the following story is a cautionary tale illustrative of the tautological platitiude which states that it’s a good thing ™ that the home despot has not taken over the do-it-yourself home repair universe.
the background: after plunging the depths of our do-it-yourself souls my wife and i came to the conclusion that despite the facts that we had never owned a house nor had we owned any power tools ( according to people in the know, a dremel is not, in fact, in the class of power tools) and had never engaged in any substantial fixing-up activities in the past – despite all this, we were still somehow, in some small way, qualified to fix-up a house. we told ourselves it would be fun. it would build character. it would bring us closer. and besides, they just don’t make houses like they used to. so, in what can only be described as a fit of madness, we recently decided to by a seventy year-old house that appeared to sit at the appropriate spot on the ‘fixer-upper’ continuum. in other words, we wouldn’t need to call in the hired guns, but we could count on spending a weekend here and a weekend there engaged in low-impact projects – a little painting, plaster, a few light fixtures, and maybe the occasional plumbing job. this weekend, my mission, which i chose to accept was to fix the leaky faucet. i mean, c’mon, how hard can it be?
the stem: after ignoring the leaky shower faucet for the mandatory six months, i decided it was time to take action. we go to home despot and the friendly guy who owns the plumbing aisle tells us that we likely have a leaky ‘stem’ [the part the faucet handle is connected to] and a little packing tape [thread coated with silicon] would surely do the trick. after returning home, i pull out the trusty home repair guide and quickly confirm that he was correct – we had a leaky compression stem and that packing tape was a good temporary fix.
[many mundane detailes omitted to keep this long story short – including trip after trip to the despot to get that wacked-out specialty plumbing tool that only plumbers use – and the bit about me weezing asthmatically because i have to munge around a damp, moldy area ‘behind’ the shower via an access panel that had not been removed since the precambrian explosion. ]
as it turns out the packing tape didn’t fix the problem. removing the stem only made the problem worse. the friendly guy who owns the plumbing aisle eventually referred me to a plumbing store. the guy behind the counter took one look at the stem and stated quite confidently that he couldn’t help me, but as he handed me a business card he said solemnly, “these guys have what you need.”
just faucets: briefly, i debated as to whether or not i wanted to make this journey to the depths of plumbing specialization. the business, appropriately name ‘just faucets’, was over an hour away. was it worth my time? were they going to have what i needed? was it time to hire an actual plumber? fueled with coffee, i decided i would not – could not – back down.
‘just faucets’ turns out to be the kind of place that is packed wall-to-wall with [yes, you guessed correctly] faucets. the kind of place where the only spot on the wall that is free of faucets is occupied with a yellowing copy of a newspaper article with a photo of the proprietor grinning ear-to-ear and the title: “local man beats the system: spends $1000 to beat a $67 dollar ticket”. the kind of place where the proprietor yells at customers [not me – he is yelling at someone who appears to be a professional plumber] to, “bring in a picture! sir, i don’t think you know what the hell you you are talking about! sir! sir! just bring me a damn picture of the fixture!” ‘just faucets’ is the kind of place where the proprietor makes fun of the customers after they leave – “holy shit! what a moron! how fucking hard can it be to take a picture? jesus christ, i don’t think his elevator went all the way to the top.”
‘just faucets’ is also the kind of place where the workers will look in amazement and wonder at a compression stem that they have never seen before. the stem is a piece of museum art and they are clearly impressed. it’s not even in their six-inch thick book devoted solely to compression stems. it’s at least 50 years old they say. maybe 60. shit, it may even be 70.
‘just faucets’ is the kind of place that will machine some new threads and grind a little here and grind a little there, hand you back the compression stem and say confidently, “it won’t leak anymore. i guess just give me 5 bucks.”