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Leaky faucet; socially undistant

A leaky shower faucet brings out the best in father and son.

I’ve often in the past brought Nick along or worked with Nick on mundane household chores. For years, he watched as I replaced washers, changed oil, and pruned grapevines. But fixing the shower was not something I’ve done for several years, and it’s an event that he’s never witnessed.

The faucet’s sprouted water out of a joint where the handle meets the cartridge Delta saw fit to build its gear with. Unnecessary, but we inherited it from the homebuilders who decided to go that direction. I suppose someone thought it would be easier on plumbers to insert a cartridge into a copper sleeve. Easy in; easy out. But for the uninitiated who do their own plumbing on occasion, the device is a tremendous pain in the ass.

Which is why this homeowner has let the water spray out of the joint for months and months. It started as a drip and over time became a real fountain. But the shower worked. People made themselves clean. So, hey, what the heck. If it’s working, I say, let it work.

The problem has become a headache, however slight. It reached a crescendo when I heard last night for the thousandth time that the faucet leaks.

So, I think to myself, what a great way for Nick to learn about the complicated plumbing involved than to get his hands wet.

Today, I had an unexpected day off. The Postal Service works me six days a week, sometimes 60 hours a week. Usually, I don’t answer the phone in the morning, knowing that the big boss is calling me to tell me I have the day off. I prefer to go into the office, where they have to work me at least four hours and give me a day off another time.

But the route I carried yesterday—and the extra work I did carrying part of another carriers’ route—kicked my butt. I was so tired, I dragged myself to bed last night at 9:30, thinking that maybe this is the fatigue that comes with corona. In fact, I slept a good nine hours and was fine but still punchy. Dread drenched my mind when I thought of another ass-kicking.

So, when the phone rang, I was halfway to work. I struggled to get the phone out of my pocket while moving at 65 miles and hours, hoping not to miss this call. Sure enough, the big boss told me to enjoy my day off.

It was a day for sleeping, and I whiled away the rest of the morning dreaming about Isabella Rossellini and Miranda Richardson. I didn’t want to wake up, knowing I had the shower in front of me for the day.

Fortunately, Nick was working on school assignments and gave me a chance to down a cup of strong coffee—a luxury I can only afford on a day off due to my caffeine sensitivity and the need to find a place to pee when I’m on a route.

“Let’s get that shower fixed today,” I said to him through the bedroom door.

“It’s about time,” he said.

We hitched up and lit out when he had his homework completed. The first stop was the hardware store, where we found what we needed very quickly. We did the grocery shopping at the Costco and Aldi. We did the whole social distancing thing in lines before we entered the stores. (We were wearing masks.) We mused on what good can come from people standing in line, actually contemplating what they needed rather than shopping mindlessly.

Home and groceries put up, we set to the work ahead of us. Nick fetched screwdrivers, hex wrenches, pipe wrench, and channel locks. We took our places at the tub and dove in.

In reality, Nick did the work. He took step-by-step directions about how to disassemble the faucet, how to use a pipe wrench on the flange that held the cartridge in place, and then how to remove the cartridge from the copper sleeve. He did a wonderful job. I took over from time to time, getting the flange removed, for instance, and removing the sticky cartridge that broke into its pieces when we coaxed it out of the pipe, and so on.

The point, really, is that it was father and son figuring this thing out, imagining all the time that we might fail and have to call a plumber. Nick took on, with his innate mechanical skill, the removal of a stuck hex screw integral to the success of the whole operation. I replaced the cartridge, which I had to pound into place with a hammer and feared would break the pipes in the wall. (Who knows? We’ll find out when we find the puddle in the basement below the bathroom. Or not.)

Working with Nick is always a dream. He’s smart and knows more about the mechanics behind these operations than I give him credit for. He’s a cheerful workmate and one who knows a good joke to crack at the right moment.

“Even if this doesn’t work right,”’ he said with a contemplative look on his face, “at least we won’t have water spraying up on our balls.”

After all the work, we found that we put the thing together upside down. What should be C is actually hot and H is cold.

“We’re going to have to live with it backwards,” I said as he waited for H to start flowing from C.

“We’ll have to educate mom so we won’t have to take her to the hospital with second-degree scald,” he said. “Fortunately, she’s a smart woman who probably tests the water with her hand first.”

“Smart she is,” I said. “It won’t take long.”

My motive was not completely about fixing the faucet for comfortable showers for me and my kin. I planned this so that Nick would know how to fix the faucet without having to call the plumber when we have to replace it again, which may be years from now. I’ll have to call him to come over.

“Remember when we replaced the faucet in the bathroom?” I’ll say.

“Don’t tell me,” he’ll reply. “You want me to do that for you.”

“Smart man.”

In fact, I may just be decrepit when I make that call. He may just have a kid or two. It’ll be a chance for me to socially undistance myself from my grandchildren.

Or, at least, my son.

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