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Monday, April 11, 2005

How was your weekend?

Mine stunk, not to put to fine a point on it. Hence no blogging in the interim, nor response to comments. On Saturday evening, a water pipe coupling came loose in my house as I attempted to water a bare patch on The Most Ridiculously Uneven Lawn In North America.

You see, we bought our house from a fellow in the business of reclaiming houses in dubious condition. In too many particulars, the renovation itself was dubious, with the overriding principle apparently being "spend no more than $3 to solve a $10 problem." To whit: not anchoring the outdoor spigot to the house with a couple of bolts.

It was an almost idyllic Saturday evening. I'd grilled some burgers for dinner, and afterwards we all went back out into the backyard for a last dose of fresh air before putting the kids down. Rachel was happily playing on a blanket and Dale and Madeleine had established a non-aggression pact regarding wheeled toys with seats. Earlier that day I had purchased some insta-turf (the stuff that comes with the grass seed and fertilizer bundled together in green recycled paper) from the Depot to cover up some unsightly spots on the lawn. The directions (I know--have to turn in the Man Card for reading them) indicated to water twice daily. I met them halfway and decided to do it once. I uncoiled the hose with a couple yanks and marched to the far end of the lawn. I set the spray attachment and squeezed the handle.

Not much distance. Squeeze again. Less so.

Change from "Jet" to "Shower." Repeat.

Dying to a trickle.

What the--?

I went back to the spigot to see what was the matter and heard Niagara roaring inside our house. I tore open the cabinet just inside the door and took an unrelenting blast of water to the face (I later found my glasses with both lenses knocked out--I do not remember that happening). After desperately trying to couple the pipe to the pipe joint and failing miserably (it cannot be done--trust me), I called for help. Fortunately, our good friends and neighbors kitty-corner to our house came to my rescue immediately. According to Shelly (the wife of the pair), Brian (the husband) looked like he was about to vault the chain-link fence--which would not have been a good idea in her book. Apparently, they were afraid the fridge had fallen on me.

Most people put a shutoff valve right where you can find it and, you know, shut off the water. But no.

Remember, there would have been no problem if the spigot had been properly anchored by a couple of masonry bolts from the Depot. An investment of less than $5. But such is unworthy of The Three Dollar Renovator! Likewise a sensibly-mounted main shutoff.

Instead, I watched waves of water advance across the linoleum toward the hall. My eldest came to the window and asked what was going on. It would be nice to report that I sent her off with a gentle admonishment to go back into the yard to play.

It would be nice indeed. Instead she got Roaring Dad. No obscenities (though Brian reports that a 2 megaton F-bomb proceeded my call for help--I honestly don't remember that, but it's certainly true). I still apologized profusely later.

As to the shutoff valve--welcome to the scavenger hunt. Brian handed me one of my downspout extenders and we managed to divert the water outside. As we rigged this up, I noticed about half the neighborhood's children were in our backyard, and two of our three were still playing--even the barked-at Maddie. Joy, one of the neighbor girls, had picked up the now disconsolate Rachel, wailing to beat the band because of hunger. At thirteen, she tried her level best to soothe Boo, but nothing short of Mama was going to do that. She's a very good kid, though.

Did I mention that Heather had gone out to dinner with one of her close friends? And she wasn't due back for another 45 minutes at the earliest?

None of the neighbor kids so much as cracked a smile at my predicament--I must still have had my soaked rottweiler face on. No humor, just dumb questions. Which I was able to answer without a verbal guillotine by now. As I tried to rig up a better diversion, the next thing I saw was a polished pair of black shoes. They happened to be attached to one of [Old Suburb's] Finest. Shelly had flagged him down during a neighborhood patrol. He was a fully-decent guy, and tried to figure out where a shutoff might be, going around the house with Brian to do so. He also judiciously ignored my implied death threat against The Three Dollar Renovator! I went into the crawl space--no shutoff. But at least now I was muddy.

Is our water bill going to be grim next month, part of my mind gibbered as I watched the water drip through the floor.

Time to call a professional.

Please, if you are in the business, do not take this personally. This is not directed at you:


After explaining that I had a water jetting out of a pipe, one lady politely informed me that she'd get the on-call guy to call me.

We're still waiting. That ad's getting blotted out of the yellow pages tout suite. Don't strain yourself there, pal.



Sorry--extreme frustration brings out my inner Kinison.

After much searching, the shutoff valve was finally found--up under the flooring. Right where you can't find it in a major break.

Next call--find Heather. Her friend's dad steered me to a restaurant, and she was still there. Yes, this is an emergency. They found her and she sped home. S helly had arrived to take charge of Rachel, and shoo the gawkers from the yard. Maddie and D3 marched across the street with her.

The clean-up process began. Brian brought over some towels, and I used some of ours, too.

I called another plumber--nobody before tomorrow, sorry. Since the main was off, that meant no water before Sunday. Ish. I thanked her for her candor, but said I'd have to look elsewhere. She understood. I won't blot those guys from the book.

Heather arrived. It wasn't as bad as she thought it would be. She was picturing the kayaking scenario. Soon enough, she went over to Brian and Shelly's--Rachel had awakened.

And she was most unhappy.

In the interim, I left multiple messages for my brother in law, Obi-wan Kenobi ("you are our only hope"). "Ben" does bathroom and tile work, and as a result has much experience with plumbing. He redid our bathroom two years ago (magnificently), and he said he owed me a large favor (I used some leave time in February to go and change my sister-in-law's flat tire. It was all of about 0 that day, with a stiff breeze. Rather unpleasant, as the British might say.)

Since plumbers were not an option, Brian decided to run over to the Depot to get a shutoff valve and solder. As we attempted to do what shouldn't be done at home by non-plumbers (think open flame, enclosed space, delicate timing, easily overheated parts), we noticed that a steady trickle continued from the pipe. The shutoff was, indeed, cranked off fully. Soldering was tried. And failed.

The phone rang: Obi-wan was finally able to return the call! "Ah, young padawan--there will always be a trickle. And that will prevent the pipe from being heated sufficiently to allow the solder to work. I shall be there shortly, with light saber and tubing. In the meantime, wad up some white bread and jam it into the pipe--that will stop the leak. Also, turn on the kitchen sink, as that will divert some of the remaining flow."

So encouraged, we listened and followed the instructions. He arrived with his two sons, who I herded into what had just become the busiest Saturday night daycare around. Brian and Shelly's middle son, Vincent, was ecstatic. "Sleepover?" he asked hopefully.

He's five.

I also got around to apologizing to Madeleine, who accepted my apology and said I shouldn't yell in the house. I agreed. No trauma, thankfully.

I made it back home to get a lesson in soldering--in two minutes, voila--new shutoff and new connection to the outdoor hose. He turned the main back on. No leaks--if the solder isn't all around, you can tell easily--it shoots out in a fan shape from the leak.

We left and picked up the kids. Many thanks and much rejoicing. There's some gift certificates for chain restaurants forthcoming, too. This was no minor inconvenience.

The floor fan was set to "Turbine" and ran all night, just to be safe. Clean up still continues.

And, if nothing else, we learned that we have good neighbors. Very good neighbors. That's a very valuable gift from a situation that could have been far more disastrous than it was.

I could tell you how I ripped up my hands trying to mix concrete on Sunday...

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