktail party, but it would do nothing for that terrible feeling of inadequacy I have when I face a dishwasher that just won’t stop flooding the kitchen floor.
            In this day and age there are aids for all other types of household emergencies.  For example, with a well-worn copy of Dr. Spock, I have been able to remain calm while dealing with most of the childhood diseases.  And I am quite capable of rushing an injured child to the nearest emergency room.
But there has been no Spock-like plumber who cared enough to write “Pipe and Spigot Care” or “The First Five Years of Life with Your Washer”.  And there is no emergency station that offers immediate aid for severely bleeding pipes.
            Instead our household sanitation is completely dependent on a skilled laborer so much in demand that he often has to be coaxed to the scene of an impending disaster.  Just imagine the luxury of a mother who can be her own plumber—who can skip the numbers in the yellow pages and go directly to the scene of her own difficulties, confident in her knowledge of all the gauges and shut-offs in the basement.
            Now that I am seriously searching for a plumbing course, I am really anxious to learn the secrets of the trade.  For one thing, I’ve always wanted to know what’s inside a plumber’s truck.  Most housewives are bright enough to realize that there are no tools or pipes in there.  Every time I call a plumber he surveys my disaster, disappears into the back of his truck for about five or ten minutes and then emerges with the announcement, “I have to go back to ‘the shop’ for a wrench.”  When he reappears forty-five minutes later, I realize with a sinking heart that plumbers make more than teachers per hour, and the actual work never begins until the second hour.
            Another aspect of the plumbing trade I am anxious to know about is “How Many Men to Put on the Job”.  Once, our whole family had to assist a poor little man who was sent to carry a new stall shower to our third floor.  And a few months later the same firm sent two of the biggest men I ever saw to fix a leaking spigot in the powder room.  It did not seem to bother them in the least that they both could not fit in the powder room at the same time.  But it did bother me because the kids kept jumping over the $5 per hour man who was lying casually on the hall floor.
            One of the luxuries of being my own plumber will be avoiding embarrassment.  I’m not talking about the obvious situations like when the children answer the phone and say, “Mommy’s upstairs with the plumber.”  Or even when professional workmen leave a commode on the front porch for two days while they “rough in”.
            There are some things that I like to keep to myself, such as, the little weaknesses I have in housekeeping.  Take, for example, the night I failed to notice that Christopher had dumped half a box of Ivory Snow into the dishwasher.  Somehow, with my mind on dentist appointments and Halloween costumes, I was able to stack all the dishes neatly around the mound of soap powder.  When I turned the switch, bubbles blew madly all over the kitchen and undoubtedly it was one of the most hilarious nights we ever remember.  That is, it was funny until, after trying for an hour and a half to get out of the rinse cycle, the dishwasher gave a terrible moan and died.
            When the repairman arrived the next day I had sent every child who could “talk” to the movies. 
I tried to be casual, mentioning something about “a little too much soap”.  But as soon as he opened the drain he had the whole story.  “Lady,” he said, “there’s enough soap in here to do your dishes for the next ten years.”
            Another embarrassment that will be avoided when I do my own plumbing is that situation when a pipe of a major appliance manages to repair itself completely between the time I call the plumber and the moment of his arrival.  Don’t tell me that leaking pipes can’t seal themselves or that strange noises can’t completely disappear from automatic washers.  I know they can!  It happens in the same mysterious way that a screaming baby with a 103 degree fever can be sleeping peacefully with a cool 98.6 when the doctor takes the temperature with his thermometer.  But how can you be sure about a noise in the washer?  You can try running it through two or three times but this is definitely risky to the life of the machine.  And even if you run it until it sounds as though the motor is dragging on the floor, you’re just as liable to face a plumber who says, “What noise, lady?”  when you turn it on for him.
            One rule I’ve found helpful is never to mention my own diagnosis to the plumber on the phone.  When he asks what the noise sounds like, I usually say, “rumbling”.  This sounds serious enough for him to make the trip and yet it doesn’t commit me to anything definite.  And besides, “rumbling” is a much safer reply than saying, “It sounds as though Charlie’s slinky is caught in the pump.”  Even if Charlie’s slinky has been missing since the start of the trouble, it is dangerous to say so.  Many plumbers can’t face up to situations like this and simply never appear for the job.
            On the other hand when you have to give written instructions to a plumber, simplicity won’t do at all.  Last year before we opened our cottage I wrote ahead asking our summer plumber to “Please connect the automatic washer.”  Such confusion resulted from this clear concise note that this spring I had to compose two detailed paragraphs:

Manager, Never-Fail Plumbing Co.
Wildwood, New Jersey
Dear Sir:           
            Last year when you connected the automatic washer for me you inadvertently attached the hot hose to he cold spigot and the cold hose to the hot spigot.  This situation really challenged me and I became so conditioned to doing the Hot washes on the Cold setting that I am afraid I cannot go back to the original way of operating the machine.  Therefore, when you connect the washer this June, will you try to remember the way you did it last year and then proceed with exactly the same mistake? 
            However, that other mistake you made must not be repeated.  The children did enjoy sailing their boats on the kitchen floor after the first run of the washer, but it is very hard on the life of the linoleum.  Therefore, if the drain hose crumbles in your hands again, please do not connect it anyway as you did last year.  Just charge a new one to my account.
                                                                                    Yours truly,

            Yes, I can’t help thinking how simple life will be when I can be my own plumber—or rather—when I have to be my own plumber.  For the truth will come out.  My husband knows it, the children know it, the neighbors know it—and so I might as well admit it.  I have to be a plumber because our local plumber has crossed me off his list.  He will not come to our house anymore.  It all happened yesterday when I was upstairs.  Suddenly I heard gushing water and terrorized screams of children in the hall below.  The swish was so loud that it could be nothing less than a broken main, and the spray was so thick that the downstairs was fogged.  Forgetting that we didn’t have a water main in the front hall, I grabbed the bedroom phone and told the plumber of my most dire emergency.  Never have I had such quick service; he pulled into the driveway almost as soon as I made my way through the mist to the downstairs hall.  And when I saw him running in with tools actually in his arms, I realized he was making the supreme effort.
            But the spray died down at his feet.  I still think it wasn’t my fault.  I had completely forgotten there was a fire extinguisher in the back of the hall closet.  The kids found it when they were playing elevator with the sliding closet doors.  Naturally they thought it was a skin-diver’s tank.  Greg put it on his back and tried to dive out of the closet, never thinking he would actually be submerged.  You can see what happened.  As soon as the tank was inverted, the hose began to wildly spray everything in sight.
            I gazed at my plumber knee-deep in foam.  “Lady…..” he said.  And then he didn’t say another word.  There was just something about the way he turned and walked out that told me I would have to face our next disaster without him.