The Bathtub Incident

Copyright 1994 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.

This is based on a true incident. The only parts I made up are the parts that make Guy and me look good. We really did do all these dumb things. This was another early piece I wrote (and rewrote) to try and sell it (and never did). One version is about half as long as this, but I think I like this longer version better, as there's more time to build up to the finish. Comments?

Somewhere along the way, I misplaced my male mechanical genes. You know, the genes that let you glance at a nut, and instinctively know the correct socket size. These are the genes that enable men to strip an engine, add a turbo charger, and put it back together during a half-hour lunch break.

I thought I was a freak of nature, until I met Guy. He is the only other male-type person I know who can't operate a screwdriver. Guy and I not only missed the boat on mechanical ability, we fell off the end of the pier and almost drowned.

Unfortunately, we still have plenty of those genes called "Supreme Male Confidence." These are the genes that short-circuit our brains and make our mouths say things like, "Sure I can do it! All engines are basically the same!" while completely ignoring the fact that we don't understand any engines.

And at regular intervals, when the moon is full, and the scars from our last home handyman adventure have healed, the Supreme Male Confidence genes take over and before we know it, we have strange tools in our hands and we're saying things like "Well, the reverse stranglehold on that flange just needs reverberating." And inevitably, we'll end up knee-deep in oily muck, desperately trying to find the phone to call somebody who knows how to fix a sewer line that got piped into an oil tank.

The bathtub incident is a good example. This occurred several months after the building of the world's most complicated computer stand. By the time we were done, the stand had about six hundred extra boards and twenty pounds of nails to keep it from falling apart.

This made us humble for several months. There's nothing quite so sobering as daily confronting an item that looks exactly like a pile of scrap lumber, which took an entire weekend to build.

But time gradually erased the traumatic memory of the computer stand. We also used the classic male rationalization of lack of proper tools ("Now, if we'd just had a Computer Stand Building Tool, we could have done that right!").

The bathtub incident began innocently enough. Laura and I had recently gotten married and we were planning a reception at our house.

Guy and I lounged in the back yard thinking of "extras" we could add to spice up the party. The sun was shining brightly, and it more than likely fried our brains--which would go a long way toward explaining subsequent events.

"I got it!" My brain cells had just siezed on a great idea. "You know that old bathtub in the bathroom just off Laura's office? The one that's full of old papers and stuff?"


"We take it out, fill it full of ice and sodas and use it as a centerpiece for the table!" This bathtub was probably a hundred years old. With its little claw feet, it would look totally and completely awesome sitting in the middle of a table, filled with ice and sodas.

"Yeah! That'll be cool!" Guy and I looked at each other and knew that we had the perfect idea. I ran down to the basement to grab my tool kit, while Guy headed to the bathroom to prep the patient.

I almost made it through the living room before my new bride Laura caught up with me. Although we hadn't been married long, Laura had already been through a few projects. "Robert! Where are you going with that tool kit!" There was more than a little alarm in her voice.

This tool box was an old favorite of mine, and had been through many handyman projects with me. As a result, the lid was crushed, the latch broken, and there were several jagged holes in it.

"Don't worry. This is an easy project!" I called over my shoulder as I made a dash toward her office door. The latch on the toolbox chose this moment to come open, scattering tools across the floor. I thought I could hear a faint chuckle come from the hinges.

"That's what you said last time, and look what happened!" I grabbed the tools that looked important and stuffed them back in the toolbox. The hinge laughed some more as I closed it.

"That was because I forgot to put the emergency brake on. This time we don't have to worry. Bathtubs don't have emergency brakes!"

Before she could stop me, I quickly ducked into her office and locked the door. I heard her sigh and return to making 5 gallons of cole slaw in the kitchen. Just wait 'till she saw our awesome centerpiece--she'd be impressed then!

We were living in an old farmhouse, and Laura used one of the rooms for her office. The office used to be a bedroom and it came complete with a tiny bathroom containing a sink and the bathtub. No toilet, just a bathtub.

Laura kept pretty clean in her office, so she really didn't need a bathtub four feet from her desk. We didn't want to waste the space, so we used the room to store old files and back issues of magazines.

I carefully set down my tool box, which promptly fell over and spilled its contents on the floor again. If we'd had any sense, we would have recognized this as an ominous sign.

"Good, good!" Guy said as he gazed down on the tools. "I like having my tools spread out, so I can see what's available!"

We knew that good workmen always considered the task ahead of them before they began. This was the only characteristic we shared with good workmen, or workmen of any kind for that matter.

We carefully circled the bathtub, which in this small space involved taking one step in one direction and one step in the opposite direction, and we both had to step at the same time. The claw foot bathtub sat on the floor. At one end was the drain and the faucets for the bathtub.

"See, all we gotta do is remove this spout flange thingy, and the whole bathtub will slide right out." Guy said this with a crescent wrench in his hand. Somehow, a crescent wrench lends a certain authority to whatever you have to say.

"What about the drain?" I pointed at the spot where the drain disappeared into the floor.

"Oh, it'll probably just pop right out." Guy casually dismissed that problem with a wave of his crescent wrench.

It looked simple. All we had to do was remove the faucet and carry the bathtub into the yard. Sure, it might be heavy, but we could take breaks. I could already envision it filled with ice. This would definitely be a cool party.

"Huh! This is weird!" Guy was leaning over the front of the bathtub peering at the plumbing.

"What?" I was giving the legs the once over, checking to see if they were bolted to the floor.

"There's no shutoff valve here." I looked where he was pointing, at the front of the bathtub. Sure enough, the pipes just appeared out of the floor and went straight to the bathtub faucets.

"That must mean you don't need one! It probably has some kind of float valve thing that automatically shuts off the water." I pointed at the part of the pipe that looked like it would contain the working end of an automatic shutoff valve. Guy nodded his head in agreement.

It's important to understand that this made perfect sense to us. If we designed plumbing, we would certainly include an automatic shutoff valve. And the old farmer who built this house was nobody's fool.

And it didn't bother us that we had never heard of automatic shutoff valves. There were lots of things we'd never heard of.

"Which part do we unscrew to get the faucet off?" The faucet had a bunch of nuts and things on it, and it wasn't clear which one actually freed the faucet.

"Let's start with that one." Of course, each nut on this bathtub had been carefully rusted into place, making its removal a major task. This part at least we knew about. You pounded on the nut with the wrench, put the wrench in place, stood on the wrench, fell off, pounded on the nut some more and so on. Eventually, you either broke the nut or it came loose.

Our first couple of guesses about which nuts to remove were wrong. So were our second couple of guesses. Finally, we had removed all the nuts we could find. The faucet still refused to budge.

"Did we miss any?"

"Not that I can see." We waved our crescent wrenches, wondering what we did wrong. Finally, Guy kicked the pipes in frustration.

That's when it happened. Actually two things happened. First, we really had removed all the nuts, it's just that the pipes were rusted together.

Second, we discovered that the old farmer had never heard of an automatic shutoff valve.

Guy disappeared in a geyser of water. Unfortunately, not only did the water look like a geyser, it felt like one because he had managed to kick loose the hot water pipe.

I lunged forward to help and promptly tripped over the cold water pipe, which released a second plume into the small room. We could now be parboiled or frozen in the water spout of our choice.

"What's going on in there!" Laura was pounding on the bedroom door, which fortunately we had locked.

"It's under control! No problem!" I shouted back at her. The pounding continued. I sloshed out of the bathroom and across the office. I'm sure the sight of her dripping wet husband opening the door and saying "It's going great, we've almost got the bathtub loose!" and quickly closing the door calmed her down tremendously.

In the meantime, Guy was trying to put the hot water pipe back in place. He almost had it, when he yelped, "Ow! That's hot!" He jumped back into the stream of cold water, leaped out of the way and did a jig in the bathtub.

We took turns trying to get the pipes reconnected. Periodically, one of us would run to the office door and yell "It's under control! Almost done!" and then race back.

We would probably still be there, sloshing back and forth between scalding our fingers and reassuring the world that everything was under control if it weren't for Laura.

I was trying for the fifth time to line up the hot water pipe when suddenly the water stopped.

"Aha! The automatic shutoff valve must have been rusty!" Figuring that it might rust again at any minute (there was certainly no lack of water), we quickly secured both pipes.

Laura said through the office door. "I turned off the main water valve. Did that help?"

"Oh yeah, everything's under control. Nothing to worry about."

The party happened on schedule. Instead of a hundred-year-old claw-foot bathtub as a centerpiece, we had a five-year-old garbage can full of ice and sodas. It was a lot easier. And Guy and I swore we'd never pick up another tool as long as we lived. Which actually worked for a couple of months, until the car antenna incident. But that's another story.

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Copyright 1994 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.