I came home to find the hot water in the downstairs bathroom running furiously from the spigot. “I can’t turn it off,” explained Hans, the man who lives with us and helps take care of my husband. “It’s been running since this morning when I gave Ralph a shower.”
I peered into the bathroom, which was flooded. There was no steam; the hot water heater had given up hours ago.
“Che and Jenna came over and tried to help,” said Hans, referring to our next door neighbors. “But we don’t have the right tools. We’ve been waiting for you to get home.”
Just then Andrea, our other roommate, came downstairs to commiserate. “Dion’s got one of those keys that’ll turn off the water from the street. Now that you’re here, we’ll go get it.” Dion is Andrea’s boyfriend. He lives several blocks away with his mother, Mrs. Overstreet. Andrea and Hans took the car and left. I went back into the bathroom and watched water run down the drain. When they returned, they used the key to stop the flow. We were no longer wasting a precious resource, but now we couldn’t wash dishes, clean clothes, or flush the toilets.
Our neighbor Teddy wasn’t at home. He’s the person we call when we’ve got a problem. But this couldn’t wait. I looked up PLUMBER in the yellow pages. The first one I contacted said he wasn’t available until Tuesday. It was Friday afternoon. I called another listing. “Yes,” said the person who answered the phone, “I can have someone there in two hours.”
“Nobody use the bathrooms,” I shouted. Andrea and Hans closed their bedroom doors. It was lockdown on Dover Street.
The plumber arrived and said that it was probably a faulty gasket. “One hundred and eighty-five dollars,” he advised. “I won’t start until you agree to the price.” Even me, who knows virtually nothing about plumbing, knows that replacing a five cent gasket is easy stuff if you’ve got the proper tools. But I didn’t have a choice. There are four adults living in our house, plus a steady parade of friends and relatives trooping in and out. “Go for it,” I said.
But when the plumber removed the faucet innards, he found that it wasn’t just a bad gasket. The entire stem was bent, and the connecting pipe was broken. “Eight hundred dollars,” he said. “I’ll cut a hole in the wall and replace everything. You’ll have to pay someone else to repair the wall.”
“Hold on a minute,” I shouted. As much as I wanted our toilets to flush, I had to think twice about the price. It was money we didn’t have, and anyway, shouldn’t I get a second opinion?
Andrea emerged from her room and said she had a friend who was a plumber. Maybe he could help us out. At nine that night he arrived to diagnose the situation. “I can do it,” he said, “and it won’t cost you eight hundred dollars. But I’m not available until Wednesday. Can you wait that long?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. Hans opened the door to his room and nodded his head affirmatively.
The next morning I looked out the window and saw that Teddy was at home. I rushed over and knocked on his door. “Teddy,” I said. “I’m a desperate woman.”
“You’re always desperate,” he replied, “but let’s see what the problem is.”
Teddy looked at the faucet. “Take that bad stem to Orchard Hardware on Ashby and ask for the exact same part and the piece that it seeds into. I’ll come back when you’ve got the merchandise.”
I rushed to OSH. A little old man in a blue blazer helped me match up the parts. The total at the register came to $12.99. Teddy fixed the faucet immediately. Everyone came out of their rooms and gave him a hug. “Thank you, Teddy,” I said, “but why, why, why does stuff like this always happen to me?”
“Shut up,” said Andrea, “and count your blessings. You wouldn’t have nothin’ to write about if it wasn’t for excitement like this. Think on the positive side. I bet you can get a column out of this if you try.”
Once again, Andrea was right. ›