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.

I thought my book might end up here eventually, but so soon?

As regular readers know, I’m the third child of four and have two older sisters and a younger brother. I write about my family all the time, but never before have I written a post about my oldest sister, Suzi. There’s a very good reason for this: Suzi, like so many firstborns, is near-perfect and is, therefore, a very poor source of material. But when she generates some, as she did yesterday, she really makes it count.

The details of her sordid tale arrived in the form of an email she sent to my mother and my siblings, with a courtesy copy to me. I’m going to let her email tell the story, interrupted occasionally with commentary from me, in italics.

I read Karen’s book cover to cover in record time, so I gave it to my neighbor Carolyn to read.  She too read it in record time and brought it back to me at the bus stop this morning (by the way, she had to stop and read parts of it to her kids because she kept laughing out loud…and they wanted to know what she was laughing about).  It was cold at the bus stop today, so I was wearing Nana’s long coat.

When Carolyn gave me the book I tucked it under my arm since my hands were in my pockets.  You may not know this, but the bus stop is actually the sewer in front of our house. [As bus stops tend to be in your better neighborhoods.]

Every morning the kids and parents congregate on the sewer and wait for the various buses to come.  [Straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, isn’t it? “C’mon, kids, gather ’round the sewer and I’ll tell you a story…”] 

After the bus left, Carolyn and I were chatting when suddenly the book slipped out from under my arm, bounced on the edge of the sewer and slid right in!  Down it went just like that – we watched as if it were in slow motion, and it was gone before we could do anything about it.  We both screamed but that didn’t bring the book back.

Luckily, in Henrico County the teenagers go to school after the little kids, so J.J. was in the kitchen making his breakfast (lucky for the husband, he was at the grocery store…picking up tooth brushes since we were suddenly out of them this morning – that is a whole different story).   I begged J.J. to come outside to lift the lid off the sewer to see if my book had survived the fall.

It did!  J.J. climbed into the sewer and rescued the book from the nice, soft pile of leaves it had landed on.  I ran back inside to grab my phone to take a picture. [As any concerned parent would do when her kid’s in a sewer.] The book is now safely in the hands of one of my co-workers and I owe J.J. $10.

Now you see what I mean about Suzi setting an unattainable standard for the rest of us. With one son on the sewer, another one inside it, and an entire household with halitosis, she is a monument to maternal selflessness and good hygiene. Not only that, but she took meticulous care of my book. As a humorist, I figured my book was destined to become bathroom literature, but I never thought its trip to the pipes would be quite so direct.


So glad I no longer have to worry about what photo to use for my annual Christmas card.

So glad I no longer have to worry about what photo to use for my annual Christmas card.


Well *that* took the wind right out of my sales

I promised myself that I wouldn’t write about my book today under the theory that, like a child, the daily details of its life are truly interesting only to its parent. In fact, I never went into the parenting business to begin with because I’m so easily distracted I doubt my own child could consistently hold my interest.  Forget helicopter moms, I would struggle to be a Mars Rover mom.

So it figures that when my friend Jen called today to ask if I knew what my kid was up to, I had absolutely no idea. Playing in traffic, I hoped.

“Do you have any idea how well it’s doing ?” she asked. Of course I didn’t. Not today, anyway. I had known how well it was doing yesterday only because Jen tagged me when she posted on Facebook an screen shot that ranked my book at #15 in my genre. Against all odds, my kid seemed to be turning out okay, especially considering I’d done almost nothing to prepare it before I kicked it out of the house.

One out of one housecats surveyed agrees that Good Luck isn’t destined for the litter box.

But before anyone gets too excited (that means you, Mom), allow me to provide some context. Amazon has categorized Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing as “humor and entertainment,” and subcategorized it further as “Love, Sex & Marriage Humor.”  This landed my child in the company of a few cool kids, like Mindy Kaling, Jim Gaffigan, and the Oatmeal, but a closer inspection of the rest of the crowd revealed the kind of characters your mother warned you about.

They included Go the F*&^ to Sleep (a parenting book), Kama Sutra Connect-the-Dots (let’s call that “self-help”) and The Bro Code. That last one is written by Barney Stinson, who, in case you didn’t know it, is a TV character. Not even a real person. And right now Barney is laying a beat-down on my kid.

Like any vaguely concerned parent, I was thinking about intervening. But then an email from another friend quickly convinced me that it was hopeless.  My child, he informed me, apparently got kicked while it was down because it had fallen behind a scholarly treatise for men called How To Live With A Huge … 

Um, yeah.

My poor kid.  So much for its fairytale childhood. Now it knows that it lives in a low-rent neighborhood and probably won’t ever get a chance to mingle with the classy kids over in Biographies. But maybe hanging out with a rough crowd will give it a thicker skin. Which I think it’s gonna need, because The Adventures of Mrs. Jesus is lurking in the shadows and licking its chops.

One out of one dogs surveyed highly recommends GLWTTYD as a cure for insomnia.


My book has been released! Or escaped, is more like it.

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was: I’d better get out of bed and come up with a plan for publicizing Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing so that I’m ready when CreateSpace emails to tell me it’s up on Amazon. Actually, if I’m being honest, that was my second thought. My first was: I really love Zzz-Quil.

In fact, I was still emerging from a rather pleasant Z-Quil haze when I logged on to Facebook and saw posts from two friends letting me know that they’d bought my book!


Sure enough, just as I predicted yesterday, my book didn’t come roaring out of the gates; it tripped. (This is what happens when your book comes out on a Tuesday) But that’s okay, there will be time for balloon drops, flying confetti and other Publishers Clearinghouse-worthy fanfare later. Right now, my book is out in the wild and I’ve spent all of my free time today chasing it.

I posted the Amazon link to my facebook page and saw that, due to the number of words in my title, it was about three feet long. I went to to shorten it to a more user-friendly length. Shortly thereafter my friends began sharing it on Facebook.

Still chasing my book, I went to each post where it appeared. While focused on thanking my friends, I couldn’t help but notice that the ads appearing to the right of these posts trended heavily toward toilet paper. I’ll assume that’s a function of the fact that I appear on the book cover holding a plunger, as opposed to a commentary on the book contents.

Emails from friends started pouring in. Most offered warm congratulations and several praised my persistence. Just as my ego was beginning to inflate, I got one that said, “I admire anyone who is willing to put words on paper and let others take a look. A bit like taking one’s clothes off in public.”  Great, now I’m a verbal streaker.

When someone asked how many copies I had sold, my attention returned to chasing the book. I had no idea –writing a book is one thing, envisioning people buying it another — so I zipped over to Amazon to check. That’s when I discovered I needed to create an author’s profile. I hadn’t even started to do that when someone else asked if the book was on Goodreads. By this time, my book had flown over to Twitter, where it was cackling maniacally and going “Nanny nanny boo boo” because it knew I no hopes of catching up to it there. (It would have gone and hidden in The Container Store if it could have.)

But you know what? It’s been an incredible day that left me feeling exhilarated, terrified, proud, and anxious by turn, which is pretty much how anything that’s worth doing makes you feel. And now I know what I’ll call my second book: How I Should Have Done That Thing I Did.


Somewhere in the middle of the melee, these arrived. My parents and siblings have been cheering this thing on since the first word, probably because they had no idea how often I would end up writing about them. Love you guys!