Monday, February 26, 2007

Plumbing the Depths

As a male, I take pride in my maleness which includes such typically male traits as an interest in sports, a love of red meat and a rapidly receding hairline. My only striking gender-specific failing is the absence of the handyman gene.

This sad genetic deficiency was recently brought home to me again during the quinquennial changing of the kitchen faucet cartridge. Approximately every five years, the CO2 cartridge nears empty, signalling that the faucet must be partially dismantled in order to install a new one.
As the CO2 disperses, the single lever handle of the faucet becomes harder and harder to lift. Rather than open my toolbox, I was willing to continue this ongoing test of my lever-lifting strength indefinitely. But once I saw my eleven-year old daughter Sarah using both hands to turn the water on, I knew it was time to take the metaphorical plunge.

Why this particular task should be so anxiety provoking would not be entirely clear to a neutral observer. After all, fifteen years ago I had actually installed the entire faucet by myself in a matter of hours and without injury or major flooding. And every five years since, I somehow managed to replace the cartridge.

So by my count, I had already successfully replaced the cartridge two times. You’d think that someone who had singlehandedly installed a kitchen faucet and then managed to twice replace the CO2 cartridge would be able to do it a third time in his sleep. But you would be wrong.

Although in theory I have ample experience in the field of faucet cartridge replacement, it only happens every five years. And being on the north side of fifty, anything that happens five months ago, much less five years ago, is pretty much a blur.

Nevertheless, early one recent evening I tackled the chore with blind faith knowing that it had been done before. Not just by millions of actual handymen but, most surprisingly, twice by me.
Years of experience taught me to turn off the water first. And the dismantling phase was straightforward enough. But when it came to the installation phase, the so-called fun began.

I managed to get the new cartridge inserted and secured. Eventually I even got the lever mechanism reattached or so I thought. But when I turned on the water, the handle was loose and water was leaking from the faucet.

At that point, having already spent half an hour at the sink, I knew this was no longer the ten-minute repair job that most men experience. I was once again putting in serious handyman overtime.

I dismantled and reassembled my project several times, each time remembering to turn off the water and close the sink trap. (Apparently some traumatic event in my plumbing repair history had burned at least these two useful lessons into my brain.) Progress was made but true success had not been achieved.

Finally, at about 10 P.M., I reached a point where the lever functioned although in a loose, floppy kind of way and there was little or no dripping when the faucet was closed. Our dog Oreo looked up from his bed underneath the kitchen table with a look that said: "Let it go, Dave. I need my sleep."

So I did let it go. For about thirty minutes. But I couldn’t leave the job uncompleted. Being the anal-retentive obsessive-compulsive that I am, I returned to the kitchen and tried again.
And to my surprise (and Oreo’s relief), I somehow managed to reattach the lever so that it was no longer loose and actually functioned properly.

As with past efforts, I had once again achieved success. At least success as I define it - i.e. - a completed job in less than three hours with no injuries and a minimum of water on the floor.

But the sad fact remains: I have now replaced the faucet cartridge three times but I somehow seem to have acquired precious little practical knowledge in the process. Despite my experience, I still rely mostly on fate, luck and magic to get the job done.

I’m hoping against hope that five years from now when it’s time to replace the cartridge again, I’ll remember to pull out this essay to help lead me through the plumbing darkness. But since I still don’t know how I did it even this time, I’m afraid that a new plumbing adventure is waiting for me sometime in the year 2012.

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