Out of the Mouths of Babes
Owning a home is a wonderful thing. Not only is it your very own piece of the American dream, it’s a tax write-off.
Plus, you can do with it what you please without having to manually stimulate your landlord. Build a man-cave? Check. Install a walk-in beer cooler right next to the plasma television? Check. Put up those lavender drapes that your wife wants in the guest bedroom that you originally planned as your man-cave? Well, checkmate.
Unfortunately, all the how-to books and specials on DIY TV aren’t worth a tinker’s fart to me. My skills at home repair are akin to Charlie Sheen’s as a designated driver. Most boys learn all they need to know about fixing things from their father. Or a street corner in Bob Vila’s neighborhood.
I had Malcolm Penwasser.
I first realized that my dad didn’t know zilch about squat was around the time Gary started to walk.
One day, while helping my father replace a broken bathroom light fixture, I spotted Gary peeking around the corner. Attracted by the racket, he took in the spectacle of Dad squatting atop the small sink, grunting obscenities of a theological nature while yanking on a balky wire.
My little brother scanned the room. Disappointed, he didn’t see “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
Overcoming his disappointment that the Holy Family weren’t rewiring the light, he then studied the toilet. With a sudden burst of excitement, he pointed at the bowl.
Hearing this, my father stared at his youngest son.
Gary grew even more animated as he jabbed his pudgy little finger at the toilet.
“Look, Al, ain’t that cute?” my father exclaimed.
After what seemed like a lifetime of noxious diapers, sticky baby wipes, and soiled sheets, it looked like Gary was starting to get that whole potty training thing down.
“That’s right, buddy,” he smiled, “that’s where you go ‘poo’.”
Ignoring the bewildered look on Gary’s face, he scooped him up. “Hey, Jan!” he called, “You can throw away the friggin’ diapers!”
As he bounced along on our father’s shoulders, Gary kept gesturing frantically at the toilet.
The following week, we were rudely pulled away from Competitive Team Origami on Wide World of Sports by my mother. Storming into the living room, she pointed angrily to the upstairs.
“The toilet’s still stopped up,” she barked. “You really have to do something about it this time.”
Reluctant to pull his eyes away from the Chinese team’s truly stunning rendition of the Discovery of Fire on yellow legal pads, he shot back, “What, again? I just took care of it!”
“Jiggling the handle doesn’t count.”
With an annoyed grunt, he rolled off the couch, knowing full well he’d get no peace until the family’s only bathroom was back in operation.
Turning to me, he said, “Go downstairs and get the plunger. And a pair of pliers, some wrenches, and a Phillips screw driver.”
Yeah, great, the better to make puncture wounds with.
As he continued up the steps, he called back, “Oh, and, just to be safe, don’t forget electrical tape.”
After rifling through the hopeless tangle of his tool box-Jeez, how many tubes of Monkey Grip does anyone need?-I found what he wanted and joined the maestro in the upstairs bathroom.
Eager to return to his TV, he pulled the flush lever. Watching the water slowly swirl down the drain, he jiggled it a few more times, hoping for the best.
As he watched the water gradually leave the bowl, he griped, “Gawdamighty, it’s like watching an old man take a leak.”
Realizing his task would be more complicated than he thought, he snatched the plunger from my hand. After spitting in both palms, he began to violently plunge up and down. He looked like some psychotic Dutch milkmaid on a butter churn.
Water went flying everywhere. It splashed in his face, splattered on my jeans, and even sloshed into the empty turtle dish on the hamper.
TEASER: WHY the turtle dish was empty will be explained in the letter ‘T’.
He jammed the rubber cup in as far as it could go before yanking it free, hoping that whatever was jamming up the works would be thrust onto the floor. As anxious as I was that he’d be successful, I wasn’t keen about seeing what the clog actually was. Whatever, I’m sure it wouldn’t be breath mints.
Winded, he ceased his exertions.
“Hmm,” he said, “that should’ve done it. Let’s try flushing again.” He confidently pulled the handle.
This time the water didn’t retreat. Instead, it rose frighteningly to the rim. Panicked, we grabbed towels, dirty laundry, or anything else we could lay our hands on in preparation for the likely deluge. Luckily, it stopped short of the lip before receding to normal.
“Well, that didn’t do a friggin’ thing.”
At this point, a logical person would have come to the conclusion that a job like this was no place for an amateur. A clog of this nature cried out for a highly skilled master of the plumbing arts.
In other words, it was time to fidget even more with it. Armed with the cockiness that only a supermarket Popular Mechanics Encyclopedia could bring, he proceeded to remove the bowl.
Dutifully securing the valve which fed water into the tank, he wondered what type of wrench he’d need to remove the two bolts at the base.
He scratched his head. “Normally a vise grip or crescent wrench would do the trick, but I know how important it is not to screw it up. I don’t want the thing to bust into a million friggin’ pieces.”
My mother poked her head in the bathroom door. Her brows furrowed as she asked if he knew what he was doing.
“You know this is our only toilet, right? Want me to call the plumber now?”
“What’s that mean?” he snapped. “I’m not an idiot, ya know. After all, I installed a dimmer switch in the living room. No, wait, the insulation caught on fire...ok, bad example.”
“Wait, I got it! I wallpapered the entire kitchen! And, you can barely tell it’s upside-down.”
Giving up, my mother turned on her heel and escaped downstairs.
Considering the argument won, he dropped to his belly and gently removed the porcelain caps which lay atop rusty anchor bolts.
“May have trouble getting these mothers off,” he grunted. “Better go extra careful.”
As I watched him start to remove the corroded nuts, I realized my mother had a point. This was our only toilet.
He eased the correct sized wrench onto one of the bolts and paused. To no one in particular, he mumbled, “Now, which was it? Righty-Tighty or Lefty-Loosy?”
After a couple of confused seconds, his eyes lit up, “Oh, that’s right. If I’m looking down, it’s the exact opposite. So, I have to go right to loosen them!”
Convinced, he gently pulled the wrench. But, instead of watching the nut ease off its bolt, all we heard was a barely discernible crack.
Half a second before the entire bowl exploded into pieces, leaving him with only a rusty nut gripped firmly by a Sears Craftsman 1/2” combination wrench.
“What the hell was that?” I heard my mother holler as she bolted in the disaster area. Arms thrust on hips, she silently fumed as he sat miserably next to an open hole in the bathroom floor, covered in little porcelain shards.
There was an excited babble as Gary pushed his head between my mother’s legs. His eyes grew wide as he took in the devastation.
I peered into the empty maw of the toilet discharge pipe and saw the source of the clog which started everything. Nestled in the rubble was a toothbrush, baby’s comb, soggy wad of Kleenex, what looked like a bag of licorice, and, grinning insanely up at me, a little plastic Winnie the...
Gary clapped his hands and breathlessly squealed, “Poo!”
My mother sadly shook her head. “Well, out of the mouths of babes...”
My father sighed and finished, “Ain’t necessarily crap.”
Reminder: ONLY TWO MORE WEEKS until the royal nuptials (presumably, "Wills" and Kate will engage in "nuptials" on the evening of the 29th. The rest of us will only go to church and the reception at the Buckingham Chapter of the Elks Lodge). Still waiting for my invitation. Can't wait to dance the Chicken Dance with the Queen (Elizabeth or Elton).