A bathroom a river could run through

Right now, I have the opportunity to boost the value of my home while enhancing the quality of my personal leisure time. Most people would be boiling with enthusiasm in this situation, but my mood is only lukewarm.

The economic and emotional anxiety is flowing from an upstairs bathroom with a leaky shower. If you think plumbing repairs involve nothing more than some pipes and porcelain, allow me to splash reality in your face.

According to a recent news story, homeowners in this country spent $14 billion on bathroom remodeling in 1998. Oh, wait, did I say bathroom? Pavilion would be a more accurate term in many households. Goodbye, old water closet. Modern Americans want bathing amenities that are expensive, and expansive.

I admit that my current faulty shower stall is uninspiring. Replacing the tile walls with slabs of solid granite would provide an exotic ambiance, the illusion of a tropical grotto on a remote island. Bubbling hot tubs and saunas are also popular upgrades, along with multiple shower heads and massive marble countertops.

What prevents me from exploring these options is a lack of keen interest in the concept of luxuriating.

To me, the mere existence of hot and cold running water is still remarkable. It may sound brutish, but I'm confident my daily hygiene standards could be maintained with a towel, basin, washcloth, and a vintage wall dispenser filled with 20 Mule Team Boraxo.

I am also disconcerted by the widespread belief that opulent, cavernous cleansing areas can be used for group activities. The idea of hosting any kind of social gathering in a bathroom seems extremely dubious.

It immediately reminds me of several hedonistic scenes in "I, Claudius" and Fellini's "Satyricon." Such behavior anywhere in my domicile would be viewed with deep misgivings by our entire family.

Being anything but pragmatic about this subject is not my style.

I look at plumbing fixtures as opponents who have been coached by Knute Rockne, fully deserving of my fear and respect. Behind each faucet is the awesome force of an entire municipal water supply, held back only by a few valves and washers. Any new feature that encourages prolonged use of the system is adding more stress to all the parts, increasing the risk of a catastrophic rupture.

The other big drawback to enlarging a bathroom is the volatile issue of who's going to clean all the extra nooks and crannies. As my wife likes to point out, any shower that holds more than two people is really just a mildew farm.

So our remodel job will not transform the leaky stall into a tantilizing spa. I just want a reliable spot for a daily splash and scrub. We don't need a river running through it.

*Jeffrey Shaffer is a Monitor humor columnist. He lives in Portland, Ore.

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