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A master plumber, I am not

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Gary Maydew, guest columnist

Don’t ever try to fix plumbing yourself. Several years ago the stool in our bathroom off the master bedroom leaked out the bottom when I flushed it. My wife was away visiting relatives at the time. Stools sit on a wax base that keeps them from leaking, so I figured that was likely the problem. But then I noticed that the bolts holding down the stool were loose, so I attempted to tighten them with an adjustable wrench. Of course the wrench slipped and took the skin off two knuckles.

After filling the air with blue comments, I got a socket wrench and finished the job, too thoroughly as it turned out — I cracked the porcelain. While I was tightening the bolts, I noticed what appeared to be another problem — the water line coming into the stool was also leaking. Aha! I could fix this! I took an open-end wrench and tightened slowly. The water line kept leaking. I tightened some more. The end of the metal tube neatly twisted off and water came spewing out a frightening rate. Startled, I brought my head up sharply and (sharply) hit the towel holder on the shower door. Now there were two problems — my head was bleeding and the bathroom was flooding. Heroically deciding to take care of the water problem first, I headed down to the basement to shut off the main water supply. My wife, in reorganizing the basement, had strategically placed a paint can (we had touched up our hall paint) at the bottom of the stairs. Unfortunately she had forgotten to securely hammer down the lid to the paint can. In my haste (I was running down the stairs as fast as possible) I didn’t notice the paint can. I stumbled over it, knocking the paint can down, and falling down myself. Fortunately there was only a little paint left in the can, but now I had three problems: a bleeding head; water flooding down into the basement; and paint on the basement carpet as well.

I got up, ran into the furnace room and turned off the main water supply. Problem one temporarily solved. Next I got every rag I could find and socked up all the paint I could. I poured a strong soapy water solution on the paint stain and went back to the bathroom where I used almost every towel in the house to soak up the water (it had run into our bedroom before I got the water shut off). I took out our three floor fans and started them running. Second problem temporarily solved. The third problem (bleeding head) was solved by now (the blood had clotted).

The next morning the plumber replaced the steel tube leading to the toilet with a flexible tube and put down a new wax seal. Though the hairline crack in the porcelain remained, the stool was now operational. The bedroom carpet was still pretty wet, but drying. A two-foot patch of the basement carpet was now a slightly different color than the rest, but it was ugly carpet anyway and we needed to replace it. So it could have been worse.

I headed back to my office to do some writing. There is a moral to all events, I thought as I sat down at my desk. This one was, don’t try to do your own plumbing!

• Gary Maydew of Ames is a retired Iowa State University accounting professor. Comments: glmaydew@hotmail.com

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