I am standing by the kitchen sink. I turn the cold water faucet on.
I turn it off. I turn it on again. I turn it off again. On again. Off again. On. Off. On. Off.
Why are you fiddling with the faucet, my wife Mary asks.
I turn the faucet on and off once more. Do you hear that, I ask.
I do not hear anything, Mary says.
Exactly. No drip, I say. Because I fixed it. I am the Master Plumber.
Having conferred the title upon myself, it seems fitting to provide a bit of exposition — the Master Plumber's origin story:
Our kitchen faucets had been faulty since we moved into our house a year ago.
The cold water in particular would not turn completely off.
Replacing the stem was not effective. We grew accustomed, although not reconciled, to a constant slow drip.
Finally we bought a new faucet set. I stuck my head under the sink and backed out quickly. I did not want to tackle the job. I could almost feel the sudden give of stripped threads and hear the gush of unleashed water. I imagined a scene out of a Three Stooges film, water spraying from every appliance in the kitchen.
I do not want to do this, I said to Mary. It reminds me of the Great Water Heater Disaster. Have I told you that story?
Oh, look at the time. I have to go to the store, Mary tried to say, but it was too late . . .
I was in my 20s, and in my youthful hubris believed myself capable of anything. I also was poorer. The water heater had sprung a leak and after checking with plumbers I decided to do the job myself and save a bundle of money.
How difficult could it be, I mused. Turn off the electricity, disconnect hot and cold, then the same steps in reverse to put in the new one.
That was my first mistake. I should have asked someone with sense.
An essential component of a water heater is the dip tube. It is installed in the cold-water side and acts to channel the incoming water to the bottom of the tank where it is heated.
This is something I found out about two seconds too late, because I placed it in the hot-water side. The opening on that side was just a bit larger — just large enough that the dip tube dropped into the tank, there to rattle about in apparent mockery of my efforts to extricate it.
After a couple of hours of fishing around with a bent coat hanger, I managed to get the dip tube out. But then, through careful observation (observation that would have been more helpful before commencing the project) I determined the size and configuration of the new tank was slightly different, making it impossible to connect without changes in the plumbing.
Fortunately I had a secret weapon: my friend Dennis. Dennis was a mechanical genius who could make or fix anything. He also was impatient and incapable of suffering fools and incompetents.
I had learned that when I bought a vintage Buick Roadmaster and attempted to repair some small mechanical faults.
I learned that I could pop the hood, grab a wrench, any wrench, and say, let me see, is this a metric or a Phillips head bolt — and within a second Dennis would growl and shove me out of the way.
I would hear the clicking sound of a socket wrench, the hood would close and when I turned the key, wings would emerge from the wheel wells and my Buick would fly across the landscape like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Well, not exactly, but you get the picture.
So Dennis came and cut pipe and spun wrenches and turned on the water and said, well, that was easy.
The only thing dripping was the pity in his voice . . .
The point is, I said to Mary, I know what happens when I exceed my limitations. Besides, I would need a basin wrench to reach up behind the garbage disposal.
Whatever, she said. You call the plumber and you write the check.
Oh, I just remembered, I do have a basin wrench, I said. Give me a few minutes.
It should have been easy. The new set came with directions that didn’t even require the ability to read. The directions were literally pictograms with circles and arrows.
There is a rule of thumb that goes something like this: what takes a competent worker 20 minutes takes me an hour and a half. So after 90 minutes of grunting and groaning I turned the water supply back on, checked for leaks and emerged gloating with victory. The new set worked and turning the cold water off resulted in blessed silence.
And that is why I am standing by the sink, turning the water on and off incessantly. I really am a Master Plumber, I say.
Of course you are, Mary says. As long as you are there, could you scrub these pans?