House Full of Zebras, Part the Second: The Toilet Chronicles

When last we visited the Money Pit, my family had just made the wrenching decision to ask an emergency plumber, Dr. Manning, to decommission our upstairs toilet, which was leaking into our downstairs bathroom, leaving us with but two functional toilets in the house.

— Well, actually, make that one-and-a-half functional toilets. You see, some time ago, the handle of the toilet #2 — the one in the Blue Bathroom — disengaged itself from the flapper and valve assembly inside the tank. In anybody else’s toilet, that would have meant a replacement handle and chain — a five-minute job, probably. But not in ours. Oh, no. The pot in the Blue Bathroom wasn’t as old as the (retired) Truman-era job upstairs in bathroom #3, but it wasn’t exactly new, and the tank contained an apparatus I can’t even begin to describe. I inspected it closely and decided that even if I were able to remove all the old guts and rebuild the inside of the tank with more modern machinery (far from a given), I would need to drain and remove the tank first, and, well, I know my limitations. (Insert laugh track here.)

The upshot was that in order to flush the toilet in the Blue Bathroom, we needed to remove the lid of the tank, plunge our arms into the icy water, and lift a plastic gadget that would lift the flapper that would clear the bowl. Certain individuals in our household regarded this step as optional, meaning that the Blue Bathroom not infrequently smelled like a Port-a-Jon at the National Mall on the Fourth of July.

Purple John

And not one of these attractive clean ones, either.

Not that it would have mattered if those individuals did try to flush. The toilet also seemed to be having certain issues moving — ahem — solids. Long story short: The Handsome Husband and I determined that we would contact an actual licensed professional and have the toilet in the Blue Bathroom replaced with a newer model.

We decided we would save the services of our friend Dr. Manning for a rainy day, and we got in touch with our usual plumber, Mark. Now, we’ve been through a lot together, Mark and I. I’m fairly certain that our family has funded at least one high-end cruise for him and his wife, what with one thing and another over the years. Anyway, he was very happy to hear from us, and on the appointed day he presented himself and a new toilet at our front door.

He got to work; I cooled my heels in the kitchen. Twenty minutes later he appeared in the doorway wearing an expression you never, ever want to see on your plumber’s face.

A torrent of profanity blew through my mind, but I contained my remarks to a weary “What.” (Because I’m classy that way, see.)

“There’s something you need to take a look at,” he told me soberly.

He led me to the Blue Bathroom and showed me the problem: Leakage around the base of the toilet. Lots and lots of leakage. Soft rotten wood. Unsafe at any speed.

“You’ll need to replace that section of floor before the new toilet goes in,” he informed me. “It’s completely rotted through.”

“How much is that going to set me back?” I wondered aloud.

Mark shrugged. “I don’t do that part,” he said. “It might not be that bad. I don’t think the whole floor needs to be replaced. You could just get some plywood and pop it in there.”

Meanwhile, Hoot and Mini-Me would have nowhere to go but our toilet to sit and play video games. (God forbid they should sit in, like, an actual chair or anything.) Not acceptable.

“Change of plans!” I exclaimed. Remember the toilet that we were going to renovate so it looked like this?

Toilet Full of Flowers

An asset to any well-appointed home.

“We have a toilet that’s older than you are!” I informed him. “And today, you’re going to send it to its eternal reward.”

So Mark dutifully soldiered on upstairs to our Spare Bathroom, removed the semi-antique pot, and replaced it. Two fully functional toilets, at last!

Of course, neither Hoot nor Mini-Me was in a hurry to walk ALL THE WAY UP AN ENTIRE FLIGHT OF STAIRS just to pee — not when their parents had a perfectly good bathroom on the first floor. And there was still the small matter of the gaping hole in the Blue Bathroom floor — Mark had helpfully stuffed the toilet pipe with plastic grocery bags so “sewer gasses” would not “escape” into our house, while remarking “You have cast-iron pipes. They should be good for another thirty years or so.” THANKS, MARK. NOT LOVING THAT “SHOULD.”

In any case, I decided: “Any idiot can cut plywood. Right? I will fix the bathroom floor myself!”

So I spent a couple of hours on the Internet, Which Is Never Wrong, and researched “fixing a urine-softened floor around an invisible toilet” or some such. Turns out that our particular issue wasn’t so uncommon. I felt a little better. A trip to Home Depot for a large square of 3/4 inch plywood and I was all set to tackle our bathroom floor with my handy circular saw.

Had I ever used a circular saw before? Well, no. But how hard could it be?

circular saw

‘Cause I’m a badass that way.

And really — the circular saw we own (it came free with the power drill) is pretty much idiot-proof. You need to push two separate buttons at the same time to even turn it on, and there’s a fairly sturdy guard around the blade. I wasn’t in serious danger of losing any digits, in other words. So I spent a couple of hours carefully chipping away the ceramic tile around the soft wood. Then I told the kids to keep the cats out of the way and proudly deployed my circular saw with as much flourish and bad-assery as I could muster.

Sawdust flew. (And yes, kids, I was wearing safety glasses and a mask.) And a veritable fountain of very beautiful sparks popped up whenever the blade struck the ceramic tile around the edge, which was relatively often. “What could possibly go wrong here?” I wondered aloud.

Unfortunately, however, I was barely making a dent in the rotten wood. If ever I needed the services of this guy….

Jordan Clarke

Expert handyman by day. Soap star by night. Ladies and gentlemen…the magnificent Jordan Clarke, late of Guiding Light.

Sadly, the erstwhile Billy Lewis is not active in the greater FC, so I put my saw away and called in a local handyman.

He was very nice. “You’ve saved a lot of money by buying your own plywood,” he told me. “And really, you can’t use a circular saw on a job like this. What you need is a –” I actually don’t know what he said I would have needed. All I know is that I nearly set the very air on fire in my bathroom FOR NOTHING. My efforts were FUTILE. Isn’t that always the way.

Anyway, the handyman laid in the new floor with his specialized saw and in the fullness of time Mark returned and installed yet another new toilet. At long, long last: Now our family had three. Three. THREE! functional toilets in our house.

God was in His Heaven, and all was right with the world.

Then the mysterious wet spots started popping up on our bedroom carpet.

To be continued…

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