For years there has been a small leak in the ceiling between the upstairs bathroom and the downstairs dining room at our house. As leaks tend to do, it has grown progressively worse with time. The first major seepage was discovered after a charming young Russian guest decided to hand wash clothes in the bathroom sink. She forgot to turn off the hot water spigot before leaving the house. A crack in the downstairs ceiling plaster developed and water dripped onto the dining room table. Fortunately, no one was sitting there at the time, and after some investigation and discussion it was decided that as long as no one left the water running, or as long as there were no Russians in the house, we didn’t really have a major plumbing problem, we just had a big hole in the ceiling.
But then sporadic leaks sprung whenever anyone took a bath. We fixed this situation by banning upstairs bathing. One was allowed to take a brief shower, but no one was permitted to soak in the tub. This policy worked okay because, even though there are four adults living in our house, no one has the leisure time required to loll in the tub.
Last week the situation changed with two significant events. First, our friend Jernae, a teenager, moved in for the summer, and second, my 3-year-old nephew, Bryce, came to visit at the same time my housemate’s 7-year-old niece, Clyiesha, dropped by for an extended stay.
I took Bryce and Clyiesha to a small park located just south of the Claremont Avenue DMV. It’s one of a few tiny green oases where Temescal Creek runs above ground for several yards. Bryce and Clyiesha took off their shoes, and immediately began wading. Before I knew it, they had whipped off their pants and shirts and were fully engaged in water sports and hydrotherapy research. When we got home, Andrea, Clyiesha’s aunt, made them take a bubble bath. I momentarily forgot about the leakage problem, but not for long.
Immediately after Bryce and Clyiesha got out of the tub, Jernae took a bubble bath by herself. When she was done I took a shower and that’s when the trouble began. Too much water had backed up behind the wall due to seepage from the ancient pipes. It was raining in our dining room.
So I did what I always do when we suffer from plumbing failure: I called my neighbor, Teddy Franklin, and asked for his help. He came over and diagnosed the problem. We needed to replace the hot and cold spigot stems and the shower diverter.
The next day Teddy and I went to Orchard Supply to look for parts. There were hundreds of bathtub stems to choose from but none that fit the exact measurements of our upstairs tub. We went across the street to Ashby Hardware and Building Supply, and when that didn’t work we went to Ehret Company Plumbing and Heating on Gilman Street. A nice man named Joe spent an hour looking for the proper replacements. He found a shower stem, but not the correct hot and cold water apparatus. We drove to Rubenstein Supply on 28th and San Pablo in search of the missing pieces. An enormous gentleman with a lot of tattoos told us that we needed to go to Meyer Plumbing Supply located near Jack London Square. “And if they don’t have it?” I asked Teddy as we sped toward the docks. Teddy shook his head. “Then we’re talkin’ cuttin’ a hole in the wall, pullin’ all the pipes, and replacin’ everything,” said Teddy. “It’s gonna get ugly.”
But at Meyer’s we found exactly what we needed. Three hours after leaving home, Teddy and I returned. He repaired the bathtub leak in less than thirty minutes. Finding the proper hardware took six times as long as the actual fix. I always knew that I didn’t want to be a plumber, but I thought it was because of the nature of the work. Now I know it’s because of the parts, and not the resulting product.