Up to the armpits in a runny toilet

It’s a bit like a niggling toothache without any Advil. Like a mosquito (remember mosquitoes?) in the bedroom in the middle of the night. Or that annoying rattle somewhere in the dash of your car.

It’s a bit like a niggling toothache without any Advil. Like a mosquito (remember mosquitoes?) in the bedroom in the middle of the night. Or that annoying rattle somewhere in the dash of your car.

But this time, it’s a toilet that just won’t stop. Running, I mean. Trickling incessantly away in the small room, like some sort of leaky (pun intended) tap. Which is more or less what it is — a big, dumb, leaky tap.

And not only that, the commode function itself had effectively ceased to function, seriously impairing its functionability.

This, for some reason, did not make the Better Half happy.

I for one had managed to ignore the dribbling (pun intended) john by utilizing another one in the house and steadfastly pretending the faulty one didn’t exist. Just like I’m pretending that I don’t have to shovel all that snow on my sidewalk. Sidewalk? What sidewalk?

But several days is (apparently) too long to leave a runny unfunctioning toilet, so when it was finally time to man up and take charge, I immediately set out to fix the problem by getting someone else to.

You see, my former attempts at any acts of simple plumbing have always led to, well, let’s face it, unmitigated disaster. Like the time I “fixed” the water line in the kitchen sink, thereby redirecting most of the water into my office below via the ceiling. Or the unfortunate occasion when I attempted to replace the shower nozzle and ended up drenching myself, the cat, the dog, the pictures on the wall and anything else that happened to be near the bathroom at the time.

So with great resolve I do what I know I must do — leap courageously into the frigid swirling waters of the unknown, and call a plumber.

And after a quick Google search, I have a list in front of me, I pick up the phone, and it goes something like this:

Ring … ring … ring …

“Hello, Dark Arts Plumbing, how may I help you?”

“Um, yes, I have a runny toilet?”

“Good for you.”

“Um, yes, can you fix it for me?”

“Certainly. Two weeks from Thursday. Our standard housecall is $800.”


Ring … ring …

“Hello, Fred’s Plumbing, Heating and Small Motor Repair. …”

“Oh hello, yes, I was wondering if I could get someone over to fix a runny toilet.”

“Youbetcha, I have an opening in July. And, by golly, I can do a quick tuneup on your lawn mower while I’m there.”


Ring … ring …

“Good morning, this is Marsha from The Classy Plumbers where all our Classy Plumbers wear tuxedoes and drive limousines. We love your lavatory! How may The Classy Plumbers help you today?”

“Um, I was wondering if I could get a cost estimate for a. …”

“Thank you sir, may I have your credit card number?”

“My credit card number?”

“Yes sir, the small charge for this introductory phone call is just $75, not including GST, and our fee for an estimate from Classy Plumbers is a mere. …”


Within moments, I’m flat on my back on the chilly bathroom floor with a flashlight, squinting around for something to fix. I also have with me something I believe is called a pipewrench which is three feet (110 cm) long and weighs 14 pounds (4,000 grams), which I bought in a weak moment at a garage sale for $2 (two dollars) 10 or 11 years ago and which I’ve never actually used.

Nope, nothing under there to fix, so I take the top off the tank thingy, and immediately see the problem. There’s all kinds of plastic tubes and metal prongs and rubber grommets, etc., in there that I know absolutely nothing about. That’s the problem! Also, there seems to be absolutely no water in there either. Shouldn’t there be water in there?

So I do what every red-blooded Canadian male who is not a plumber would do when faced with a repair job that is obviously as complicated as installing a solar panel on the Hubble telescope during a spacewalk. I immediately go to the Internet and look up ‘How to fix a toilet whereby the tank thingy won’t fill up with water like I’m guessing it’s supposed to.’

And voila! I get 14 results, all of them advertising links to The Classy Plumbers website, Facebook page and Twitter accounts.

So I then do what I should have done in the first place. YouTube. You can view anything (and I mean anything) on YouTube, including actual authentic footage of strange people called ‘Kardashians’ or astronaut Chris Hadfield floating upside down playing a weightless guitar on the international space station or a demonstration on how to make vegetarian lasagna (why?). Oh, and also, how to fix a toilet.

Turns out the guy on the video was very helpful and told me I needed to “repair or replace the toilet fill valve” and then proceeded to actually show me what a toilet fill valve was, which is a tall tube thingy that attaches to a different floaty thingy, which attaches to a hose and several grommets.

But here’s the thing: Our toilet tank is covered with the narrow part of the sink countertop, a countertop that the YouTube guy told me plumbers call a “banjo” for the reason that it’s not very useful and just gets in the way (just kidding Beverly Hillbilly fans). I don’t know why it’s called a banjo but it’s the reason that I was stuck straddling the privy backwards with both arms up to my armpits, squeezed into the cold dark depths of the toilet tank in the three-inch (.5 decimetre) space between the banjo and the tank top.

After what seemed to be about a year and a half, I finally got my arms out of the tank thingy, and somehow managed to unscrew that toilet fill valve thingy without even using my secret weapon, the pipewrench.

With great pride and a thrilling sense of accomplishment reserved for the distinguished world of personal home repairs, I gripped what I like to call the Fluidmaster 400A Universal Toilet Fill Valve, thank you very much, and gave it a mighty heave — and out it came!

But looking back, I probably should have shut the water off first.

Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.

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