— Conan O'Brien
Talk show host
(b. April 18, 1963)
Slow drips from a bathroom faucet are like snakes. They travel in pairs; hence, the reasoning by plumbers of sound mind and conscience who fix both the hot- and cold-water levers, even when it’s only one or the other causing the leak.
My wife and I aren’t plumbers, but it was our intent all along to follow the example of these wise kingpins of the pipe. In tackling this latest do-it-yourselfer, our strategy was to replace the aging rubber washers in both bathroom knobs, say a little prayer and release the waters.
Besides, that’s how the replacement parts were packaged — in pairs.
“What’s first?” my assistant asked, the two of us standing before the bathroom vanity gazing at first the H handle and then its counterpart called C.
Deep in thought yet not caught completely unaware by her query, I answered in as confident a tone as I could muster, “The main water supply. We have to shut it off first. If we don’t ... well ... see that ceiling?”
She looked up.
“It might not be waterproof,” I suggested. “We could be talking Geyser City with just the wrong twist of the hardware.”
Dropping to hands and knees, I fumbled my way through 20 years of clutter that had nested in the cabinet under the sink. My foray through the pile of Yard Sale treasures uncovered the silver-colored valves.
“Here they are ... ouch!” I yelped, bumping my head on the tub of the sink above.
Remembering safety first, I warned my beloved to stand back before shutting off the water supply.
“You never know what these things will do,” I offered.
“You’ve done this before?” she quizzed.
“Never, not in a blue moon. But I’m a big fan of The Three Stooges. What can go wrong, will.”
Turning the valves to their “off” position, I was pleased no pipes burst. It was a good omen.
With a resurgence of confidence, I rose to my feet, rubbed my aching lower back and chose my next weapon — a wrench, a crescent wrench, in fact. A monkey wrench would have been the real plumber’s tool of choice, but mine was in the storage shed ... all the way across the backyard. And it was hot outside. The crescent was closer, easily accessible and easier to handle.
It slipped off the silvery hardware on my first dozen attempts.
“Maybe you should get the monkey wrench,” Josephine Jr. suggested.
“No,” I responded, wiping a dab of perspiration from my brow. “It’s a matter of principal now. This crescent will do the job. Just wait and see.”
Feeling suddenly insecure, I asked, “By the way, which handle is this?”
“The Hot,” she said.
“How do you know? There’s no H.”
“It’s on the left,” she cited. “Hot is always on the left.”
“So where’s the H?” I asked.
“Manufacturers don’t always mark them nowadays,” she explained.
“How come? It seems ... unsafe.”
“They figure plumbers know what they’re doing,” my wife mused.
“Oh ... good thing I’m not a plumber.”
“Good thing,” she agreed.
After a 13th, 14th and 15th twist of the crescent wrench, the lever turned ... and turned and turned and turned.
“Is this going to stop?” I asked.
“I think you’re just supposed to pull up on it.”
So I pulled up, surprised that it succumbed so easily. Expecting to find an old rubber washer, I found instead some white plastic gizmos that fit together like a jigsaw.
“I think you’re supposed to pull that up too,” she continued.
I looked at her, she at me.
“Are you sure? It looks pretty dug in.”
“I’m sure,” she assured.
With needlenose pliers, I tugged, then tugged again. It gave way, yielding a deep, dark hole. Remnants of water pooled at its base, and there I saw the looks of a black rubber washer and a shiny wire spring.
“That’s what was causing the leak?” I quizzed.
“Unless it was the other one,” she answered.
Maneuvering the sharp-nosed pliers with the care of a brain surgeon, I latched hold of the washer and spring combo, and brought them into open air. Inspecting the pieces at eye’s length as one might a pulled tooth, I suggested we place the new parts.
After 15 minutes of debating the new washer’s top from bottom, my partner and I planted the new parts with little adventure. It was a good fit. Then the challenge ... reassembling those plastic white gizmos whose pieces fit together only one way. The slightest variance prevented the handle’s proper return into position. I tried and I tried and I tried. Nothing.
“Let me,” Joe offered.
Patronizing her with a male smirk, I stepped away.
“Sure,” I chuckled. “Give it a whirl.”
Her failure was my reward.
So we tag-teamed. With her forefinger holding down one piece of white plastic, my left hand tightening the crescent and my right hand operating the handle, my knees braced against the vanity cabinet for leverage and our heads intertwined like conjoined twins so that both could get a close look at the delicate maneuver ... we succeeded in anchoring the H lever back onto its resting place.
It was a snug fit.
I glanced over at Josephine, she at me.
“Now we have to turn the water back on,” I whispered.
She nodded, her features grim.
Returning to my knees, I reached into the deep cabinet searching blindly for the shutoff valves. My hand now resting on the left piece of hardware, I gazed into her soft brown eyes.
“Whatever happens ... I love you,” I offered. And I cranked the valve open.
Assuming defensive postures with arms crossed in front of our faces, we both peered through our fingers. No geysers. No explosions. No sounds of strain.
In a final act of uncertainty, I slowly stood, reached across the open sink with trembling hand and hesitantly turned the H knob. Like a Moses miracle, water flowed from the faucet in a straight and gentle stream. Then I turned it off. No leak. Releasing a collective sigh of relief, our eyes met.
It was I who posed the inevitable question.
“One down. Shall we press our luck ... and fix the C knob?”
She pondered, her eyes affixed to the second lever, reflecting on the perils of the first — the upside-down rubber washer, the white plastic gizmos, the lever that turned and turned ... and the three-handed, four-legged, two-headed game of twister.
“No,” she finally declared in pensive tone. “Not on this day. Our job is done.”