Monday, October 12, 2009

The Politics of Plumbing

Yesterday I fixed some of the plumbing in my mom's house. Before she moved in, I redid most of the plumbing and had one section that needed to be finished. After months of procrastinating, yesterday was the day. The basics of plumbing are really easy. It's actually amazing to me because I use to think it was the most intimidating aspect of home repair. Chris Mercogliano, former director of the Albany Free School, author of In Defense of Childhood and my plumbing mentor, taught me that "plumbing is sculpture." And it's very true. Plumbing is easier than most people would think but when it becomes difficult, that's when you have to become a sculptor. Yesterday I had to deal with the work of a lazy plumber that preceded me (not a very good sculptor).

For those of you who don't know about plumbing, I'll explain a couple of things. First of all I was working on supply lines, which is the hot and cold water that travels to your sink, shower and washing machine. They are very different than drain lines. Now you have several pipe options to chose from when installing supply lines. Back in the day they used wood pipes (probably not ideal) and later on lead pipes (clearly not ideal) and than the pipes that I ran into yesterday iron pipes (also not ideal).

The previous plumber was installing copper pipes (much better than wood, lead or iron) and ran into the dreaded "Iron Pipe". Now this person certainly knew that iron builds up sediment and essentially turns into a clogged artery. This is why he/she was using copper undoubtedly. (I've just decided that in honor of John McCain we will, from here on out, refer to "the previous plumber" as "Jo the plumber". I left off the "e" to preserve gender neutrality.) So when Jo ran into a section of iron pipe that was pressed up against the floor boards and running through a floor joist, Jo decided it wasn't worth it to fix it properly. Instead Jo left the pipe their and just connected to it. And now it was my turn. "Piece of cake mom I should be done in an hour." I got started ripping out the copper pipe and replacing it with PEX (more flexible than copper) and there it was the IRON PIPE. I wasn't intimidated at first. "I will either leave it there and run around it or I will rip it out." Than I figured out why Jo decided not to bother. There was no way to run around it without ripping out the joist. For those that know carpentry, you don't want to rip out a joist and it's not easy. And it was "almost" impossible to cut the pipe out. I stared and stared and of course had to call my friend Skye, who is the person I call for all things related to home repair and asked to borrow his reciprocating saw. I grabbed it and was able to cut one pipe out. The problem is I knew that I couldn't cut the other one out, it was almost impossible. It was sandwiched between a joist and a thick iron drain pipe. I didn't know what to do. I was about to accept defeat and run away crying, leaving my mom without any water at all in her house. In a moment of desperation, I grabbed a sledge hammer and just started hitting the pipe with no real idea how that would accomplish anything. I did it for five minutes. Finally something happened, the pipe dropped. It was just a little bit, but I could now get to it with the saw and wallah, I cut it loose. In ten minutes I had finished the rest of the job and for the first time in 6 months my mom could use the sink in her downstairs bathroom.

The moral of the story is: When building a sculpture don't be afraid to use a sledgehammer if you have to.

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