I have one wife, two kids, two cars, one house with four toilets. And I would like to think that each gets the appropriate amount of attention.
But the truth is that the toilets get special treatment. I listen to them with an intensity usually reserved for the murmurings of the car engines. If a toilet starts making unusual noises in the night, it affects me in a way that other night sounds - like the thump of floorboards signaling that a once-sleeping child is on the loose - can't replicate. A "singing" toilet fills me with a mixture of rage, worry and in-your-wrench competitiveness.Sometimes I think this kind of reaction is abnormal. But then again I'm not so sure. I tell myself that there are plenty of members of the pliers-wielding masses out there who, like me, start off most Saturday mornings with a spring in their step, a smile on their face and hope in their heart. Then, raining down out of the sky, comes RESPONSIBILITY.
Something is broken that needs to be fixed. A kid has to be ferried somewhere. Promises have been made, more than likely by you during some midweek frenzy, and people, maybe even people you live with, are counting on you to deliver.
RESPONSIBILITY can take many forms, like the creature in the movie "Alien." It can strike as a cranky toilet, a dead car battery, or - shiver - a missing storm window part.
While taking on these battles does have its darker moments, what keeps me going is the thought that if I can fix something, or at least sashay around the problem, a sense of conquest will be mine. I can become Saturday's Hero.
That is what this column is about. About life's minor household victories and its ever-present and exasperating defeats.
This is not one of those home columns designed to tell you how to rewire your house in an uninterrupted afternoon. First of all, I can't count on a Saturday afternoon being uninterrupted. And secondly, in my mind, rewiring is not "fixing," it is renovating, healing, transfiguring. I'm not qualified to practice that kind of home surgery - I'm into Band-Aids.
And shoestrings. A shoestring is what I used several years ago to fix Toilet No. 3. I needed something flexible to connect the handle to the plunger. I settled on a piece of shoestring from an old tennis shoe.
The shoestring has worked fine on the household's most troublesome toilet.
Each of the house's toilets has, in my mind, distinguishing characteristics. The troublesome one, the one with the shoestring, sits in the newly redecorated bathroom. Originally the room was just going to be "repainted" rather than "redecorated." But then the painter - a household member who wishes to remain anonymous - stood on the toilet to paint a high spot and the toilet sagged under the weight. And then the toilet started leaking down by its flange.
The flange connects the above-floor parts of the toilet with the below-floor parts. I know this because when the carpenter came to replace the water-soaked flooring - this was after the plumber had come and said he couldn't do anything until the wood was replaced - I got a cut-away view of the whole toilet-flange enterprise.
Putting down new wooden subflooring in the bathroom led to putting down new floor tile, which led to the loss of several hundred dollars.
And this led to the loss of my favorite bathrobe hook. The good hook was fat and brassy and held onto bathrobes and clothing. But it clashed, I was told, with the newly redecorated bathroom.
The silverly looking hook that replaced it is skinny and unreliable. It keeps dropping things. I don't really blame the new bath hook, I blame the toilet. If it hadn't leaked, the old bathrobe hook would still be hanging there.
Another toilet, the one up on the top floor in the kids' bathroom, is a different breed of commode. It rarely acts up. It may be slow, but it is a steady worker.
Then there is the whiner, Toilet No. 2, down in the first floor half-bath. This one does half the work but makes twice the noise of all the others.
My favorite is the one in the basement, Toilet No. 4. Because of the layout of the house, the basement toilet is the one closest to the kitchen, which, as everyone knows, is the busiest room in the house.
This one takes the brunt of household duty and does so with the dependable, quiet competence I wish other household items would emulate.
Moreover, it keeps going even though it doesn't have the accouterments a toilet of its stature deserves. It doesn't have a leather washer, for instance, in the water valve mechanism, as it should. When the old leather washer wore out and I couldn't find a replacement, this toilet made do with a rubber one. And it doesn't have a proper lid on its tank. I shattered its old tank lid one Saturday, on another "fix-up" project.
That was when I was a younger and stupider father. That was when my wife and I only had one child, and I believed that whatever the little fella wanted to do, including watch his dad fix the toilet, would be good for his inquiring mind. I set my tool box down, propped the toilet lid against the wall, then went to work ministering to the float valve.
Once my back was turned the kid, then about 3 years old, went straight for the razor knife in my tool box. I wheeled around to get the knife before the kid did. As I wheeled, I kicked the toilet lid and sent it crashing to the floor.
You don't fix shattered porcelain toilet tank lids. You try to replace them. And when replacing toilet lids, you learn that, like storm windows, no two are ever exactly the same, especially old ones.
I traipsed down to a place that sold plumbing fixtures. When I told the salesman I wanted an old lid, he pointed out the back door to a pile of discarded porcelain tank lids stacked behind the place.
To get a properly fitting lid, what you should have is an accurate sketch of the top of the lidless toilet tank.
I didn't have such a sketch. I settled for a generic plastic replacement lid, a one-size-fits-all type. Except it really doesn't fit, it just sits there.
I still feel guilty about putting that tacky lid on such a valued part of the household.
I tell myself that someday, I'll make it up to the trusted toilet. Someday I'll get that sketch, and go back to that pile, and find that toilet a proper lid.
Maybe I'll do it on a Saturday.