Some years ago, probably about 13 if you would like a more precise level of time measurement, I was asked to join the honours program of the Faculty of Political Science. I gave the matter some thought, and expressed concern to the then Chair of the Department, Dr. James Lightbody. Mostly I was concerned, in the middle of my second year of a never ending life of ichiban noodles and generic mac and cheese on payday, that I might, at some point, want some sort of gainful employment that would provide a heretofore inexperienced level of financial stability and also a diet suitable for an omnivore.
Now, the esteemed Dr. Lightbody, in addition to atrocious taste in shirts, was not given to putting up with questions that he thought were “wasting his time”. Given that his specialty was (and is) municipal politics, not exactly a “hotbed” of burgeoning research opportunities, I’m surprised, but possibly I was keeping him from his next cup of coffee, what with my predilection for paying my rent and my steak cravings.
Anyway, the upshot of this conversation was that he said if I wanted a job that paid money, I should go to NAIT and be a plumber. I laughed at his wit and carried on my merry way. As it turns out, I did eventually find myself a job that allowed me to pay the rent and consume the occasional steak, while not opting to learn the in’s and out’s of conduiting, sluicing and water maining.
I have not often thought about his words. (Although, as I wrote the above paragraph, I realized that possibly I still harbour some resentment.)
At 10:47 on Sunday morning, Mr. Spit and I were disassembling the vanity in the bathroom, so that I could lay the tile. I was in the basement fetching something (the honours degree apparently means that I am, at best, a marginal plumber’s assistant). From the basement I heard my name called. It was being called in the sort of voice tone that suggests the caller is attempting to remain sort of calm, but those attempts are trying and this would not be the time to dally or feign marital deafness and attempt to complete your first task.
I ascended our staircase quickly and came across a damp Mr. Spit, holding a hose emerging from my bathroom floor, a hose which was spewing hot water. Thankfully there was a bucket, although judging from the general wetness in the area, the bucket would have ideally been positioned closer to the hose. (Also, if you ever use ceiling paint with a tint that drys white, you should know it will tint again when sprayed with hot water. It seems to have dried fine, but I’m not sure I would recommend repeated experimentation.)
I did what I always do when encountering plumbing challenges, and I phoned my uncle. He started the conversation with “you still living in that ancient house?”. Well, to be fair, I started the conversation with “Hey Uncle Gary, you know those tubey things that carry the water out of the floor, to the taps in your bathroom. Well, not the tubey things, but the valve about the middle of the way down the tubey things, the one that is supposed to turn off the water? Well, yeah, mine doesn’t turn off the water. Well, you can turn off the hot water, but that means you have to turn it off to the whole house, and that’s not so good.”
I knew it was bad when Uncle Gary used all of my names. It turns out my house uses pipes that are not used any more. The only way to fix the valve is with a specialized tool (it’s very expensive), but they can’t fix the line because it’s not legal anymore, so they would have to replace it. The only way to replace it is to rip the floor in the bathroom and the ceiling in the kitchen up. In short, it doesn’t actually matter that the valve wants replacing, the entire water lines to the sink taps are going to be replaced, whether I want them replaced or not. I should also point out, to those of you who don’t actually live out that movie, you know the comedy they called “The Money Pit”, as soon as you open any sort of wall up for any reason what so ever, the old house Gods become wrathful, and you will find yourself replacing all sorts of other things. Indeed, opening up a wall is an invitation to all trades – they will walk into your house tracking mud all over your floors (it doesn’t matter, you are going to have to replace them when you have to rip them out to fix something else). They are going to shake their head, and they are going to say “That’s gonna cost you, little lady”.
I don’t want it, but unless I can find a viable work around, I will spend about $100 an hour to pay someone to further destroy the house I am trying to fix. I will have shiny new metal hose lines, installed with that specialized tool. I will pay someone the equivalent of a king’s ransom to do this because I do not have the knowledge. They will fix things that are not broken while they are at it, because they have an entire book, called the City of Edmonton Building Code, and I assure you, they are not afraid to use it.
The alternative is to drive to every plumbing supply store, find a pair of 8″ on centre polished brass taps, taking with me the other grey water line, the one that screws into the non closing valve, so that I can attach a pair of taps to the vanity, because the taps have a closing mechanism. I will do this while not telling anyone at any store what my actual problem is, because they are all in this together, and if I tell them what my actual problem is, the trades persons will arrive anyway.
With this “work around”, comes several years of prayer that the water line in the bathroom never lets go, because as was conclusively demonstrated by the sodden us, that stop-cock valve is totally broken and it is not possible to shut of the hot water at the sink. It should be noted that this is not the alternative my uncle the plumber recommends.
In my 5 odd years at University I learned such helpful things as hegemonic stability theory and Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis about civilizations and conflict. I have parsed and analyzed the works of Marx and Locke and Rawls. I can speak clearly and articulately about the various types of democratic structures and group versus collective rights. Possibly I even remember enough of biology to describe cellular mitosis and meiosis to you.
I feel like I should tell you, at 10:51 on Sunday morning, being a plumber would have been a hell of a lot more useful.
Just saying, Dr. Lightbody, just saying.