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Playing Taps For My Tub

As the year staggers to a conclusion it’s comforting to know that some things remain enduring in our lives.

Take, for instance, plumbing. Please take it. When we moved to our new home we decided to convert a shower unit in the master bathroom into a jet tub. Shower versus tub is one of those human frailties that defy the rational: Vanilla/ chocolate. Tea/ coffee. The Beatles/ the Rolling Stones. Preference just is.

For me, a tub is the greatest reading room in the world. A tub with jets is like the British Museum merged with the Fairmont Hot Springs. Owing to the prospect of my blancmange complexion wallowing like an enormous perogy in a steaming cauldron, few are willing to interrupt my revels as the hydraulic jets nuke the knots in my back.

So the search was begun for an ideal tub configuration delivering max massage with deprivation-tank stillness. After a search of the local plumbing boutiques I settled on a two-person sized rectangular model where one could not only read but perform Upward Dog and other exotic yoga moves.

Satisfied at finding this spacious SUV model, I decided to add a hand-held sprayer for rinsing shampoo, getting at inaccessible spots, drenching people who invade the space etc. It seemed a modest upgrade, but after years of rinsing my hair with a shabby plastic bowl left over from my kids’ tub days it seemed an adult thing to upgrade. So a sprayer was added and installed.

And all was good.

For several years. At some point the vibrant stream from the sprayer became a modest trickle. Think of the American Niagara Falls versus the roaring Canadian version of the Falls. While the jets in the tub pulsed with urgency, the sprayer in my mitt was like an elderly man squeezing a few drops around a balky prostate.

One of the beauties of abundant self-absorption is the directions it takes you. In middle age I have become obsessed with mastering minor domestic engineering. The intricacies of plumbing, wiring, grouting, tiling and heating piqued my creative impulses. After a few untidy experiments, I now install toilets like a pro. Wiring light switches and grounding electrical boxes is a breeze. I have my PhD. in sink installation.

So this impertinent sprayer was not going to require professional help. Perhaps the nuts and washers that slipped on so easily for the contractor weren’t as complaint for me. Yours truly had this, thank you. After a few brief forays into the netherworld beneath the tub I hastened to my graduate school of domestic knowledge, Home Depot. God bless the dudes in their orange aprons, they must achieve peak incomprehension each day from mooks like me.

“My sprayer isn’t working. How can I fix it?”

“What model of sprayer do you have?”

“Um… don’t know.”

“Is it directly attached to the deck or joined next to the strainer?”

“Strainer? Deck…?”

“Do you know the pipe width?”

“Humana humana…” And so on.

After a a few fruitless round trips from tub to Home Depot, it was finally settled that I needed a new strainer unit. “Great, how much are they?”

“About $20.”

“Okay I’ll take one.”

“We don’t have that model.”

Which is how I found myself back at the bath boutique— which seemed to be distancing itself from the model I’d purchased from them a few years prior. “This model strainer is not really the standard anymore. I can, however, sell you this baffling device and you can see if it adapts the the job.”

Having resisted the urge to plunge a sprayer unit where his sun had never shone, I was soon in possession of the strainer unit.. But no amount of torquing and twisting could seemingly wrest the deck from its place atop the tub. The operating theatre lay inaccessible.

Like Darren McGavin’s character wrestling with the smoking furnace in A Christmas Story, I spun an aria of profanity as I struggled to replace such a simple device, the size of an automobile lighter. At this point my wife risked divorce by gently suggesting I call the contractor who’d done the initial installation to see if he might help.

Like Scott of the Antarctic being offered a Ski-Doo I was professionally insulted to think I needed help. Unlike Scott I wasn’t going to die on this glazed hillside. Enter Kirby the Contractor. After a serious of forays at the tap deck, he exposed the viscera of the sprayer, which re-directs water from the main spout via a small diverter.

The new strainer inserted in place of the defective original part (hoistedin triumph by Kirby like Herod hoisting John the Baptist’s lid), success seemed at hand. And yet the expected rush of water from the sprayer still failed to materialize.

Worse, the pressure from the main spout was now constricted, as if a boa had taken up lodging wrapped around the PEX pipes. At this development Kirby’s brow furrowed. “Maybe when you were twisting the nuts you also twisted the piping too much. This PEX piping doesn’t snap back into form once you crimp it.”

Indeed there had been some sessions in which I torqued the taps like Hercules attempting to loosen a balky jam jar. Kirby sighed once more. “Maybe it’s just that the strainer is loose.” With that he took a hammer and proceeded to deliver a dozen blows worthy of a pneumatic drill on the innards of the strainer. While this no doubt satisfied something primal in Kirby, it did nothing for me.

And nothing for the flow of water that seemed to lose the will to live as soon as it crossed the Rubicon of the tap. “You probably have twisted pipes in there,” said Kirby as he packed up. “They’ll probably have to open up the wall to get at it.” Nice.

What used to take about five minutes to fill the tub is now an endless ordeal of 20 minutes before the waterline reaches the jets. I can walk the dog without any threat of overflowing the tub. In defiance, the sprayer has perked up slightly, however.

Which is how I came to be rinsing my hair using a child’s toy again. Staring balefully at the laconic stream of water oh-so-slowly filling up the tub. Dreaming sadly of the torrent of hot water a shower would now be delivering. 

Proving yet again, it doesn’t pay to twist Mother Nature’s pipes.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy @NPBroadcaster