Tag Archives: plumbing

I never said I was a plumber.

11 Jan

My toilet has a weird handle: you lift it to flush, and it drops back down and points toward the floor between flushes. It’s been this way since I moved in, and it’s never struck me as particularly odd, but apparently it is.

I know this because pretty much every guest who uses my toilet somehow manages to leave the handle in the lifted position. Honestly, I’m not even sure how they do that or how much time it takes to get it to stay upright, but without fail, whenever someone disappears to the restroom, minutes after they return to the living room, I’ll hear the tell-tale sign of the toilet endlessly refilling. I’ll go drop the handle back into place, then explain the oddities of my plumbing to my visitor.

I share this because we had people over for brunch on New Year’s Day. Many of them hadn’t been to my place before, so rather than brace myself for “handle duty,” I simply took a little Post-It note on it so people would know what to do.

It worked like a charm and a dozen people used my bathroom without leaving it in the upright position. It worked so well, in fact, that I decided to just leave the note there, since on at least one occasion I returned from vacation to find the toilet running because the cat sitter didn’t know the flusher trick.

Alan, apparently, had other ideas. As I was working on my laptop the other night, he came into the living room and stood next to me with a shit-eating grin on his face. He’d cleverly moved the Post-It note to the button on his pants.


And he accusing me of the being the 12 year old in this relationship? I don’t think so.


The plumbing was a bit dodgy.

15 Apr

London has been – and remains – one of my favorite cities. There’s so much history and charm and character. And – something I really didn’t appreciate until I lived in France for a while – communication is EASY. If anything, the few differences between British English and American English tend to provide small moments of delight.

Who doesn’t enjoy seeing things with these names on a menu: Toad in a Hole, Eton Mess, Jam Roly Poly, Champignons Rumbledethump? Real example: the other night at dinner, the person to my left asked for bashed neaps and tatties, while the one on my right ordered bubble and squeak. It might all be English, but it doesn’t mean I understand it. (And it doesn’t mean I can repeat it – when I tried to remember the name of the one dish, I called it “bashed teats and nappies,” which I think is something entirely different!)

For all the general convenience of London, there are always a few things that remind me I’m in a very OLD country.

One is the plumbing. Whenever I encounter a toilet, I feel it’s a bit of Russian Roulette to determine if it will flush. In my hotel, it seemed to work one out of every three times, generally. At the office, there was no rhyme or reason to when a toilet would flush. People seemed to just close the lid and move on. There were times when I’d head to the bathroom and find ALL the toilets with their lids closed – only to return an hour later and they would all be clear.

Every time I went to the bathroom, if there was another woman in there I would ask about it. “Am I doing something wrong? Do some of these toilets just not flush predictably?”

I would get a shrug in response. “Yeah, they’re a bit dodgy.”

In the States, this would be grounds for outrage. We would be on the phone with the building supervisor, complaining that the restroom needed repairing and threaten to break our lease if it wasn’t resolved quickly. In London, it seemed gently accepted.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 11.03.11 AMThe other reminder on this trip that we were clearly in another country was the hair dryer provided by the hotel. Look at that thing!

After checking into the hotel and stashing our stuff, my traveling companion reported back, “I don’t think that Flowbie-thing is going to cut it!”

Not only does it look like something you might use to vacuum out your car, it also blows air only a smidge warmer and more forcefully than if you attempted to dry your hair by blowing through a straw.

Finally, I don’t know what it is, but the Brits LOVE their mayonnaise. I’m acutely aware of this because I do NOT love mayonnaise, so I found myself scraping it off EVERYTHING. Even things that rightfully shouldn’t have mayonnaise on them seemed to be slathered in it.

Differences aside, London was kind to us. The people were warm and friendly. The weather was generally sunny (aside from an odd 15 minute stretch where it when from sunny to rainy to hailing then back to sunny). The sites were lovely.

Mission completed, we pulled out of St. Pancras on Friday bound for a few days with our Paris team, where the toilets might work reliably, but our language skills would not.


An SNL skit in my bathtub.

13 Sep

So now that my leak is fixed (knock wood), I’ve realized: Hiring a plumber is like paying someone $600 to throw a party in your place and barf on the carpet.

Don’t get me wrong – the guy did a great job. But…

So he shows up with his son, who is approximately 20 and is trying to become a plumber by apprenticing with his dad. I’m pretty sure the main reason his dad drags him along is so he can bill out “two men” instead of one, but ostensibly he’s learning something. The main thing I saw him learn was how to retrieve tools from the van.

Every ten minutes, the plumber would yell, “Jim! I need you to go to the van and get…” Fill in the blank.

But the first time he needed more than one item he also said, “Jim – stop. I think you’ll forget. You best get a piece of paper and write this down.” To which his son rolled his eyes and left. And within five minutes was calling his dad’s cell phone to ask what he needed from the van.

After about half an hour at my place (which, I’d like to point out is SMACK in the middle of the city), his son said, “Hey Dad! Do you think I need to lock the van?”

And his dad paused, looked at me like his son had just spoken Chinese, then said, “What the hell? YES you should lock the van, you dumbass!” with a big headshake.

I got to do my own headshake minutes later, when Jim Junior reappeared and said, “I need to use your bathroom.”

“We’ve turned the water main off,” I told him, thinking how long it had been since I had been able to use a toilet myself. “So you won’t be able to flush.”

He shrugged and said, “That’s ok. I’m not going to poop.”

All right then. Thanks for that. Go for it.

About this time, Jim Senior pinpointed the source of the leak. But it was in a difficult place to fix, so he outlined his strategy – which was surprisingly complex and – if all were to go well – would prevent him from tearing out an entire wall of stone tiles in my bathroom. I gave him a mental fist bump and wished him well, feeling confident until he asked, “Do you have any fire alarms we should disable?”

Um… why? Oh, because apparently he needed to use a blow torch for an extended period of time next to a wood panel in my wall. No worries, nothing to see here folks.

Rather than disable my smoke detectors, I retrieved my fire extinguisher and put it next to him. “You know how to work one of these?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Not my first rodeo.”

Oddly, his confidence did nothing to inspire MY confidence in him.

Miraculously, all went well and he didn’t start a fire in my building (to my knowledge). But while he was in there, he spotted another leak of the flip side of the wall, originating from my bathtub diverter. The next thing I knew, he was standing in my bathtub, blackening the bottom with his dirty boots, getting sprayed in the face with water while he used a chisel to remove pieces of the tile.

“Is it ok if this rug gets dirty?” he asked, pointing to my plush bathroom rug, which was already wadded up under him in the tub, wet with blobs of caulk. Um… a little late to ask, no?

About this time, using a pocket knife to whittle a fitting, his grip slipped and the knife sliced into his finger. Blood started spraying everywhere in my bathtub and he calmly said, “Well now, this isn’t good.”

UNDERSTATEMENT. I watched my poor rug absorb blood for a while before suggesting he might need stitches. “Naw,” he offered. “But if you have a BandAid, that might help.” I got him one, which he tried to apply, but it slid off because his finger was too wet. With blood. We tried that six more times before he ended up just sucking his finger and using the bed of his elbow to hold a flashlight. I’ll give him points for resourcefulness.

Since I have the double curse of being OCD *and* polite, rather than confront his messiness, I started chasing around the house, trying to discreetly clean up after him. The first time I bent to retrieve a wad of wet muddy grass that had fallen off his boot, I felt like Sherlock Holmes. “He lives in rural Maryland and mowed the lawn last night,” I said to myself, feeling clever.

But by the time I picked up the thirtieth clump of wet grass I was like, “This guy is a slob. If he killed someone, I’ll soon find organs in the pile of my carpet. No mystery here, folks.”

When he finished the work, he sidled up to my dining room table and pulled out a chair to write up the invoice. I’d like to point out that the chair he pulled out was a high-back chair upholstered with mushroom colored fabric, and he pulled it out with a hand that resembled a good steak: charred and bloody. I watched in horror, but mentally resigned myself to buying a new chair. After all, the dude had just ended a major leak.

I’d like to say I stayed calm and kept things in perspective, but the minute he left, I turned my place on end, scrubbing the floors by hand, bleaching my tub, and loading up the washer with throw rugs.

Perhaps it would’ve been less scarring to just order a demo company to knock out all my walls. Next time, I suppose. Because in a building that’s 100 years old, unfortunately there will ALWAYS be a next time.

No vacation goes unpunished

10 Sep

Before I regale you with tales of New Scotland, I’d like to tell you what I came home to…

I dumped my suitcase on the floor of my kitchen, since that’s where the laundry is. I started running the water and sorting the clothes into piles. I poured myself a glass of water. I added my clothes to the washer. I noticed that I’d spilled some water on the floor when I’d replaced the Britta pitcher.

I started working. I checked the laundry. I realized the floor was still wet. I wiped it up. I checked the laundry. I noticed water beading up on the grout between the tiles of my kitchen floor. I knelt down. I heard the tiles squish when I pressed them. I saw more water bead up on the grout.

I flipped my shit.

I’ll save you a play-by-play of the calls I made, notes I wrote and emails I sent, all trying to coordinate a plumber, update the property manager and check with neighbors for water damage. Let’s just agree: I was thorough, conscientious, and efficient. And I still managed to log a ten hour work day. I’m sure that was child’s play to Ann Romney. But Michelle knows what I’m talking about.

The plumber was awesome. He sounded like a good, rural guy who knows pipes and hates the city. We had a fifteen minute chat on the phone while I walked around, shutting off all the water valves in my place. He was stunned to learn I had a tankless water heater. “It’s electric?” he asked. I confirmed.

“Are your showers cold?” he continued. I told him they were warm.

“But you run out of hot water, right?” he asked. I told him I did not. And that I actually had the larger model, which meant TWO people could shower simultaneously in my bathrooms and not run out of water.

“Well, I’ll be!” he exclaimed. “This I gotta see. I’ve only seen the gas ones, and all I hear are complaints.” He paused. “Say – is your place fancy?”

I hope he drives this.

I assured him it was not. “My place is SMALL. The only way to squeeze an extra closet out of it was by moving to a tankless heater, I explained.

In any case, by the time we hung up, he’d agreed to come to my place first thing in the morning. He claims it’s to help end my leak, but really, I know it’s so he can look at the tankless heater. Whatever it takes.

So tonight, I’m sitting here, legs crossed, wishing I could flush my toilet. I have a Britta filter of water I’ll use to brush my teeth.

And a pile of dirty clothes on the floor reminding me what an awesome vacation I had.