Butt It’s Clean (concluded)

When I bought the spouse’s bidet for the Brooklyn house, I got a three-for-one deal. I still had two more of the devices, and I took them to the Pennsylvania house when it was opened for the summer. It has two toilets, and it was clear that one could not be outfitted with a bidet. But one will do, or at least is better than none, I think. This won’t be too bad now that I have successfully installed two of the devices. This time before starting I go to my outstanding local country hardware store and buy both a flexible hose and long toilet seat bolts and set to work. Even with various difficulties in attaching the hoses, it gets done rather promptly, and it works. I am proud, oh so proud. I come back to the bathroom two hours later and find the tiniest amount of water on the floor next to the toilet. I wait and watch. A small–incredibly small–drop comes out of the connection to the toilet tank once every thirteen minutes. Really, it is not much. My first thought is that I can live with that. I will just put a sponge down and wring it out once a day. That should do. But I know that that attitude is wrong, oh so wrong.

I turn off the water and disassemble my work. I do not cry, not even a little. I remember that the directions warned not to overtighten the new connector to the toilet tank. I did not have this problem with my two previous efforts, but that must be what I have done. The kit came with some of the stuff that looks like adhesive tape but is much flimsier to help make good plumbing connections. I don’t know how to really use it and find I am ending up with a balled-up mess like my attempts to use Saran Wrap in the early days. What else to do but go back to the hardware store where I buy a slightly wider version of that white stuff and what might have been called in the old days pipe dope. But I still don’t know how to use either properly. Does the white stuff go clockwise or counterclockwise? Is that looking from above or below? Does the goop go on the male or female threads or both? How much should I use? Then I remember: this modern world has YouTube. I watch videos; all I really learn is that whatever I am doing is wrong. However, I boost my confidence by telling myself, more than once, that I have installed two of these gizmos successfully. A third cannot be far off.

I wrap and slather the connector and put it back on the toilet tank and hope without reasonable expectations that I have not tightened it too much. The flexible hose, however, has seemed to come alive. An animate force seems to be fighting me as I try to thread it on to the connector in the tight place near the wall under the toilet. Although I had done it before, I can’t line it up properly to get it started. There, I have got it, but that was delusional because a slight tug pulls it to the floor. Try again. Try again. And try again. My fingers no longer work well enough. Let me regroup and try again tomorrow.  I have another toilet to use, and I can still flush this one with a bucket of water.

The next day does not bring success. And the day after produces only compounded frustrations. Luckily, I am alone in the house, for I certainly could not show my face to anyone who knew of my failure. Finally, instead of acknowledging my ineptness, I put a positive spin on it and decide that it would be a good deed to help the needy local economy and call Karl the Plumber. It takes a few days for him to come, and I am not at the house when he does (for which I am grateful), but when I return, the thing has been installed—without leaks. I am pleased and grateful. God bless Karl.

The spouse pays the bill. I have not asked how much it cost to have this inexpensive device professionally installed.

Then, however, the NBP, who up until that time had adamantly eschewed one, wanted a bidet, and I still had one from my three-for-one offer. But, besides wanting the bidet, the NBP also reported that his toilet was making strange noises after it was flushed. I looked at it and determined that the mechanism inside the tank was malfunctioning, but I don’t understand this modern form of filling and flushing the tank (and neither would my 80’s edition of the Reader’s Digest Home Repair Encyclopedia). Instead of seizing on this new learning opportunity, I immediately gave the NBP the number of our Brooklyn plumber and said, “When you get him, ask him to install the bidet, too.” I wanted my bidet-installation days to be over.

But I can say that all of us now have very clean butts.

Butt It’s Clean

We could afford the brownstone house only if we rented out part of it, and then it was still a stretch. The house was liveable, but it was, after all, 100 years old. Something always needed to be fixed or patched or painted or installed. We did not have excess money to pay someone for maintenance and repairs if I could do them, but my fancy Ivy League education had not prepared me to be a handyman.

I did what an Ivy Leaguer ought to do; in those days before YouTube, I bought how-to books, several of which, especially one put out by Reader’s Digest, were quite helpful. I tightened hinges attached to not-totally-reliable door jambs; installed door locks; changed washers in faucets; caulked bathtubs; repaired leaky toilets; hung closet poles; put up bookcases; and even installed windows. Our budget, not surprisingly, did not have a large allotment for furniture, so I finished and refinished wooden tables and chairs. I learned two important lessons from these efforts. First, by the time I finished a project, I knew how it to do, if not correctly, better than I had. The question was whether I would remember when or if I ever did a similar project.

Second, I learned the importance of a good hardware store. One was a few minutes’ walk from my house. I was there frequently looking for a flathead screw a little shorter than the ones I had or an angle bracket, spackle or a toggle bolt, shellac or an N battery. They always seemed to have it. In addition, the staff was a fount of knowledge. I would explain some house problem, and they would suggest a solution or find some device or equipment I was not familiar with that would be exactly what I needed.

I learned that this was not the only hardware store like that. I went to stores near my place of work at lunchtime or in other places in my travels around New York, and all seemed incredibly helpful. I was concerned when the building housing my local hardware store was sold, and the Germanic-sounding elderly couple (no doubt younger than my present age) sold the business. Happily, it was bought and moved across the complicated intersection (it is called Seven Corners for a reason) where it continued to give excellent service for several more decades. Eventually it closed, though, leaving me bereft but not as bereft as its long-time employees, some of whom were in tears in its last days. This complicated my home-improvement life as I had to seek out more distant establishments, but I managed.

I had gained much handyman experience living in a 100-year-old Brooklyn brownstone, so I felt confident in being able to install a bidet-like thing in the top-floor bathroom of the Brooklyn house. My previous handyman experience had taught me an important rule of thumb. So, I looked the device over, examined the instructions, and calculated that it should take no more than an hour for the job. Then I said to myself, “So it will take you two.”

The basic idea is to disconnect piping that allows water to flow into the toilet tank and then install a T-shaped metal device into the opening to the tank. The water is hooked up to the bottom of this connection, which allows the tank to fill, and the bidet is connected to the other side of the connector with a supplied flexible hose. A knob on the bidet, when opened, allows water to flow on command to the bidet permitting it to do its business.

But the original water connection to the tank on the upstairs toilet was a rigid tube cut exactly the right length. The new supplied connector that I had to thread onto the toilet tank was almost two inches in length. The original rigid tube would no longer fit, and the bidet kit supplied only one flexible hose. Off to the new hardware store which had opened in the neighborhood after the demise of the longlasting one. This was a trip I was reluctant to make because this is the only hardware store I have frequented that regularly disappoints me. It too often does not have what I consider the most basic things that such a business should carry. Even so I went there, and I was surprised that it had the flexible hose I needed. I finished fifteen minutes beyond the 2-hr time limit and considered myself a plumbing whiz.

(continued June 28)