A Pepper Grinder Post

Faucet Fumblings

For those of you who follow this blog regularly, you may remember I put up back on March 29th. It was about my attempt to fix a toilet. I just hate it when I read some news story that leaves me intensely curious about what will happen to someone in the future, but feel almost certain that I will NEVER see a follow-up. Well, I am not going to be guilty of that. For all of you who have been biting your nails for the past seven months wondering if Pepper's toilet really IS fixed or is still leaking in some diabolical way, I am VERY HAPPY to report that the toilet is still doing fine.

However, as you may be guessing by now, I have had to face a new plumbing challenge. For some time now, the bathtub in my daughters' bathroom has been dripping. For a long time it was a slow but steady drip. Then a few months ago, the drip started getting faster. Often it would not be a steady drip, but would have a certain rhythm—something like a dotted quarter note followed by three eighth notes. My youngest daughter even told me once that she kind of enjoyed watching it.

dripping faucetI tried to ignore it, thinking things like, "Well, it's not too bad. Eventually I'll need to get it fixed, but for now, it's fine." Finally, I realized that the time had come for action. At first I thought I would just replace the entire faucet assembly. I had done that with the kitchen sink, and it wasn't too bad. But when I pulled out the panel in the closet behind the faucet, I saw that everything was connected with copper pipes, and it didn't look like it would be easy to disconnect and reconnect things. At this point, I resigned myself to calling a plumber, perhaps next month, when we had a little more money. Well, next month came, but we still had very little to spare.

In a fit of inspiration, I did some internet research about fixing a faucet like ours. "Knowledge is power," they say, and I was starting to feel powerful. What we had was a Moen cartridge faucet, and all I needed to do was take the handle off, pull out the cartridge, replace it, and put everything back together. I knew, from watching plumbers demonstrating the procedure on You-Tube, that it was a quick and easy thing to do.

A word of caution here. Things are seldom as easy as they appear on You-Tube. I hope they never start posting videos of doctors performing surgical procedures like appendectomies on You-Tube or some naïve soul like me is liable to try doing it himself to save a little money. (Just kidding. I would never dream of trying to take my appendix out. After all, my appendix has already been removed.) In any case, Saturday arrived, and after the girls had taken their showers, I got ready to operate. I had a utility knife, regular pliers plus vice grips, as well as screwdrivers. I turned off the water and then got busy taking off the handle. It was a little confusing, but nothing I couldn't handle. Pretty soon, I was at the point where I was ready to pull out the cartridge. Some internet plumbing sages recommended using a $20 tool for this, but others assured me I could just grab hold with vice grips and pull it out. I figured I'd pop that bad boy out, and then head down to the hardware store with it, so I'd be sure to know what type of replacement to get. For some reason, I couldn't get the cartridge to budge. No problemo, I reasoned. I'd take pictures of what could be seen of the offending cartridge, and then the sales person in the plumbing department of the hardware store could help me figure out what cartridge I needed and give me some tips on getting it out.

The salesman I got was really nice and helpful. He took me to the aisle where they had the kind of cartridges I needed. He picked out the right one, and he even opened it up and went over the instructions with me. He wasn't surprised that I had been having a hard time getting it to come out--they often get a little stuck, he reassured me. The new cartridge had a plastic piece that fit perfectly over the old cartridge so you could turn it with a wrench. Once you got it moving, you could grab hold with vice-grips, and ease it out.

naked faucetI shelled out $40 for the new cartridge and headed home happily to finish the job I had started. Or not. I put the plastic piece over the cartridge, put a wrench on the plastic piece, and tried to turn it. It did not turn. I tried again. And again. Finally, I put so much pressure on it that the little plastic piece got ruined. Then I tried once more to pull the cartridge out with pliers. It didn't move a bit, even when I was pulling so hard that the whole wall of the tub-shower was bending toward me.

Finally I gave up. I would just have to call the plumbers. I tried to comfort myself by thinking about how the plumbers couldn't write a PHP script to save their lives, but it didn't help much.

Tuesday came and so did the plumbers. I have to say that they were really nice guys. If they thought I was a moron for trying and failing to replace my faucet cartridge, they didn't show it. As they got to work, my biggest dread was that they would pop the old cartridge out in a minute or two and I would feel like an idiot. The good thing is that I did not end up feeling like an idiot. The bad thing was that they were charging by the hour. They ended up having to go after the old cartridge with power tools, and pretty much drill it out. After it was over, the one plumber told me he hadn't seen a cartridge that hard to get out in a long time. When the plumbers drove away, I was $264.71 poorer, but I still had a little self-respect.

So far, I've told the story from my perspective. Now I want to look at it from the faucet's point of view. Here was this faucet, faithfully doing its job for over 20 years. The faucet, whom we'll call Joe, knew he had developed a little problem. At first, when a drop got past him, Joe felt bad. After a while, he started to rationalize. "They have plenty of water in their well. What's a little more water down the drain going to hurt?" He tried to ignore the fact that the drip was getting worse.

Then, one day, the owner of the house shut off the water supply. Joe had seen this happen before, and he actually kind of liked it, because it gave him a chance to relax. This time was different. The owner pulled off the secret panel that hid the screw that held his handle on and started to loosen the screw. What was the owner thinking? Before Joe knew what was happening the owner had stripped everything down to the point where his naked cartridge was out in the open for everyone to see. The owner began to pull and pull at the cartridge. Didn't he know that this was the most crucial part of Joe? This was what allowed him to regulate the water flow. Was the owner trying to destroy him?

Then the owner went away for a while. When he came back, he slipped a white plastic collar around Joe's cartridge and began to try to twist it with a wrench. The pain was excruciating. Finally, the owner left Joe in peace, although he still had no handle. He was left like this for three days. No one used him, but at least the owner stopped trying to pull and twist him.

fixed faucetJoe thought things had gotten better, but when the third day came, he realized how wrong he had been. On that day, two men Joe had never seen arrived. The water was shut off, and the two men went to work. At first, one of the men stood in front of him and pulled on Joe's cartridge as the owner had. Then, one of the men opened a door in the closet behind Joe, so he could push on Joe's cartridge while the other man pulled. This was worse than ever! After five or ten minutes, however, the men stopped. They let Joe relax a few minutes, and he even started to think they had gone away. Then Joe heard the sound of some kind of power tool. One of the men got right into the bathtub, put a sharp drill right into Joe's cartridge, and turned the drill on.

This was the end! Joe was sure he was dying. He had never felt anything like this before. The men drilled and pulled and pushed and finally yanked the mangled cartridge right out of Joe's chest. Joe was sure the rest of him would be pulled out next, and he would be buried in the landfill. But then the men did something Joe did not expect. They slid a new cartridge into Joe's chest. It slid in easily and smoothly--it felt good. The men carefully put Joe's face-plate and handle back on, and then the owner turned the water on again. Now when the faucet was turned on, Joe could feel the water rushing powerfully through him. But when the water was turned off, the new cartridge stopped the flow, easily and completely. Not one drop got through. Joe felt really good for the first time in a long time.

I don't know about you, but I have certainly felt like Joe. I have felt as though God is tearing me apart and ripping my heart out. We may not have a clue what God is doing, but he is good, and he is in control.

"For I know what I have planned for you," says the LORD. "I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope." (Jeremiah 29:11 NET)


*Photo of dripping faucet is from