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Plumbing victory _ flush with success

Published Oct. 13, 2005

What's worse than the sound of a constantly running toilet? The silence of one that doesn't run any more.

Long ago, in the interest of preserving our marriage and avoiding prosecution on murder or assault charges, Wife and I split up the bathrooms in our house.

Hers, slated for remodeling early next year, has a walk-in shower that leaks a little and no hot water in the sink, but otherwise is sound from a plumbing standpoint.

Mine has a fiberglass shower that we had to have a contractor reinforce because it obviously was designed to support the weight of a jockey not yet fully recovered from a long bout with anorexia, a tub that I never use and a toilet that, until recently, worked fine.

I always have preferred to think of running water and electricity as magic. They are things that live within the walls of houses and make themselves available at the flick of a switch or the opening of a tap.

Therefore, I always have regarded tampering with them to be the special province of a mystical priesthood peopled mostly by guys named "Ed" who display an unsightly amount of Levi-lined posterior whenever they squat to "re-align the coil switch with the conduit-guide gearbox indicator notch."

Two things, however, have helped to change that.

First, there was the introduction of plastic pipe that, even though it really hasn't made things any simpler, still leads some of us to believe we can fix our own plumbing.

Second, there was reliance on a medical insurance company that said, "Trust us, we'll take care of everything." We did. Now we do our own plumbing and our own surgery because it's all we can afford.

None of this made Wife feel any better when she saw me headed into the bathroom and heard me say I intended to "plumb."

"If I call now," she said, "the real plumber should get here just about in time to repair whatever damage you have done by then."

I was hurt by her lack of faith, despite the fact that it has been hanging over the household ever since that unpleasant incident involving the plumber's snake and the garbage disposal.

The problem was that the toilet tank was not refilling after flushes. Only a tiny trickle of water was flowing through the tube, which, by comparison, used to deliver a tank-filling torrent. Now, it was taking up to three hours to refill.

Assuming a blockage of some sort in the small rubber hose from which the water was supposed to issue, I bought a large package of pipe cleaners, the type used to clean tobacco pipes. The theory here was that if they didn't open the tube they would, at least, give us something to do between flushes: make little pipe-cleaner animals.

When that failed, I determined to remove the entire weird-looking cylindrical thing that seemed to be somehow screwed into the water pipe. The plan was to take it to Scotty's, buy one that looked just like it and hope some sympathetic clerk would take mercy on me and tell me how to replace it.

I had enough sense to turn off the water first. Then I twisted the contraption as far to the right as it would go and, when it wouldn't come out, I twisted it as far to the left as it would go. It wouldn't come out.

Faced with the humiliation of telling Wife to go ahead and call the plumber, I turned the water back on so that at least the previous trickle would be available _ only to be rewarded with a full-scale gusher.

"How did you do it?" Wife marveled when she heard two consecutive flushes for the first time in months.

"You wouldn't," I said, carefully hiding the pipe cleaners behind my back, "understand."