Monday, November 16, 2015

It's the Plumber. I've Come to Fix the Sink.

Those of you of a certain generation will remember, as I do, the funny little animated sketches that were part of every episode of The Electric Company, a wonderful educational television show that ran on PBS in the 1970s. One of my favorites was the one that I always referred to as simply, "It's the plumber."

If you're unable to watch the clip, here's what happens: A woman pats her pet parrot and leaves her house. A man carrying a toolbox walks up to her door and knocks. The parrot responds, "Who is it?" The man (who cannot see the parrot) answers, "It's the plumber. I've come to fix the sink." There is silence for a moment, then the man knocks again, and once again the parrot asks, "Who is it?" and the man responds (a bit more loudly), "It's the plumber! I've come to fix the sink!" followed by another silence. This happens several times, until finally the plumber goes apoplectic and passes out on the doorstep. Just then, the lady of the house comes home and cries out, "Who is it?" The parrot, of course, responds, "It's the plumber. He's come to fix the sink."

Today, I am in complete sympathy with that plumber. It's not a parrot that's making me apoplectic, but rather a faucet needing replacing in a sink with a very small vanity. I came pretty close to apoplexy myself as I was trying to fix it.

The thing that's so frustrating about this repair is that it should be very easy. You take off a couple of bolts, you put a couple of connectors together, you put back a couple of bolts. Easy peasy, right? Ha. That's like saying that disarming a nuclear warhead is as simple as snipping a wire or two. The difficulty lies in getting at the important parts without accidentally creating a disaster by touching any of the other parts which happen to be located within 2 millimeters of what you need to adjust with a 5 centimeter tool.

For me, the first problem actually happened long before I got near the faucet itself. In order to replace the faucet, I first had to take the old faucet off, which meant that I had to get underneath the sink to disconnect the water supply and remove the bolts holding the faucet in place. That sounds like an easy step, right? But here's the problem: I am significantly wider than the door of the vanity.

It doesn't look too bad, right?

However, notice the width of the opening, then notice the width of my shoulders. Houston, we have a problem. Fortunately, I'm pretty flexible, so after a few tries, I figured out exactly how to angle my shoulders and brace my feet against the door so I could wriggle under the sink. 

Once I was under there, I wasn't sure how I was ever going to get out. I had to be sure all my tools were within reach because getting out was a major commitment. 

Another problem I discovered right away was that there was no good way to hold a flashlight in those close quarters. I tried propping it in the U-bend, I tried holding it in my mouth, I tried tucking it under my chin, no luck. I finally ended up wedging it in the neck of my sweater and propping it with whichever wrench I wasn't using at the moment. 

Suddenly I realized that I really had been useful when I was 6 and my dad let me hold the TroubLight while he fixed stuff, and I regretted waiting until my kids were in bed to start this project. But by that time I was committed, so I kept plugging along. 

Removing the old faucet required a few under-sink contortions as I attempted to grab the plastic washers that hold it in place with each of my three wrenches in turn, none of which fit. I resorted to whacking the flanges (OK, they're probably not flanges but I don't know what they are really and "flange" is a great word, so I'm running with it) with the largest wrench to loosen them, which, in addition to being extremely satisfying, was also surprisingly successful. 

Bye-bye, old faucet!

Putting in the new faucet also seemed like it ought to be quite easy. You drop it through the hole, bolt a couple of Pac-Man-looking things into place, and hook up the water lines. And the first couple of steps were just as easy as expected. 

But then I got to the step that said, "Connect the water line of the sink to the water line of the faucet." If you look at the photograph above, you will note that the end of the copper pipe at the top of the photo is several inches away from the pipe coming out of the corresponding Pac-Man's mouth. You will also note that the end of the other copper pipe is even farther away from the other faucet's connector. Copper pipes are flexible, but they're not that flexible. And I'm not that strong. 

So I proceeded to reverse steps 27 through 4 and undo all the work I had so carefully done thus far. Every "righty-tighty" turn of the wrench had to be "lefty-loosy"ed. And considering the tight quarters, there had been a loooooot of very tiny righty-tighties. My hands had started to go numb by the time I finished, but I got everything off. 

I brazenly ignored the instructions this time and connected the copper piping before tightening the Pac-Man bolts. It was much easier to bend the pipes a tiny fraction of an inch at a time by tightening the bolts than it was to try and force them into position once the faucet was bolted in place. Unfortunately, doing it this way required periodically checking the faucet from the top to be sure it was seated properly on on the gasket (or possibly the flange), which meant I had to climb out from under the sink and then back under again numerous times. I think I may have accidentally invented Plumber's Yoga during the process. 

Anyway, finally everything was connected, the new faucet was in place, and I boldly turned the water back on, then held my breath as I opened the tap for the first time. 

Would you look at that? Water! Coming out from where it's supposed to! And not coming out from where it's not supposed to!! I did it!

So the next time I come to visit, when I knock on your door and you ask who it is, don't be too surprised to hear, "It's the plumber! I've come to fix the sink!"

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