Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Handyman


There are men in this world that proudly bear the title of “handyman,” men whose calloused hands and tireless ingenuity are every bit as defining as their hair color or last name. When lesser men reach for the yellow pages, they reach for their angle grinders. They have been known to wander listlessly around their homes, cordless drill in hand, muttering “Just give me a reason.”
That tile backsplash?  
It took me a mere Saturday afternoon….

The Mediterranean-style solarium with the retractable roof?
Well, our cable was out for a few days and I was bored…

 My 2009 Ford Expedition?
It used to be a go-cart…

When the going gets tough, they just switch drill-bits. It is at this point I must confess that I am not one of those men. Any ingenuity that I wield is the result of staunch frugality paired with occasional good fortune. The following story involves neither.
About a year after buying our first house, we noticed that the shower continued to drip after the handle had been returned to the “off” position. At first, this was a mere annoyance, but as the post-shower water flow continued to increase, so did the frequency of cleanings said shower required. It was at this point I decided to take matters into my own hands.
I began by using the Internet to study the internal mechanism of the water flow valve. Making careful annotations, I familiarized myself with each component of the Moen L2352 Monticello Single Handle Shower Kit until I was confident that I could disassemble it in the dark.
That Saturday, I allocated fifteen minutes for disassembly, forty-five minutes to obtain and install a new replacement valve, and the next eight hours to bask in the glow of my undeniable brilliance. I had spent previous days practicing the false modesty I would display once the job was completed and my wife began showering me with accolades. My only fear that she would become overwhelmed by admiration for me and require prompt medical attention.
Walking into the bathroom with my toolbox, I felt pity for the men would allow themselves to be held captive by the fickle whims of a plumbing professional for such a rudimentary repair. My considerable preparation allowed me to quickly locate the access screw on the bottom of the handle that prevented access to the valve system.
Just as I was about to place the Allen wrench into the finishing screw, I remembered that I had not yet closed the main water system that fed the house. Chuckling at how close I had come to embarrassing myself and endangering my handyman status, I walked out into the frigid January air and located the municipal water valve. It protested slightly, but I finally was able to force it off with a pair of value-brand pliers. Now the magic could begin….
Re-entering the shower, I reseated the wrench into the set screw and applied pressure. Much to my chagrin, it did not seem to give at all. As any handyman knows, this is just a mild setback that can be overcome with a little elbow grease. I adjusted my grip on the wrench and pulled with a little more gusto. Again, the screw defiantly refused to budge and I was slowly coming to the realization that every attempt stripped the screw a little more.
Undeterred, I forced a smile and informed Ashley that I would just need to take a quick trip to Lowes to purchase a screw extraction kit. She eyed me warily and inquired as to why such a trip would be needed with the award winning preparation I had undergone. I explained that this was a minor setback and everything was under control, I just needed a special drill-bit and extractor to convince the screw it was time to abandon its post.
Once in Lowes, I discovered that the modest size of the screw made it difficult to find an extraction kit but finally, with the help of a “home improvement specialist,” I located what I needed. The kit came with three drill bits to create pilot holes and the extractor to back out the screw. It was pretty expensive, but supposedly the bits were forged with secret alien alloys mixed with the blood of an albino unicorn to ensure that they were impervious to damage. I knew that Ashley would be a little upset at the $15 purchase, but I would explain that since they were unbreakable we would one day pass them on to our grandchildren.    
Arriving home, I un-holstered my embarrassingly underutilized cordless drill and installed the “bit of legend” into the chuck. After making contact with the screw, I powered up the drill and began to apply moderate pressure as I increased the rotation speed. Several minutes had passed when the drill bit abruptly snapped and launched itself toward the bathroom vanity narrowly missing my face. Had I been home alone, this event would have been closely followed by a succinct, but nevertheless impressive, string of expletives. As it stood, with Ashley in the next room, it was essential that I maintained my composure, and by extension, my delicate facade of control.  
I calmly retrieved a second drill bit from the package and seated it firmly in the jaws of the Craftsman. A couple of minutes later it suffered the same fate as its overpriced predecessor and I found my poise crumbling as my shaking hands removed the final bit from the packaging. This time I was very deliberate with the amount of pressure I used, but this attempt was just as futile as the others and concluded with the same result.
At this point Ashley, who was well aware that being fragged by metallic shrapnel was unusual in a faucet replacement, inquired as to how it was going. Valiantly repressing my fury, I explained that despite my painstaking preparation I had been unable to foresee Moen’s use of screws forged in the depths of Hell but I was adapting as best I could. I lovingly reassured her that everything was under control as I went about located a large hammer and a pair of Vise Grips.  
Faced with the same situation, a sensible man might have realized that a few unwanted drips were not worth ruining an entire afternoon. Unfortunately, until a sensible man arrived I was in charge of the situation and I was determined that the handle was going to dislodge with or without the screw’s consent. I proceeded to beat the shower handle with the hammer until I was sure it recognized who wore the “daddy pants” in this house. Once I felt the fixture had learned its lesson, I attached the pliers to the handle and began to pull and jerk at it with wild abandon.
As you have no doubt surmised, I had already come to terms with the fact I was going to have to purchase a replacement handle, but at this point I just wanted it off. On the third or fourth try I placed so much torque on the Vise Grips that there could have been only one of two outcomes: the handle would come loose and I would salvage a small victory or I would become the victim of a ferocious hernia.
Finally, the handle broke free and I found myself sitting in the floor of the shower holding the disfigured remains of the Monticello chrome plated control lever. My elation was short lived however, as I quickly discovered that it was not the tiny finishing screw that had given way, but the elongated bolt that ran into the pipes and was now impossible to remove.
Un-phased by this setback, I loudly explained that we would be unable to use the shower for a few days while I tracked down an inexpensive plumber to correct the issue. While inconvenient, we had a second shower in the guest bathroom that would allow time for me to research a good plumber once we got paid that Friday.
Dejected, I walked back into cold night and restored water to the house, and as I did so hot water began to stream from the de-handled fixture. Apparently, when I had torn the handle off, it had been in the HOT position, so now I had an unstoppable stream of expensively-heated water flowing from the shower all the time. This created a bit of urgency in my plumber search, but even at the exorbitant Saturday night prices I was unable to locate anyone because the unseasonably low temperatures had produced a rash of burst pipes in the area.
Fortunately, Rotor Rooter was able to swing by the house late that night and separate me from $350 and the remainder of my dignity. Certain that Ashley was already creating an E-Harmony account in the next room, I sheepishly walked in and announced that the shower was no longer leaking and she could bathe herself at her leisure. I fully expected to wake in the middle of the night discover that her pillow was firmly placed over my face, but mercifully she is content with bringing that night up whenever I attempt to “fix” something.

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