The Zen of Toilet Repair

I’ve been having this problem. Well, not me, really, but my toilet.

The problem is my toilet keeps running. Not all over the floor which would get my attention (and the attention of my downstairs neighbor). It doesn’t run enough to keep me up at night worrying about what an ecological disaster my toilet has become. I have been doing a good job ignoring it for some time. But every time I use the toilet, I look at it and it looks at me, and we have this little conversation about things that need to be attended to. After a time, these little conversations have quit having the charm they once had. I was thinking the other day that it might be less annoying to fix the damn thing than to have these unwanted dialogues with a toilet.

As I was going to do a chore that would take me past the hardware store, I thought this might be what you might call an Opportunity. So, I pulled the ceramic top thing-a-ma-jig off the top of the toilet and gazed at the flushing mechanism. I looked at it. It looked at me. I pulled and poked at whatever seemed pullable or pokable. The water continued to dribble. I poked some more. I pulled on a few things as if pulling on them a second time would do something different than pulling on them the first time. The water dribbled. I scratched my head. Mustering all my intellectual powers and knowledge of physics, I concluded that the little do-hickey flapper thing-a-ma-jig that covered the hole at the bottom of the reservoir to keep the water from flowing into the toilet bowl must not be making a good seal. I shall replace the flapper thing-a-ma-bob I thought. A Plan had been put in place.

At the hardware store, I began my typical random walk in search of the right pew. I passed endless assortments of things-for-which-I-have-no-clue-what-they-are-for until I finally found the section of things-that-looked-like-they-go-in-a-toilet. Some of the things did not look like I could fit them into my toilet without a hammer. I figured that I could ignore these. Some of the things did not look anything like my flapper thing. I figured it was pretty safe to ignore these too. That left a bunch of things that looked like a flapper thing. I picked one off the rack and held it for a moment. I turned it over. I looked at the back side. I put it back on rack. I picked another one off the rack. I looked at it. It occurred to me that I wasn’t making any progress. Maybe the subtleties of toilet mechanisms were way over my head. Standing in front of toilet mechanisms with this stupid, confused, overwhelmed look was not increasing my self-esteem nor was it the best place to work out my personal problems.

Focusing on my hardware problems, I found a gentleman wearing a store name. I explained to him that I had a toilet (this neither surprised nor impressed him), but I paused, nonetheless. I wanted to make sure that before we delved into the complexities that he was following me. He gave me a nod of encouragement.

I continued that my toilet was leaking and that I thought it may be caused by “the flapper do-hickey thing that is in the whatcha-ma-call-it thing-a-ma-jig on top of the toilet”. I felt proud that I had demonstrated a certain adeptness with the technical language of the toilet cognoscenti as well as having established my level of competence in the arcane mechanical world of toilet bowls.

He smiled. For a second there, I imagined he was struggling to keep a smirk off his face. But, I probably just imagined that.

He asked me whether I had with me the part that need to be replaced. I nodded. Not as an affirmation to his question, but as recognition of the issues involved. “No,” I told him, “I know that you should do that. I’ve learned that before. In fact, I’ve learned that repeatedly.” Then I mumbled some inane thing about not being convinced that you can accomplish any home repair with less than three trips to the hardware store. He nodded empathetically and shared with me some profound words about the nature of the world and how ubiquitous my experience of the human condition was.

We stood around the toilet section of the hardware store and had a great conversation about all the different parts that go into a toilet bowl, how they are used, and all kinds of wondrous things involving toilets, their operation, maintenance, and repair. After some extended discussion of the relative merits of various flappers, the effects of chemicals on the longevity of flappers, the models, installation, and the peace of mind that can be achieved by obtaining a quality toilet bowl flapper, I, flushed with me new found knowledge, selected a high quality flapper. I thanked the gentleman profusely. He smiled a wise and sagacious smile and wished me well. Like a guru sending forth his disciple, I clutched my new-found flapper and wisdom and set off to bring peace to the world, or, at least, to my bathroom.

I returned home a new man, a proud owner of a high-quality flapper. This was probably a mistake. It almost immediately occurred to me that owning a high-quality flapper and having a high-quality flapper installed in one’s toilet were somewhat disparate. Merging these two unequal states of being into one harmonious whole might involve some action or, God forbid, a sequence of actions. A couple of quick turns of the head lead me to the prompt and disquieting realization that there was no one around to perform these tasks. Well, except me. And, that seemed like a highly sub-optimal choice.

I sat down to give myself time to ponder the sad, misfortunate, cruelties of life. I took a few deep breaths. Then I dragged myself off the couch, marched myself into the bathroom and confidently removed the ceramic top off the toilet (I knew how to do this). I looked at the toilet innards. They looked at me. Neither of us made a move. We waited. It dawned on me that toilets have more patience than I do. With a sigh, I told the toilet bowl, just in case it was interested, “You win.” There was no need to get the toilet bowl pissed at me before I had even begun operating on it. Having the patient on my side has got to help some. I rolled up my sleeves, plunged my hand into the toilet bowl innards, and extracted the old flapper. Much to my surprise, I had the new flapper installed before I had actually run out of vulgarities and had to start inventing new ones.

In the end, it all worked out just fine. All that worry and trepidation was for naught. There is only one thing that bothers me a little. The water still dribbles in the toilet bowl. But, I can live with that.

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