Monday, July 06, 2009

Eight years' bad luck...

... or the continuing drama of the mirror that committed suicide and the earthworks and plumbing boggles that ensued.

Right, so ... wallpaper scraped, paint applied, carpet removed, wood floor laid, sink installed, poof! Right? Wrong. The plumbing in the original sink was large and messy and didn't fit behind the slim, attractive sink cabinet we'd chosen. No problem! There was a replacement plumbing kit with the cabinet, in anticipation of just this situation. Except you have to turn off the water to the house in order to make such a repair. I know this is possible, because a plumber did it a year ago when fixing the non-overflow drain to the same bathtub that precipitated this mess. He mentioned to me when he was leaving that I might want to dig out the plumbing box in front of the house because the valve was broken and hard to reach. About a week later, I dutifully opened the box, trowel in hand, and saw a perfectly good valve handle, high and dry above the mud. "Huh," says I, because I'm profound like that, "he must've fixed it." I closed the box and thought of it no more until Paul the Carpenter was trying to turn off the water so he could swap out the plumbing and install my new sink.
The high-and-dry valve handle previously witnessed by yours truly was, in fact, a red herring. It basically allows me to bleed all the water out of the pipes in my house, after I've shut the water off with the valve that is (at this point) totally buried in the mud. Now, I know that's really useful in vacation homes, particularly in frosty climates that are likely to freeze and burst pipes during unoccupied seasons. But when, I ask you, am I going to need to drain my water pipes for fear of a hard freeze? The answer, in case you didn't know is, "Not during the life a 70s townhouse," regardless of what trends global warming brings. Paul and I both did a little digging, barehanded, until I hollered "OUCH!!!" and then again "OUCH, DAMMIT!!!" and pulled my hand out of the muddy box dripping blood from two of my fingers. Mud and blood without beer is really, really, really not all it's cracked up to be. It turned out there was a large hunk of broken glass down in the box, which was probably the universe's way of reminding me that this whole project revolved around a shattered mirror. Anyway, Paul finally found the cutoff valve, but as you can see from the accompanying photo here, there's no HANDLE on it. No KNOB. No LEVER. There is NO WAY TO TURN THE VALVE. Paul is a resourceful dude, so he grabbed some Vise-Grip Irwin Vise-Grip Locking Pliers pliers and improvised a handle. You may have also noticed that the hole is rather deep. The pile of mud in my front yard was alarming.

Yea! Our problem was solved! Paul installed the plumbing and it was all peachy keen after that. Or not, because I still haven't explained the manhole cover in my yard and the mud running down the gutter, have I? No, I have not.

It turned out that Paul's improvised handle only had the power to CLOSE the valve. It did not have the power to OPEN the valve, thus restoring water to my 70s townhome. What good is a brand new shiny bathroom, all freshly renovated, if you cannot use it? None whatsoever, I'm here to say. You can photograph it. For getting-on-with-my-life purposes, however, it's worthless. And since the cost of that shiny new bathroom included seven years bad luck, blood, mud, (no beer!), two room renovations, and disabling all hydraulically-enabled rooms in my home, I was none too pleased over it, no matter how shiny.

I'll spare you the blow-by-blow, but suffice it to say there was some trickery (on our part) of the city water department, whose shutoff valve to my house was also not functional. They averred that it would take 10 days to put in a work order to fix their valve, but they could come out and turn off the water to our house in short order and then turn it back on later in the day. So we asked them kindly to do so, knowing that they could not shut off the water without also fixing the valve. Ten days, hah! So, when the fellow turned up and claimed he'd cut the water off, we asked him to prove it, which he gamely attempted to do by turning on a faucet and showing us how it didn't run. Except that it did. And kept on running long after it should've dribbled off. The look on his face at that point was your classic dictionary example of the word "glum". The only way for him to fix the valve in dry fashion was to cut water for our entire block, which he didn't have time or authorization to do. The only way for him to comply with the city's Prime Directive of "cut off the customer's water on demand so they can fix broken stuff" was to fix the valve. That meant wet work, and that meant a muddy mess. He was liberal with the mud and the mess, too. There were cat-sized chunks of Texas Blackland Prairie Clay strewn everywhere.

I didn't want to tweak him any more than I already had, so I held off photographing the thing until he was done and gone. Besides, he had shovels, rakes, and implements of destruction at his fingertips. But that's the shiny, new city cutoff valve down in the valve box, still awash with the muddy water that the city guy worked in to replace it, that matches the shiny new bathroom.

In addition, we had a plumber come out to fix the broken house cutoff valve, and that was a minor drama in itself. Not quite enough to write an opera over, but at least as much as selecting the sink cabinet. There were multiple trips, delays, lots more digging, cursing, and backwards gaskets, of course. But then, we had WATER! In our HOUSE!! Modern indoor plumbing is something you cannot appreciate fully until you've gone a couple of nights without a shower and only flushed the commode when you could borrow a pitcher of water from a neighbor to refill the tank.

It made our sink look like this, however. Muddy Sink Now, those who know my wife well may argue that this is pretty much how any sink looks after she's been at it. However, she hasn't been doing any motorcycle work lately, and I'm fairly certain there was more mud on my knuckles this week than on hers. Either way, it was unacceptable for our house pipes to be producing mud, which they produced in large volumes after the four rounds of plumbing work, in spite of me standing over them sternly stating how very unacceptable this whole mess was.

Blessings upon blessings, the plumbers knew just how to fix the problem. There is some magic tool supplied with some of these modern faucets so that you can remove the aerator. I'd never heard of it, but when the plumber described approximately what it might look like, I found it in the pile of sink parts and paperwork left behind by the well-organized Paul the Carpenter, I was pleasantly surprised, given my experience with my wife's installation jobs. Given the vast service to hygiene and sanity performed by my plumber, I'd have given him the mint. He charged a modest sum and apologized for it having been so high. We parted company a happy band. And now, I have a shiny new bathroom, freshly renovated, that I can actually use! Which all started with a broken mirror... You can thank Jill over at Twipply Skwood for requesting photo documentation of the whole episode. Unlike my usual stuff, these are actually photos I took, not Rose's work. Perhaps now you see why I leave the photography to her?


Jill/Twipply Skwood said...

Hey nice photos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-) :-) :-)

Ok now I don't mean to quibble, but I thought it was SEVEN years of bad luck. AND I thought it was only bad luck for the person who actually broke the mirror. Since your mirror committed suicide all on its own, I think you should be in the free and clear and the muddy, bloody hand was just a fluke!

Besides, I'm pretty sure using Alice's Restaurant lyrics in a post is good luck...

Thalassa said...

Yeah, the eight years thing was because the previous post was about seven years, and i'm sequential like that.

I sincerely hope you're right about the luck, though. I didn't break the mirror. I lovingly carted its pieces out to my recycle bin so that they could be reincarnated as something that didn't have to look at my shoes every day. :) Also, I didn't litter. I learned my lesson from Arlo.