We are in the midst of the Deep Cold, the Death Valley of the seasons here in the Northland. Our hope is to make this perilous crossing without losing any of our metaphorical oxen or actual fingers or toes.
The winter solstice is behind us, not that it makes any difference. The high temperatures this time of year are often lower than the overnight lows we enjoyed at Christmastime. Outdoor temperatures that soar above the freezing point seem like a tropical fever dream. Our expectations have been adjusted accordingly. We don’t want much; all we ask is that it get warm enough to put a crust on the snow.
Midwinter is a good time to tackle those pesky household jobs that we put off when the weather was clement and we could blithely walk outdoors without wearing enough cloth to construct a circus tent.
The faucet in our bathroom has been running annoyingly slow, with an output that has diminished to a tinkling trickle. This was probably due to many years’ worth of mineral buildup from our well water, which is only slightly softer than the underground vein of gravel from which it comes.
Last week, I went to a home repair megastore and wandered around until I stumbled upon the Bathroom Faucet Showroom. This small subsection of the sprawling warehouse is larger than our entire home. I was shocked to discover that a new faucet could be purchased for approximately the cost of super-deluxe mega-large pizza.
I found it a bit disheartening to learn that a bathroom faucet would so lightly valued. Time was when plumbing fixtures were regarded as family heirlooms, like silverware only shinier and much more practical. We would have no more swapped out our kitchen faucet than we would have traded off our grandmother. Such a thing was so far beyond the pale that it wasn’t even considered. If absolutely necessary, we would have procured an overhaul kit and gave Grandma a fresh set of gaskets and new valves.
A recent Saturday brought electric blue skies and a cold so deep that it could freeze the steel studs off a snow tire. It was a prime day for replacing a bathroom faucet.
The cabinet beneath our bathroom vanity isn’t a place that I visit very often. And for good reason: a motley assortment of lavatory cleansing agents live under there, giving the little cubicle the ambiance of an industrial chemical factory.
It had been some while since I’d replaced a faucet, so I had to relearn what a tight squeeze it is under the sink. Also that our bathroom floor is really uncomfortable.
At such times I wish that I owned a set of specialized plumber’s tools, the kind of doohickeys that would make this task as easy as cracking a cold one after the job is finished. I had to make do with a pair of rusty pliers and an old claw hammer. The pliers were for loosening things and the hammer was for venting my frustration over not having the proper tools.
We have a cat named Sparkles. Sparkles is a barn cat except for whenever my wife thinks it’s too cold outside, in which case Sparkles gets to be a house cat. Sparkles is a house cat the vast majority of the time.
As I struggled with a corroded nut, Sparkles appeared at the bathroom door. She watched me, sphinx-like, for several minutes, studying me with her sapphire blue eyes. Sparkles kept any comments that sprang to mind to herself and wisely opted to leave before she could be blamed for anything. The cat was curious, but not too curious.
This project might have gone quicker if I could have hired a professional contortionist. Lying there on the bathroom floor with my head inside a little box that smelled like a combination of a septic tank and a hazardous waste dump, I couldn’t help but wish that I had smaller hands. It would have been great to have a pair of forepaws that could reach up into that tight little space and unscrew that stubborn old ferrule. This gave me an idea.
“Here kitty, kitty!” I called. Sparkles shrewdly opted to make herself scarce.
The new faucet was eventually successfully installed. I proudly showed the fruits of my labors to my wife.
“So, water comes out of the new faucet?” she asked. “Didn’t water come out of the old one?”
“Well, yes. But it comes out in a new and improved way now!”
“I see. What happened to your knuckles? It looks like you nearly lost a finger.”
“That’s not my fault!” I exclaimed. “Sparkles wouldn’t help me!”