I plunge into plumbing

My eyes welled up when the leak stopped welling up around the bathroom faucet. Apart from living creatures, nothing gets to me like plumbing.

For several decades I've been haunted by the time I was the house guest of a newly married couple and tried to fix a toilet. It only leaked more and more. They were terribly nice about it.

But what turns me to jelly is the occasional triumph. To find a washer that actually fits and stops a drip-drip-drip! To discover plumber's sealing tape and turn worn pipe threads into a perfect union!

"Worn" is the word in a house with basically sound infrastructure going back to the Coolidge administration. Some small thing is always giving way.

The used-parts store where I long bought replacements has changed to "antique plumbing supplies," as I find out after a visitor breaks the four-spoked porcelain handle on the above-mentioned bathroom-sink faucet. I try glue, but the instant variety doesn't bond, and I don't have enough viselike fingers to hold all the fragments in place for slower drying.

The antique store probably can replace the faucet handle, I find out on the phone, but I have to bring the whole faucet in for a proper fit. It's the hot-water faucet, which controls the flow to a central spigot that is also connected to the cold-water faucet.

I turn off the hot water under the sink. After several applications of Liquid Wrench, I am able to loosen the faucet's corroded collar and bring the innards up out of their socket.

Now the cold water not only comes out of the central spigot but also seeps up through the hole where the hot-water faucet was. Nothing major so far.

At the antique-plumbing store, the outdoor lot looks like an elephants' graveyard of old radiators, not to mention a whole rain-filled sink exactly like ours. The man says he is in the midst of something big and will phone if he can find the faucet handle. I say I'll wait.

Eventually he comes up with the blessed handle, but he can't replace the frayed band of rubber where the faucet mechanism meets the pipe.

"It's not an O-ring, is it?" he says.

"No, it's not an O-ring."

Try it as is, he suggests, or go to the one place in town that might have a replacement.

I decide to go home and try it as is. A geyser shoots up around the faucet as well as through the spigot.

Is the shredded bit of rubber to blame?

Inside the mechanism I find a thick washer that really does seem like an antique, certainly not like any of my washers for every occasion. I wrap plumber's tape around it, jam it in place, and reinstall everything.

A smaller geyser. This time the faucet comes apart in a different way when I remove it. Some of the threads I screwed cannot be unscrewed, at least by me.

Meanwhile, the hot-water control under the sink, unaccustomed to being shut off, is dripping on the floor. A handy plastic waste basket takes care of that.

"No, it's still leaking," I say to the voice from the hall.

Must I call a professional? Is it worth trekking to the last-chance place for the thing that is not an O-ring?

First I'm going to put everything together again, just in case. This time I screw the faucet all the way in and then do three extra turns.

No geyser. No seepage.

That's when my eyes welled up. It's a wonderful thing when love stops being unrequited.

By the next day, the dripping under the sink stopped, too.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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