Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Plumb loco

I enrolled in a basic plumbing class a few months ago. Offered through Arlington County’s Community Learning program, the three-hour course was designed for homeowners who want to become minimally competent, or at least conversant, in plumbing essentials.

I have no good explanation for my decision to do this now, rather than 15 years ago when I bought my first home. Certainly my plumbing ineptitude has been around at least that long. It may even be in my genes. No offense to my dad, whom I respect and adore, but the entirety of his plumbing knowledge consisted of “jiggle the handle.” He dutifully passed that along to me, but it proved inadequate back in 2007 when tree roots grew into the pipes below my house, resulting in the kind of monumental sewage clog typically associated with Congress. I called Roto-Rooter back then, and I’ve called in the pros pretty much any time something’s gone amiss since.

Calling in the pros has never bothered me –watching Roto Rooter perform a colonoscopy on my house rid me of any desire to learn how to eliminate pipe polyps– but I’ve always wanted a better understanding of what they tell me. It’s like traveling to Italy and wanting to speak Italian not fluently but with enough proficiency to avoid accidentally buying a second class train ticket and, somewhere around Bologna, getting kicked out of your seat and into the aisle, into which you will be forced to squeeze with your luggage and stand for the next three hours, occasionally performing feats of contortion when a beverage cart rolls though, which they do with regularity on every form of Italian transportation. Not that this particular situation ever happened to me, or to my 6’3″ brother, who may or may not have had the misfortune of traveling with me.

Back to the plumbing class, which was scheduled for the evening of August 16, which also happens to be the Lawnmower’s birthday. I don’t have that date written down, mind you, but like the complete lyrics to every song I’ve ever hated, my brain just won’t let me forget it. So the class date wasn’t a great sign, nor was the fact that it was scheduled to last three hours (my childhood addiction to Gilligan’s Island has left me suspicious of any event of that particular duration), but I refused to let either omen deter me.

Which doesn’t mean I read the reference materials the instructor sent ahead of time, even though one of them featured a cute cartoon outhouse. Let’s be honest: even the most appealing graphic will have a hard time getting people excited to read about toilets. I resolved instead to arrive early so I could snag a seat in the back row and hide among what I assumed would be a sizable group of plumbing-challenged homeowners. I also expected mostly women, not because your average guy is a plumbing savant but because the men I know would rather fake it than admit ignorance in a public forum.

On the evening of August 16, I walked into the wood shop ten minutes before the class start time and saw only the instructor, who said, “Hi, I’m Rick. You must be Karen.”

Uh-oh. More disturbing than the loss of anonymity were the possibilities that I was the only student enrolled or I was already notorious in Northern Virginia plumbing circles. Or both. 

I asked Rick how he knew who I was and breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t say, “Yelp.” As it turns out, only four people registered for the class, and he’d met the other three in a recent class on household wiring basics. Moments later, two guys and one woman arrived, sending my gender stereotype right down the tubes.

Rick kicked things off with a history of pipes, a description of the various systems in the house, and an explanation of how they operate. I followed the evolution of pipe types just fine and was even able to earn some street cred by volunteering the story of my tree root invasion. But the subsequent foray into schematic diagrams, traps and vents lost me. Maybe tree roots have grown into the pipes of my brain, I don’t know. We moved on to basic hot water heater repair and maintenance, during which I learned that I could do things like flush out the tank and replace the anode rod myself but would most likely screw them up epically, thus reinforcing the wisdom of my current outsourcing model.

As we talked about toilet repair, we moved into the lab, a place Rick referred to as “the petting zoo.” It looked to me more like a plumbing morgue as we studied the detached upper half of a commode cadaver and other unappealing parts with inapt names like “spud gasket.” Rick explained how to fix a toilet that’s running–something every homeowner wants to know — but his advice didn’t include jiggling the handle, so I’m not sure I can trust it.

Then we watched as he joined two different types together with an adaptor and predicted water would flow through it “like shaving cream through a goose.” Like most of what went on in class, I didn’t understand that expression at all. Unlike most of what went on in class, I loved it immediately and unconditionally, and I won’t be afraid to use it. It may not help me solve any plumbing problems, but it’ll definitely improve the entertainment value of my legal advice. I just knew that class would pay dividends.

Every now and then, an item on your bucket list kicks the bucket.

During our third round of bicycle kicks at boot camp this morning, one of my pals said she was on the verge of complaining about how they wear her out when she remembered that her sister had biked over 100 miles and run another 18 the day before. I guessed correctly that my friend’s sister was training for an Ironman Triathlon.

As we transitioned to burpees and I reflected on the ridiculous amount of training it takes to prepare for an Ironman, I realized that race is one of those things I’d be thrilled to see on my “done” list, but I have no interest in actually doing it.

Long swims don’t faze me, I don’t mind the occasional long run, and I might even be willing to combine the two, but I refuse to supplement them with 120 miles on a bike. I’ve spent the better part of a decade trying to like cycling and I just can’t. I find it exhausting and boring.

Some people might have the same criticism about swimming, but at least in a pool you don’t have to worry that some yutz yelling “on your left!” will squeeze into the lone free inch between you and oncoming cyclists, forcing you to divert from the trail and into the nearest bush. Hypothetically. These thoughts and a hefty dose of realism have led me to remove “Do an Ironman” from my Bucket List and, stealing a page from our President, move it over to a different list, the one whose name rhymes with bucket.

Before boot camp ended, I came up with four other items that belong on my “rhymes with bucket” list:

  1. Install a floor in my home, all by myself. Plenty of people I know have learned how to tackle major home improvements on their own, so why shouldn’t I? I spent years telling myself I would do what it took –read books, watch YouTube videos or take a class at Home Depot– and I believed me because, when I sound all independent and empowered, I’m pretty darned persuasive. But I’ve shown up at Home Depot exactly twice, both times in search of weed-killers, and the only YouTube videos I’ve watched have involved plumbing. So unless it becomes chic to lay down a floor comprised entirely of duct tape, I’ll just plan to write checks in perpetuity.
  1. Go skydiving. Someone who falls as often as I do ought to be a natural at skydiving, right? And I’m sure I would be except for one thing: I really hate heights. I know that, as an adult, I have to force myself to do things I dislike sometimes, but launching yourself out of a properly functioning airplane is not one of them. Flossing, by contrast, is. So if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll skip the parachute and stick with the waxy thread instead.
  1. Swim the English Channel. Like the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, this 21-mile swim features jellyfish and swells. Unlike the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, it has water temps that range from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. It also costs upwards of $3400 for registration alone, and that doesn’t even include wetsuits because, whaddya know, they’re not allowed. After reading about it, I’ve concluded that swimming the English Channel doesn’t make you cool, it makes you hypothermic. Pass.
  1. Writing a bestseller. Hey, the prospect of writing a book that might be read by entire dozens of people is daunting enough, but hundreds of thousands? Who needs that kind of pressure? Then again, if I come up with the gumption to move any of those other three items back over to the Bucket List, that book just might write itself. Assuming I have any limbs left…

What’s on your list?