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The Amazing $500 Toilet
by C. Charman
Please welcome our newest writer, C.Charman. We found him, or he found us, through Fark.com, where we seem to find a good portion of our writers. Make of that what you will.
It was a perfectly adequate toilet. No reason it need to be replaced. It wasn't one of the newer low-flush ones, and that's an advantage. The shit goes down in one flush, not like the two or three it takes with the 1.6 gallon models. No, six gallon flushes may suck for the environment and suck for your water bill, but it's great for really getting things moving.
It was the first place we'd owned together, an old mansion that had been converted into a triplex. The front, two-story unit was most of the original house, while the back half had been expanded into two more one bedroom apartments in the 1920's. When we bought it, we inherited the previous owner's tenants; a pair of uncoupled gay roommates in the front, and a perpetually drunk union pile driver and his equally alcoholic girlfriend below.
Our relationship with the downstairs drunkards was never great, and worsened considerably as time went on. The final straw, though, was when they moved in their guitar-playing buddy. It would have been almost tolerable, but this guy was an awful hack.
Cleaning out the place after we finally evicted them was a challenge. They had lived there for at least a dozen years, and I doubt they opened the drapes in all that time. The apartment was musty and dirty. We decided on a fresh coat of paint, a new range for the kitchen to replace the one that perpetually smelled of natural gas, and a new toilet seat, since they left one which had clearly been in use for the entirely of their occupation.
Something you should probably know about me at this point. I'm not the handiest fellow you'll ever meet. I grew up around it, my dad is quite the carpenter, and one of my uncles was a contractor. I love tools, the more specialized and arcane the better; however, my practical experience has largely tended to be constrained to holding the dummy end of the measuring tape or making sure the half sheet of plywood doesn't fall on the ground until after the saw blade has made it all the way through.
You would think that even this limited qualification would be enough to change a toilet seat.
Sadly, you would be wrong.
All that stood in the way of a replacement seat was a single rusted nut on a single rusted bolt. It was on a Friday afternoon, and the new tenants would be moving in on Saturday. I started with a wrench and pliers, but the nut wouldn't move. Frustrated, I made an attempt with a hack saw. After several minutes of fruitless hacking, rather than reassessing and maybe spraying down the nut with WD-40 to loosen the rust, I made what would turn out to be a fateful decision.
I decided that a claw hammer was, in fact, the proper tool for toilet seat removal. My wife even said, "honey, are you sure that's the right tool to use?"
Any man would know that's a challenge.
After some pulling, yanking, and rocking, there was a rather loud snapping sound as a hairline fracture ran around the outside rim of the toilet, from the pressure point where I had my hammer wedged between the seat. A perfectly clean little stress line. Little glistening diamonds of water began to seep from the crack within an instant. The old toilet was ruined.
I decided to empty the rest of the water so I could take the toilet out completely.
"Honey, are you sure flushing the toilet is the best way to empty it?"
Of course I was sure.
When I flushed, the little beads became a steady trickle, then a rather sizable flow as bits of porcelain began to fall away from the pressure. I grabbed at the tank lid to try to stop the flow of water, knocking it onto the tile floor and destroying it as well.
If you're unaware of how a toilet is sealed onto the floor, and believe me, I certainly was at the time, here is a brief sketch of the process. First, there's this hole in the floor, and up through this hole runs a big pipe. That pipe is called a "lead bend," even though they are mostly made of cast iron now. There are bolts that come up from the pipe and fit into the base of the toilet, and between the toilet and the pipe there is this wax Bundt cake looking thing. The wax ring keeps the connection between the toilet and the lead bend nice and tight, so that when you flush, water and crap don't come flowing out all over the floor. When you take out an old toilet, say one that has been accidentally demolished by an over-eager home owner with a hammer, the remains of the disgusting old wax ring stay behind, and must be removed before the new toilet can be installed.
"Honey, do you really think you should use the hammer again?"
Now that we have established fairly well that a hammer is not the right tool to remove a rusted toilet seat bolt, you should probably also take it as a given that a hammer is not the right tool for the removal of an old wax seal. It also turned out that our lead bend really was made out of lead, and by the time I realized I could actually see the dirt under the house's foundation through the hole I'd made, our pipe was well beyond the point of repair.
Being first time home owners, of course we had a contractor. We called him in a state of utter desperation. Our new tenants would be moving in the next day, and their one bathroom apartment was without a toilet. Bryan came to meet us on his way out to a date. He's thin, with a thick black beard and long black hair he wears in a pony tail, and was wearing white pants and a purple and red polyester shirt which had probably been in his wardrobe for at least 20 years. He looked around, then climbed under the house for a closer look at the underside. When he came out, his assessment was grim. Apparently, not only was our lead bend actually made from lead, at some point maybe 50 years earlier, someone had enclosed the portion of the lead bend under the floor in a wooden box, which they had then filled with an exceptionally hard concrete.
Since Bryan's guys didn't work on the weekend, I spent a wonderful weekend squatting in the crawlspace and chipping away at concrete with a chisel and sledge hammer. Three days and $500 later, our tenants finally had a working toilet, and I'd learned a valuable lesson.
Never let your wife watch you work with tools.