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It is interesting to me how my memory functions. The work process leading up to when we were finally able to move in to our home on November 9, 2000 is so very vivid in my memory. Then as soon as we moved in, the memories get fuzzier. It was as if settling into our home finally let me fall into a routine that was comfortable and also not so memorable. But that is a good thing, in my opinion.
Because we moved in at the beginning of November, the holidays were looming before us. We wanted to have our house feel like a home for the first holidays we would spend there.
We decided that the first priority would be the downstairs toilet. We were traipsing upstairs every time we had to use “the facilities” (day and night). Additionally, with the downstairs bathroom and kitchen sinks remaining to be installed, we only had the tiny basin upstairs for washing our hands. We used a plastic bin in the bathtub to do any dishes that we dirtied—although we mostly ate take-out food for that time period.
The other priority for me was to have a room that felt “homey”. And the living room seemed like the logical choice. It had the least amount of work necessary to give it a semblance of “hominess”. Before the moving van with our stuff had arrived, I had already painted the living room walls a pale “morning dew green” that had a wonderful glow when the sun came in the large east-facing picture window every morning. It was simply a matter of cleaning up the dust and arranging our living room furniture so that room felt like a real home. Hanging pictures on the wall was the last touch and I felt comfy and cozy there. The living room with its fireplace became the hearth and heart of our home. On chilly November evenings, we would light a fire in the fireplace and relax our aching muscles while the kitties warmed their little furry bodies on a floor pillow we placed in front of the fireplace just for them. Yes, it was feeling more and more like a home should.
Arranging the living room was easy. It was getting the toilet and bathroom basin in that would be a challenge.
By this time, we were regulars at our local home improvement stores—Home Base (now defunct), Home Depot and Ace Hardware. If one store didn’t have what we needed, we could usually find it at one of the others.
Home Depot was our nemesis. We hated going there. Looking back, I know it was just the nature of any home improvement project, but it seemed to us that every time we needed something in particular at Home Depot, it would be out of stock. Or whenever we’d get into a line to checkout, the customer ahead of us would suddenly have an issue with their purchase—their card would decline, a bar code wouldn’t work on an item, or something else would occur that the cashier insisted “had never happened before”. We started to dub this phenomenon “The Home Depot Curse”. If anything happened when we were standing in line, we felt an obligation to apologize to whomever was standing in line in front of us or behind us by saying, “Sorry. It’s us. We have ‘The Home Depot Curse’.”
Of course we knew there wasn’t really a curse, but it was amazing how often it happened—probably more than 65% of the time.
We started making a game out of it. Sometimes we’d try to fake out “the curse” by each of us standing in a different checkout line until the last second. The line that moved the fastest and didn’t have a checkout setback would win out. And if my brother was with us on a buying trip, we would divide up and stand in three different lines to really fake out “the curse”.
The reality was that our local Home Depot was the only franchise within a radius that encompassed a number of towns and cities. Because of this, it had the designation of being a “contractor center” which meant that it was equipped to service local contractors. Sometimes this was a good thing, but more often than not it was a bad thing. The aisles of Home Depot were packed with contractors on weekday mornings. Stock would fly off the shelves in large quantities all at once. It was quite possible to see something fully stocked in the morning and then come back later in the day to find it had all been bought up by a contractor that had a big job and needed every unit that had been in stock.
For a short time period, because of the volume of business it was experiencing, this particular Home Depot chose to become a 24-hour operation. The employees told us that it was only one of three at that time that was going 24-hour. The other two were in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. This changeover happened to coincide with us moving into our home and starting to do projects in the evenings instead of all day long. And the 24-hour status of our Home Depot ended up being a significant blessing to us, although we didn’t know it at the time.
Hubby and I thought that since we had a Home Depot 1-2-3 home improvement book that we could definitely tackle putting in the toilet and washbasin in the downstairs bathroom on our own.
“How hard could it be?” will be engraved on my tombstone.
The plumbing contractor had stubbed out the plumbing and then left the rest for us to do. So essentially there were just supply lines sticking out of the wall and a big drain in the floor where the toilet needed to go. The tile had gone in around it all. And we faced the daunting task of getting fixtures hooked up to it.
Referencing our handy-dandy home improvement book, we installed compression fittings on the supply lines. Compression fittings are connections that use compression to keep them on and keep them from leaking. It seemed simple enough. And it was much easier than having to sweat pipe with a torch to install traditional threaded fittings (we weren’t ready for that). So after following the instructions and taking multiple trips to Home Depot to get the right fittings and lines (we learned we couldn’t ever seem to get it all in one trip), we had the toilet and the basin installed and operational.
It was so beautiful. All that gleaming white porcelain and chrome made our hearts skip a beat. It looked like a real bathroom.
Less than 24 hours after having finished the installation, the dripping started. At first it was a slow drip from the compression fitting. Hubby and I were sure it was just because the fitting had to seat properly. It just needed time.
Then the dripping increased. We put down an old towel or two to catch the water and convinced ourselves it would be okay.
It was about 1 am in the morning when the compression fitting decided to blow. Fortunately we were home and awake. We happened to be standing in the bathroom stewing about the “drip drip drip” when the fitting shot off like a rocket under the pressure of the water, and the harmless “drip drip drip” turned into a gusher of water that shot across the bathroom and blasted into the side of the bathtub. Hubby slammed the bathroom door to somehow keep the water contained and prevent overspray from going into the hallway. He had closed himself in the bathroom amidst the gushing water.
It was left up to me to run outside to shut off the main water valve to the house. That would have been all well and good except for two key points: 1) I failed to bring a flashlight with me to navigate down the side of the house; and 2) I didn’t really know where the main water shutoff valve was. I knew where it was “in theory”, but I’d never touched it or turned it.
So in the chilly night air, I fumbled around touching every utility-like thing (including the gas meter) to see if it was the shut-off valve. In the meantime, I could still hear deafening roar of the water gushing inside because the old single pane bathroom window was less than 20 feet to my right.
I started crying hysterically (which didn’t help matters at all), knowing that inside my very wet husband was trying hard to salvage our home from serious water damage. My mind was reeling with all the work we had just completed and how it might have to be redone—the floor tile, the sub-floor, the sheet rock. I became more hysterical.
It seemed like an eternity of fumbling.
I finally ran down the side of the house in a panic, stretched my arms up to the bathroom window, and started slapping my open palms on the glass while wailing“I can’t find the shut-off!” I yelled hysterically over and over, but Hubby couldn’t hear me over the din of the gushing water. I had visions of horror flashing through my mind as I pounded on the window and yelled at the top of my lungs. Mind you, it was after 1 am in the morning. Our poor neighbors must have thought we were insane.
Hubby finally heard me and opened the window. I was so hysterical that I don’t remember if it was him or me that turned off the water. I just know it finally got turned off and the geyser in our bathroom finally ceased.
Of all times for us to need Home Depot to be open 24 hours a day, it was at that time. After sopping up the water, we made our way to Home Depot.
At 2:30 in the morning, we wandered the plumbing aisle looking for a solution to our predicament. It was for that brief slice of time, at almost 3 in the morning, that Home Depot became our friend and we were extremely and profoundly grateful for whatever chain of events had brought Home Depot’s corporate management to make the decision to have it be open 24 hours a day. That status didn’t actually last much longer than a few months when the amount of early morning shoplifting caused the store to go back to regular hours. For that brief time in history, it had been open when we needed it most.
We got a compression fitting that wasn’t faulty and brought it home to install it. But our confidence in our plumbing work was shot. The local plumber down the street was called in, and he came to sweat on supply valves with threaded fittings so we could sleep at night without the thought that our bathroom was going to flood again.
And thankfully, we didn’t have to replace the tile, the subfloor, or the sheetrock.
But the whole plumbing fiasco that occurred that night, has permanently traumatized both of us when it comes to indoor plumbing. Neither of us will try and attempt any plumbing project of any kind. And neither of us trusts a compression fitting as far as we can throw one (and, trust me, did we ever want to throw one that night).