I’d like to be able to do all of my own home repairs. I’d also like to be able to fly and inflict severe bodily harm with only my laser-beam glare. Sometimes I don’t get what I want.
Nonetheless, I think I’ve learned a fair amount about how to remedy the basic annoyances that face most homeowners. Nothing stunning, of course. I can spackle, sand, paint and wallpaper. I can do very basic carpentry repair. I’ve put in a new floor. Whatever needs doing, that it seems like I might be able to teach myself, really. But I do not mess with plumbing, short of changing a washer. I know my limits.
So when the wet spot appeared on the dining room ceiling, I experienced a sinking feeling. The shower in my master bathroom has always slopped water onto the floor unless the curtain was arranged just so. Perhaps I’d slacked on my curtain vigilance. I was more careful, the next day, and the floor was dry when I emerged from the shower.
But the spot on the downstairs ceiling had grown.
Now a black mildew was blossoming in the center of the watermark. Busy with house guests and other things, I decided to do the responsible thing and avoid the issue for as long as possible. I stopped using my shower, and snuck down the hall daily to use the kids’ bathroom.
My shower stood unused for several days, and yet the mildew and lopsided ellipse of moisture continued to spread along my dining room ceiling. I concluded that 1) the offending leak was from a hidden pipe, and still going, 2) it was time to call a plumber, and 3) it was going to be expensive, wahhhhh.
My somewhat-regular plumber didn’t return my calls. On a recommendation from a friend, I called elsewhere, and obtained an appointment for “sometime this morning.” So I puttered around waiting for my knight in shining workpants. At last he arrived!
He was unlike any plumber I’d ever met, which is to say that he wasn’t a big fat old guy with the crack of his ass hanging out the top of his waistband. He was clean and polite and young(ish), introducing himself as Chip (okay, not his real name, but something equally akin to meeting a corporate vice president who introduces himself as Cletus). I showed him in and led him to the growing horror in my dining room.
He looked up at the ceiling and said, “Oh, that doesn’t look good.” I presume that’s where the first $80 went.
As we headed up the stairs, I explained about the careful curtain-arranging and the typical puddle outside the shower stall. But I was interrupted mid-apology when he stopped in the hall bathroom. “No, no,” I said, “not this bathroom, the other one.” Chip looked at me, looked down the staircase as if calculating something, then back at me again.
“Noooo…” he said, clearly trying to be gentle, “this bathroom is over the stain. The leak is in here.”
“No it’s not!” I protested. “It’s in the other bathroom! Which is on the other side of this wall! And has a leaky shower! And it can’t be THIS bathroom because this is the one I’ve been using to keep the leak from getting worse!”
He looked at me as if I was a very charming but slightly retarded child. “Did not using the other shower keep the leak from getting worse?”
“Uhhhhh….” Shit. My face fell, and Chip—gentleman that he is—rushed to add that he’d check the other bathroom, too, just in case. I led him down the hall and after some cursory poking and prodding, he returned to the hall bathroom to locate the source of the leak.
He ended up completely taking apart the bathroom closet to access the plumbing behind the tub. I assisted; emptying out the closet, grabbing shelves and supports and nails as he handed them out to me. He finally located the source (the plastic housing inside the tub spigot was cracked) and showed me the damage and explained what modifications he was making while he fixed it (something about the connector pipe being too short).
Once the repairs were complete, he set about rebuilding my closet again. This was when it became clear that he had only a miniature, toy-looking hammer.
“Ummm… do you want a real hammer?” I ventured. “I have one I can go grab.”
“No, that’s all right,” he countered, “this one is fine. I am at ease with my small hammer. It works perfectly. It doesn’t bother me. Does it bother YOU?” I’d just spent the better part of an hour watching this man methodically diagnose my leak without saying a single word about the fact that I’d been unable to figure out which room it was coming from. Now he was challenging me to speak ill of his hammer? I bit back a giggle.
“No, not at all,” I answered. “I just thought I’d offer. But I can see that you’re at peace with your hammer just the way it is. How wonderful.” He glanced sidelong at me while aligning another nail.
“Besides, I have a bigger hammer in my truck. You know, in case I need it.”
“Oh! Of COURSE you do! Not that you would need it, because this hammer is fine. I see it… ummm… nails things quite well.” At this point I started retreating from the bathroom so that I could go laugh out of earshot.
“That’s RIGHT!” he called after me. “I have never had any complaints about this hammer. I AM PLEASED WITH MY HAMMER JUST AS IT IS!”
By this time I was doubled over in the kitchen. “GOOD FOR YOU!” I called up the stairs. For a brief moment while I caught my breath it occurred to me that there was a very real possibility that Chip the plumber was one scary motherfucker rather than a very amusing and completely harmless guy. I wanted to believe he was the latter, but these days I rule nothing out. And the reality was that there was a man I didn’t know, crouched in my closet with a (small) hammer.
He came bounding down the stairs a few minutes later. “All set! Let me go throw this stuff in the truck and grab your invoice.” He flashed a grin on his way out. I realized I’d been silly in my moment of possible panic.
I was rummaging in my purse when he returned. “Lemme just find my checkbook,” I said without looking up.
“No problem,” he said, “I’ll just set this down right here.” My fingers closed on my checkbook cover, and I looked up in time to see him lay a large hammer on the kitchen counter in front of me. I looked up at Chip with a raised eyebrow. “I just wanted to show you my other hammer. So you’d know I had it.” He was trying very hard not to laugh.
“How thoughtful. It’s… very big.” And then I snorted. I’m such a lady.
I wrote out his check and handed it to him. “It was very nice meeting you, Chip. And your hammers. And I hope you won’t take it personally when I say that I hope I won’t be seeing you any time soon.”
“No worries, I’m used to folks not wanting me back, except maybe for brief social visits. It’s okay.” I thanked him again and showed him and his hammers to the door. He looked down at the check I’d handed him. “Mir, huh? That’s an unusual name.” I realized I’d never even introduced myself. Whoops.
You know that leak my kitchen faucet has if you don’t turn it off just right? I dunno, maybe in a month or two I’ll decide to have that looked at.