May 14, 2009

On Home Improvement Projects, Snafus, and Obligations

My wife and I volunteered our services yesterday with the installation of a new toilet for my grandparents. My 93-year-old grandfather, you see, has a pair of knees and a hip that are giving him some problems, and he finally took us up on our suggestion to replace his ancient toilet with one of those new taller toilets. Even though the gain in height was only 3-4 inches, this makes a significant reduction in joint strain.

I thought that the swapping of toilets would be a relatively simple project, since we have performed this task several times. A clarification: my wife is the degreed engineer, and she takes the lead on most home improvement projects. I am typically the grunt-work half of the team: lugging the heavy stuff, pounding the nails, or other duties that do not require the "vision thing." My wife is the whiz with mitered saws, levels, T-squares, and really any construction activity in which an engineering mind comes in handy.

We first noticed that we neglected to take into account the height difference for the water inlet line, as we needed another few inches of water line to reach the tank. Making a note of this, we continued removing the old toilet.

Our second problem manifested itself when we lined up the new toilet, as there was a large gap in the linoleum right in front of the new toilet. This meant that we needed to put a new layer of linoleum in the 5' by 5' bathroom space (no, a set of area rugs would not cut it). Ninety minutes and two trips to some Home Depot stores and we were back in business.

The flooring project took about four hours, being hampered by the removal of some stubborn caulk around and under the bathtub. After my wife roughed out and trimmed the linoleum, we were ready to hoist the new toilet into place.

Alas - we had managed to strip one of the old toilet bolts while removing it, and we needed to put a new bolt and nut in place. I estimate that we lost almost an hour in trying to re-tap the old bolt, cussing (me, of course), and digging out the old bolt to put in a new one.

Amazingly, nothing leaked when we powered up the new toilet. For me this is a shining moment, as this makes two straight plumbing projects in which my connections did not spring a leak, and this streak comes after a near-lifetime of leaky pipes and drains when I first finished a plumbing project (remember: my wife is the smart one with detail work).

Then came the most difficult part of the job: refusing payment from my proud grandparents. Oh how they insisted, and oh how we declined - you know how this dance goes. I argued that as a young grandchild I must have wrecked three times the value of the toilet and the labor, and they argued that there was no way they could let us pay for a project that cost the incredibly expensive sum of $250 or so. Finally my grandfather insisted that I take with me a large box of his machinist tools, which I felt was a fair compromise (and allowed both of us to "win"). He no longer uses the tools, and who knows: perhaps someday I will demonstrate enough mechanical competence to actually put these tools to productive use.

This is what families do, and there was no way I could take the proffered money. What I have learned from this wise man in 45 years is priceless, and far beyond any meager attempts to "pay back" my grandfather. Besides, since he absolutely refuses to consider an assisted living facility, I can at least help make his home a little more comfortable.


Anonymous said...

You have inspired me Mike, to go and fix my Mom's screen door.

Anonymous said...

Indeed Mike, you and your wife and your terrific grandparents are an inspiration to some of us with cynical tendencies. Kudos to all!

historymike said...

For the record: on the way home I took the old toilet and dumped it in a commercial refuse bin.

Just in case anyone starts thinking of nominating me for sainthood. My selflessness only goes so far.


Anonymous said...

Thank goodness you have redeemed my misanthropic perspective and freed me to be once again a irrasible and cantankerous critic of human nature. Bless you...

historymike said...

Anonymous #3:

Interesting comment, but I am puzzled by the implicit sarcasm.

Mad Jack said...

Then came the most difficult part of the job: refusing payment from my proud grandparents. Oh how they insisted, and oh how we declined - you know how this dance goes.Actually, I don't. My own paternal grandfather made Ebeneezer Scrooge look like a spendthrift.

Amazingly, nothing leaked when we powered up the new toilet. For me this is a shining momentMy own experience, should I ever have it, will stand as concrete proof of Divine Intervention, complete with an Angelic orchestra and chorus. The inevitable results that immediately followed the old 'okay, let's turn the water on' created an involuntary flinch and reinforced the great truism that water is for washing in, and should not be used to dilute your whiskey.

Where was Eddie Haskel while all this was going on? A project like this needs a dog.