That Sinking Feeling

Commentary: Alphabet Soup

In the end, it came down to plumber’s putty.

OK, not really “in the end.” The end has yet to be reached; I do have a way of getting ahead of myself. But projects at my house frequently have many ends — the end of the effort for the day we tackle something, the end of the effort for the following week, the end of our patience, the end of our faith in our ability to complete it, the end of all hope and reason involving the goal at hand, and — occasionally — the actual end of the project.

We’re not there yet with the current project, but we’re getting close.

We’ve been getting close since, hmm, December. The issue started back in August when a houseguest, in a gesture of goodwill, tried to fix our leaking bathroom faucet by forcing the cold water handle back further than it was meant to go. This, naturally, exacerbated the problem. The houseguest in question was my big brother, who — as it turns out — is still finding ways to make me feel inferior after all these years.

So for about five months we suffered with a temperamental cold tap, and the problem got worse and worse, as these things tend to go. Finally, shortly before Christmas, things got really bad, so I went out and purchased a new faucet.

It turns out that removing a faucet is a Herculean task that involves all sorts of special tools. My partner is pretty adventuresome on these fronts; she is unafraid to tackle many of the home repairs that would leave me cowering in a corner, so I acquired all of the items she told me we needed during a stop at my local Strosnider’s — where, I swear, they sell everything.

We started to remove the leaky faucet, only to find out that we are not up to such a Herculean task. It was tempting to call in a professional at this point, or Kim’s father, or one of our friends who would scoff at our difficulties. But I had a brilliant idea: We hated that old sink and the old vanity it was affixed to, and wouldn’t it be easier to remove the sink and vanity and then install the new faucet on a new sink, which would then be mounted onto a new vanity?

Yes! Of course it would! And we could still do it ourselves!

We had to acquire more items, of course, not to mention the fixtures themselves. It was a job bigger than even the Strosnider’s inventory could accommodate — we needed a vast selection, of the sort that only a Lowe’s could offer. So off to distant suburbia we trekked, bathroom dimensions in hand, planning to purchase a larger vanity than the 24-inch-wide pillbox someone had thoughtlessly installed before we moved in.

Here’s where us being girls became a disadvantage. (Shush, feminists — I am being sarcastic.) We found a vanity that was the right height and a modest 6 inches wider to afford us more cabinet space — we had determined that our bathroom could handle an expansion of that sort. And we found a sink that matched, and we bought our stuff and carted everything home in the back of my partner’s Subaru station wagon.

We hauled it up the 4,280 stairs that lead from our cul-de-sac to our front door and took it inside. Somewhere in all this we realized that, oops, we forgot to take the depth of the vanity into consideration. And of course we’d bought one that stuck out an extra 4 inches beyond what we’d had. Our bathroom could not handle an expansion of that sort.

Back down the 6,920 stairs to the street, back into the Subaru, back to the Lowe’s in outer suburbia. We had to go to yet another Lowe’s in yet another suburb to find the vanity of our dreams, but it turned out that we liked the color of the new one better. And it was smaller, and therefore lighter when we got it home and had to haul it up the 9,460 stairs leading up to our house.

We then commenced with the part of home projects at which we are most proficient: procrastinating. We found lots of reasons to put the sink project off. It involved making holes in the vanity to accommodate pipes — a nerve-wracking proposition, given that it can’t be undone if our measurements are slightly off.

Although I became sick of brushing my teeth and washing my hands in the bathtub, the procrastination continued to win out. We had friends over and pretended it was normal to have a bathroom sink propped against the wall in the living room. Finally, an impending visit from our little nieces pushed us into action.

When I say we set out to complete our project, of course I mean my partner and I, together, working as a team. Her role was cutting the holes in the vanity and assembling the faucet on the sink. My role was disappearing for several hours while she did these things, and coming home later to say what a great job she was doing. It looked like we were about to coast home to bathroom sinkdom when the faucet instructions called for plumber’s putty.

We didn’t have plumber’s putty. We thought we’d read somewhere that plumber’s putty was optional, that we could use silicon caulk instead. We had about 500 tubes of caulk (and had snickered many times about the prospect of asking the male employees at the home repair stores where we could find their caulk), but none of it specified that it was silicon caulk.

So the project will be done soon, and we’ll be really proud of ourselves, which means we’ll be really proud of Kim for sticking with it and not calling a plumber or contractor. At long last, I will brush my teeth in the bathroom sink — once I buy the plumber’s putty and let Kim figure out what to do with it.

Kristina Campbell is worthless when it comes to things like this. But she has a winning smile and a good sense of humor. And she’s willing to make supply runs.

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