Forty Seconds of Water

Chronicles of the Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement Endeavors

plumbing tools and equipment on blue background with copy space
Photo by amixstudio, used under license through Adobe Stock.

Chronicles of the Do-It-Yourself Home Improvement Endeavors

I wanted to change out the faucets for the upstairs sinks. I decided to also put in four new shut off values because the old valves no longer closed completely.

I bought the new hardware, hemming and deliberating in the plumbing aisle of the big box store, my kids whining and punching each other to appease their boredom. It is not easy to decide if you want a 1/2" to 3/8" compression straight valve or 1/2" to 1/2" sweated when your children are asking for candy and chips and keep disappearing behind display racks.

Can you just stand still and be quiet? At my station in life, I’d pay money to just stand still and be quiet. Don’t have to talk to or entertain anyone, or answer questions like, “Where does wax come from?”

Where does wax come from, anyway? Did you know, or have to look it up? Bees, sheep and cow fat, or petroleum. I had to look it up. I think part of my brain disappeared. I have to look at all the trite information up online. My brain has been supplanted by the cloud. Remember knowing things? Not just skills, like how to process food from plants or animals, but also spelling and common facts. Like, how many ounces in a cup? Or what the types of trees are outside your window. Or where wax comes from. Knowing is soo nineteen-eighties.

At home, I turned off the water and cut away all the old lines, popped out the sink basins and replaced all the hardware. My wife was calling me to come down for dinner, so I impatiently turned on the water supply, down in the basement, without having someone eyeballing the new valves in the upstairs bathroom.

I hear screaming. The kind of screaming where you instantly know exactly what the issue is in excruciating detail, and know it is all your fault, and know it is beyond redemption.

Running upstairs, I see it is raining on my wife. In the kitchen. I scramble upstairs to take a look, there are waves of water moving across my bathroom floor. Socks soaking wet, my wife screaming, the kids are yelling and crying, I race down two flights of stairs, wet socks slipping out from under me on the turns, and shut off the waterline.

The whole kitchen is wet, streams of water coming out of the ceiling fan, and my dear wife is staring at her dinner which has now been absolutely covered with a watery solution that just filtered through an opening beneath our upstairs toilet alongside the sewage stack pipe, down the hundred-year-old ceiling rafters, and then through seams in the ceiling drywall. It should go well with the ricotta and white bean dish!

During clean up, with water still trickling out through the ceiling fan fixture, which is somehow ominously still on, my wife tells me I am no longer allowed to do any work in the house. “You’re a terrible plumber!”

I am an excellent plumber! I retort, knowing full well this is among the baldest of lies I’ve spoken ever. Right up there with “I would be an excellent President!” and “I’m pretty sure I’m right.” I am never sure I am right, even when I know I am. Because knowing is dead.

My daughter speaks up, bless her little soul, at the dinner table as I pass the until most-recently-frozen pizza over to her. “We should be nice to daddy. He is a hero for trying to make our house better and he is the one who saved us all from drowning in the flood.”

I can’t hold back a grimace as I catch my wife almost spit up in her wine glass. My son senses the challenge, throwing down a gauntlet in support of his mother. “We wouldn’t have almost drowned though if he just called a plumber like mommy said.”

Ooooh shut the front door, I think to myself. God keep this dear son of mine. I smile and serve him another heaping load of steaming kale.

Later, upstairs brushing teeth, my daughter confesses, “Daddy, you did a lot of work but really it doesn’t look that different.”

Well, the kitchen ceiling certainly looks different, I am thinking, wondering if it will collapse in the middle of the night tonight or sometime tomorrow after everyone has left for the day.

I know, in terms of epochs of marriage, this is one for the record books. At every family gathering for years … decades … to come, a cousin or in-law will saunter over, hitching his pants up, slap me on the back, and say something like, “Hey rainmaker! I heard your wife just bought a load of stock in that new umbrella company.” Or, “Do you happen to know anything about waterproofing?” Or, “You gonna do that job yourself? Do you think you should? Considering …” Finger motions of raindrops.

Needless to say, in penance, I forgo wing night with the guys that evening. I sulk around the house, checking my phone as it pings with photos of hot garlic and honey parmesan by the half dozen, and selfies of the guys laughing and egging me on to come and have drinks with them. My wife falls asleep on the couch, with her leg on me as if it’s an early warning system to alert her if I move or try to do anything stupid.

So I end up surfing YouTube on my TV, which is somehow a thing we can do that is so incredibly miraculous but also mundane and obvious all at once. My “suggestions based on prior viewing” include the usual Ted Talks, Real Battles with Knights from the Middle Ages! and Wildest Plays in Football History, but also videos on home improvement, making hidden doors, and hanging drywall.

A thought starts to percolate in my brain. I bet I could pull down all that wet drywall tomorrow, repair the ceiling fan, and have it all replaced by the time my wife gets home from work …

Surely, I could. And why pay someone else? I mean, what could go wrong?