By Bruce Davidson
At long last winter has loosened its icy grip. Birds are chirping, the grass is growing, forsythia is blooming and water lines are dripping. What an idyllic picture! Wait a minute. Did I just say water lines are dripping? Oh no! Not again. Bloody hell, as the Brits would say.
After more than fifty years of opening up the cottage in the spring, I have learned that there is one more certainty in life along with the inevitability of death, and taxes. And that is the gnashing of teeth that invariably accompanies the discovery that Mother Nature has done me in yet again with a capricious plumbing sabotage. With an unerring instinct for exacting maximum misery, she always waits until swarms of thirsty black flies have blackened the very air in the crawl space under the deck, and only then springs the plumbing trap. It’s as though an unseen hand were operating every year whose sole purpose is the creation of the greatest inconvenience to the most people for the longest period of time.
Last year was a real beauty if anguish is your thing. Nothing less than a triple whammy. In the finest tradition of treachery, Mother Nature first tossed a couple of land mines at me, which were a huge inconvenience and a pain in the butt, but ultimately fixable by your average idiot, which of course, is where I come in. The key to any good treacherous performance, however, is firstly to create a high level of angst, followed by luring the victim into a false sense of security. Annoy the hell out of him. Make him whack his head a few times on the overhead beams. Hide the insect repellent. Have him slip into some slime or fall into the lake. Get him to have to go into Town a couple of useless times to get a repair part that doesn’t fit. For best effect, give him a triumphant moment, and then slam him down hard with a malicious chuckle. Man, whoever knew that Nature had such a fine sense of humour?
So here goes with a summary of last spring’s plumbing delights, which incorporate all of the above for good measure. Why not start off by having a breaker switch in the electrical panel triggered every time the power to the water pump is turned on? Perfect. That will keep him cursing for quite a while trying to figure out what’s going on. Well why not look in all the wrong places for a start? Having now wasted several precious hours on the first day when there is so much else to do, yours truly finally figures out that he had better follow the electrical cable down to the lake. Who knew that with record high water levels and a fierce November storm, the cable to the submersible pump had rubbed against the rocks so fiercely that the insulation had been completely stripped off in three places, leaving gleaming copper wire running into the water. Calling upon my immense grasp of electrical phenomenon learned by having my hair stand on end at the Ontario Science Centre, I concluded that a couple of bare wires sitting in water just might cause a short back up at the breaker panel. But this is a problem that defies the employment of duct tape, my go-to solution for just about everything. So off we go to Parry Sound as the sun sinks ominously towards the horizon, only to encounter a long lineup at Home Depot. After all, there’s a pandemic going on, don’t you know? Act one goes on for a few more days as I rig up a fancy new elevated waterline support to prevent a recurrence. And all this effort is being expended just to get back to where I should have been when I first arrived. The plumbing battle hadn’t even begun yet, as I was about to discover.
Act one finally concludes in a moment of pure unadulterated joy as the sound of water gushes through the pipes amid a chorus of triumphant congratulations and high fives all around. What a perfect time to spring a trap, so why not simply take the toilets out of service? Hey, great idea. Why not have the float in the septic holding tank stick in the down position so the septic pump does not turn on. But even better, don’t let anyone know there is a problem. So with the passage of a few days, I start to hear complaints of an awful smell coming from under the cottage. The first day of the complaint, I choose to dismiss it as fantasy, not having much of a sense of smell myself. That’s another great outcome for the misery perpetrators. For by waiting one more day the small problem suddenly becomes quite large. The evidence is now everywhere in plain sight even for those with no sense of smell. Time now for the old rusty bolt trick. Once I washed down the holding tank so that I could even approach it with a clothes peg on my nose, I quickly learned that the bolts to the tank had severely corroded, defeating even the almighty WD-40. Scuppered again. Toilets down for many days while a new tank gets ordered, delivered by boat and installed. Let’s give Mother Nature a big high five. Got me good with that one and cost a fair chunk of change too.
Which brings us to the most devastating and insidious blow of all. Unbeknownst to all, the water inlet valve on the built-in dishwasher has cracked during the winter and is literally pouring water onto the sub- floor. But I have a cork laminate floor in the kitchen and regular laminate in the living room and water sure does like to spread wherever it can. So there I lay contentedly sprawled out on my rocker recliner thinking what a tough opening it was, when I imagine I hear just the faintest trickle of dripping water. Damn. Must be the garden hose not shut off properly outside. Something that can wait until tomorrow for sure, as Happy Hour has pretty much taken away any appetite for repair today. Once again another’s day delay has really ratcheted up the severity of the damage, not to mention my blood pressure. I can actually feel the wetness of the laminate floor walking in socks in the kitchen the next morning. Emergency water shut off required. Water is now dripping from a dozen seams under the cottage. Yikes! What a great time to ratchet up the pressure even further. Let’s cause the dishwasher to be absolutely stuck under the counter! And why is it stuck? Because yours truly laid the flooring in the new cottage after the appliances were installed. Now it is impossible to yank out. Brilliant. So I have no choice but to rip up some of the flooring in front of the dishwasher, only to find that it is completely saturated and there is water everywhere. Time for another project. Up goes all the flooring from the kitchen to be carried out to dry on the rocks (A few days later I discover that every piece is so warped that a banana would look straight by comparison. Ruined flooring now has to go by boat and car to the dump, but that is another story.) Back to the dishwasher. Should pull out ok now that I have ripped out all of my precious cork flooring, right? Wrong. The standing water has been absorbed by the particle board surrounding the machine and has expanded. No way in hell will it come out, at least by this septuagenarian. Solution: take a chisel and destroy and remaining integrity of the supports. Having finally wrestled the ornery machine out into the middle of the kitchen I pleadingly ask: Honey, do you happen to remember where the parts manual for the 2008 dishwasher is? Really. Are you sure? When was that? Why didn’t we just use newspaper?” Well, good thing for the internet as I wait another several days for the FedEx truck to deliver a tiny $129 plastic fitting, which, of course I have to go and get from a friend’s place. Eventually I manage to install the new valve on the dishwasher, order new flooring for pickup at Home Depot, load it into the car, into the boat, onto the dock and up to the cottage. Installation is a barrel of laughs as I lie down to measure using a flashlight, go outside to cut, kneel down again to find that I have cut the tongue end rather than the groove end after all the other notches have been finally done just right. One great idea I can share for grey haired “do-it-yourselfers” is to put a kitchen chair nearby for support because you will have to get up or down about a thousand times owing to a combination of forgetfulness, mistakes and the occasional correct emplacement. What a fun time. And it was only for six weeks or so that we had to wear shoes in the kitchen lest sharp pointed staples from the old underlay exact a truly savage extra penalty from the otherwise just dirty damp plywood floor.
As I pen this recollection, my thoughts go to this year’s much anticipated opening day. Can’t wait.