April 17, 2012

Before Lady Laura's parents died, we lived at their house for two years to help out where we could. One delightful weekend, my wife asked me to complete just one chore around the house: replacing the toilet seat in the powder room next to the kitchen. When I heard her request, I almost got up from my own seat and walked out the door.

They called it a powder room, but itís really just a tiny, tiny nook carved out of a corner of the kitchen. Maybe 70 years ago, someone thought it would be a good idea to take the little spot where you go out the back door and install a toilet and tiny sink. The result was a bathroom slightly smaller than the one you find on commercial airliners and not nearly as convenient. Picture going to the bathroom in a phone booth. (No, actually, donít. I just pictured it for you, and it was disturbing.)

The toilet has caused a number of problems over the years, not the least of which is that people are always trying to go either in or out the back door when you are trying to go. I stopped using the powder room after I got trapped in there a few times. It caused at least one major incident every time the in-laws had company.

Laura's little brother, however, did use it, and as a result, the toilet seat needed to be changed every few years. (If you have raised boys, youíre already picturing it, so thereís really no need to go into more detail than I have, is there?) Because it is such a cramped little space, itís almost impossible to get a wrench behind the toilet to loosen the bolts. I had to squeeze my head and one shoulder into the space beside the toilet, usually resting my cheek on the edge of the bowl, all the while moaning and groaning, and every once in a while I got stuck, my feet sticking out into the kitchen, legs flopping about wildly. (See? Thereís something just as disturbing to picture, and we didnít even need the phone booth!)

The biggest problem, however, is that a year or so before (when we first moved up from North Carolina), my mother-in-law declared that the old toilet seat was an embarrassment to the family whenever we had guests, and she asked me to replace it. I dutifully went out and bought a new seat, but when I tried to remove the old seat, I found the nuts and the bolts holding it on had welded themselves together into one piece of decayed metal. The only way to get them off was to try and saw them apart with a hacksaw. I spent the next three hours hunched over the toilet, sawing and maybe a little cussing.

My hacksaw blade eventually broke in two, I cut my knuckles, and I gave up, but not before kicking the toilet. (Note to Chuck, their plumber: Yes, I did know our toilet was cracked. Thanks for pointing it out to me, though.) For the next year, we had a toilet seat that was not only ruined, but also half-loosened and kind of wobbly. Itís enough to make you long for a nice phone booth.

That fateful weekend, and at my wifeís prodding, I decided it was time for a showdown. It was me or the toilet seat. I went in the basement and got my father-in-law's power cutting tool and screwed on the metal cutting blade.

What I found was that a metal cutting blade, if not sharp enough, will begin to vibrate and work itself loose from a power tool. And when one uses a metal cutting blade on a power tool over an open toilet, and the blade works itself loose, the blade has a tendency to plop into the toilet water ... over and over again. I swore a lot but also swore I would not back down. I bore down even harder, watching as metal powder and the occasional spark came spraying out from the metal hinges.

It took an hour, a lot of swearing, and once or twice, an almost electrocution, but finally, the second bolt snapped in two. I was able to stand over the toilet in the cramped little powder room/kitchen nook, holding the ruined seat over my head, chanting, ďOh, yeah! Whoís the boss now, toilet? HUH?Ē

It wasnít until after I got the new seat attached that I noticed the back of the toilet. The crack from last yearís battle, aggravated by all the vibrations from the power tool, had widened enough so that the toilet was now leaking. In a battle between a mortal man and a commode, even a porcelain god, man loses.

As I stared at the leaking water tank I made the best decision I've ever made, I put in a call to Chuck the plumber.