The Cost Of A Broken Toilet
We staggered back into our apartment on Tuesday evening, two parents and one newly minted three-year-old, having traveled from New York to DC and back on a train for intensive extended family time. We were all exhausted. One of us was crying.
Naturally, the toilet broke.
For the past couple of weeks, the bathroom sink had been organizing some kind of slowdown, which would have been fine if it could have articulated its demands. Less hair? More baking soda and vinegar? The grown-ups in the household were busy multi-tasking as fast as we could, so we kept putting off dealing with our fussy, uncommunicative sink. Once the toilet got in on the action too and went on strike, though, we could no longer ignore the bathroom situation.
At eight in the morning, Babygirl cuddled with me in bed, telling me not to worry because I could use her potty, while Ben dragged himself out to the nearest open hardware store. He was determined to fix the bathroom problem himself using elbow grease and YouTube videos, a strategy that has been effective before, because our two weekends in a row away from home have made us feel like our money is evaporating rather faster than we’d like.
Fifteen dollars and half an hour later, he was back with a thingy in a box* that the guys at the hardware store assured him he’d be able to use if he was “at all mechanically inclined.” Gauntlet, thrown.
I took Babygirl to preschool while he began futzing with the interior of the tank, muttering. When I returned, having used the bathroom at her preschool and made a mental list of other places I could go if necessary (the gym, the library, the coffee shop on Washington Ave that plays NPR all day long, the shower maybe, a bucket?), he had graduated from muttering to cursing.
Finally, after applying his energy for an hour and a half, he admitted defeat. No YouTube video could explain why, despite his best efforts, the toilet remained broken, and he had to go to work. I said soothing things and texted an SOS to our local plumber. Then I hurriedly packed up my stuff and headed off to the coffee shop because I already felt like I had to pee again.
Bless his heart, the plumber called me only a couple of hours later, and I hurriedly packed up my stuff and came home to meet him. He’s a jolly guy, Brooklyn to the bone and very capable. He identified at once that the thingy sold to Ben by the hardware store was defective, replaced it, replaced another thingy as well that was in tatters**, tightened some bolts, and voila.
Since he was there, I asked if he could talk to the bathroom sink as well and convince it to go back to work. A little mediating on his part and it was done.
“Ah, liquid soap,” he said with a happy sigh. “It’s keeping me in business.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Oh yes. They make it so thick and greasy now, it clogs everything up.” He told me that foam soap seems to be better so, you know. Make a note if you like functioning drains.
For the whole thing—an urgent, same-day house-call to fix a sink and a toilet—he charged $175. He did, however, with a most unjolly expression on his face, ask me to make the check out to “Cash.” Tired of getting hosed at tax time, he’s executing a kind of work slowdown of his own, at least as far the government is concerned. I said soothing things and texted a thumbs up to Ben. We wouldn’t have to resort to using Babygirl’s potty after all.
COST: $175, plus $15 for the dysfunctional thingy, which we’ll return, and probably two hours total of our time
* What broke was the float, but the store doesn’t sell floats on their own anymore, so instead the store up-sold him a whole new Toiletmaster Fill Valve. Motto: Install With Confidence.
** A different valve, one not included in the whole Toiletmaster Fill Valve set.