Plumbing? Let Me Get My Snorkel


I flick a switch, a room fills with light. I twist a handle, a stream of water flows from a faucet. This is how things work. What goes on inside the walls is none of my business. When looking for a plumber to deal with leaks, one must first learn if they are certified professionals. Professional plumbers can help with various plumbing tasks including conducting septic system inspections or septic tank installation.

That is, until the proper motivation pushes me out of my comfort zone and into the bewildering environs of a Home Depot.

Recently I decided to investigate our wobbly, leaky kitchen faucet, but not because I wanted to stop the leak that was soaking everything under the sink. I’d already dealt with that problem to some extent by removing everything I cared about from under the sink, which amounted to a box of powdered hummingbird food mix. It didn’t bother me that every time I pulled a trash bag out and shook it open I got showered with water. I found it refreshing. I stuffed a towel under the drip and got back to the game on TV.

But as the faucet handle became looser, and water began openly streaming down the main stem like the tears of a college piccolo player in the pep band when her basketball team has been eliminated from the Sweet Sixteen but she has to keep bravely playing some John Philip Sousa song on national TV, I grew concerned. I was spurred to action by the usual motivation: fear. A certain scenario began to play in my head, the same way it has played out on every TV sitcom since Ralph Kramden succumbed to Alice’s nagging and crawled under the kitchen sink with a murderous look in his eye. I visualized the moment when something under the faucet handle finally broke loose, shooting a firehose torrent of water straight to the kitchen ceiling as pandemonium broke loose in the household, with lots of running around and waving of arms, screaming, full-bore panic, wild-eyed anger, and the dog having puppies under the kitchen table. Believe me, he would be more surprised than anyone.


What? I got this.

I wanted to avoid that scenario, so the fear of a sitcom-style plumbing meltdown had me gathering my tools on the kitchen counter and shutting off the water supply under the sink. I’d actually installed this faucet myself, a fact that I never fail to mention when the conversation veers anywhere close to home repair. It wasn’t really that complicated, as the instructions were printed on a spinnaker-sized sheet of paper with many facile drawings and zero jargon. Coincidentally, Barb had run across the printed instructions a week ago, stashed in some random basket of ancient mail and old Christmas cards. I immediately snatched it out of her hand, declaring that I’d fix the faucet soon, and hid it from myself. I looked for that damned thing for an hour. It’s well hidden. I’m an idiot.

I couldn’t remember what brand it was. Had to be Delta, right? Cheapest unit they sold at Home Depot. With this thing was threatening to go Old Faithful on my ass, I had to do something. I disassembled the faucet and soaked all the parts in a bowl of white vinegar to see if that would help. There were only five parts, including the two screws that held it all together. When I reassembled it and turned the water back on, the cold water was now on the left and the hot on the right. How the…? I hadn’t touched anything under the base! The parts were not symmetrical so I couldn’t have reversed them. One little nylon ring did have “TOP REAR” stamped on it, so, by god, that’s how I positioned it. Was it possible that I’d put it in backwards when I installed it back in the day? I drink. A lot of things are possible.

It still leaked, so I got on the computer and searched plumbing databases for a couple of hours, trying to match up thumbnail illustrations of different faucets with this calcium-stained time bomb in our kitchen sink. There was no model number, or even a brand name visible on the business end. Finally, I hit a match. I noted the model number and called the phone number on the site.

“Hello, thanks for calling Moen. I’m Julia, your service representative.” She asked for the model number, which I proudly read off. “Your name?” she asked.

I told her, spelled it out.

“So that’s D as in Dallas,” she said, “O as in Omaha, G as in Georgia…”

“NO,” I said. “It’s B as in Bongo, O as in Oh My God, B as in Buzinga,..”

“Bob Wire,” she said. I could hear her tapping her keyboard. “So this is the same faucet you called us about in…2011?”

“What?” I peeked through the blinds out the kitchen window. “Where are you? Can you see me right now?”

“Sir, I used your phone number to call up your account. Is this your address?” She recited my address.

“Uh, yeah, that’s me. Did I already fix this once?”

“Let me ask you this,” said Julia, probably suspecting that I couldn’t fix a bent paperclip. “Is there a little red and blue Moen logo button on the front of the handle mount?”

“No, there’s just a hole where I stick the Allen wrench. And it’s getting bigger. If there was a Moen logo there it would have saved me an hour looking for this thing on the Delta site. Isn’t this a model 87017?”

“You have a model 87316C. The 87017 has the screw hole on the back, not the front. First thing I’m going to do is send you that little button so we can make it look pretty again.”

“Okay, well, that’s good, I guess. But I’m afraid it’s gonna blow. The handle is real floppy. It’s leaking. I’m scared.”

“When you pull the handle to turn the water on, is it loose but also giving a lot of resistance?”

“Yeah, exactly. Like you have to pull hard to get water, but you’re afraid you’ll yank it off. Next thing you know Ed Norton is standing here in his vest and t-shirt, saying I should’ve let him do the installation.”

After a moment of silence, she said, “Okay. You need all new parts in there. You need a new cartridge and new spacer rings and the rest, all the way down to the stem.” She rattled off a list of part numbers, and within ten minutes I received an email confirming the parts would arrive here within two weeks. No charge. Wow, hats off to Moen. Lifetime warranty is just that, even on this half-plastic piece of junk.

After I reassembled the pieces and was turning the water supply back on under the sink, I heard a scream from the main bathroom. I ran down the hall and threw open the door, calling out to Rusty who was in the shower. “Are you okay? Did the water burn you?!?”

He yanked back the curtain to expose his dripping face. “Dad, we’re out of Irish Spring. Damn, don’t you do anything around here?”

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blog archive.


Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

MIM NewsletterLike this blog? Don’t miss another one. Sign up for our E-Newsletter.  It provides you with a list of all the week’s stories/blogs and is delivered to your inbox every Tuesday morning.