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Gristmill: Things Fall Apart

Wed, 01/17/2024 - 16:54
Pipefitter at work, 1942.
Arthur Rothstein / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

When your toilet won’t flush, it’s like a personal affront. The world gone topsy-turvy. The end.

That or the two giant tanks buried in our backyard were finally full-up after years of flushed effluent. It may be only a two-bedroom that we moved into in 2014, but there were years of renters here before us who seem to have sent down all manner of plastic products. Who knows when, if ever, it was last emptied.

So, an expensive emergency septic pumpout on Christmas Eve. Lesson learned. But each holiday it’s something else. That was a year ago. This year, on an inopportune Sunday before M.L.K. Day and with our college-age daughter’s boyfriend coming for a visit, the hot water suddenly ran cold. Again, a shocking betrayal. To say nothing of the time-and-a-half, $100-surcharge timing of the fix.

The only restorative for my ego was my proper diagnosis of a dead circulator — that pale green cylindrical motor next to the hot water heater. There are two, and as the first one went about a year ago, I figured, what with the 20th century’s great innovation, planned obsolescence, it was time.

Engineered failure: The plumber made a crack about the Apple iPhone. With me, I tend to think of its prevalence in the automobile.

The difference there has been a run of fortuitous, not disastrous, timing — the starter in the 2008 Honda that craps out while parked in a convenient spot for towing downtown, not on one of our many trips upstate to Geneseo. Or the alternator in the 2013 Subaru that gives up the ghost within shouting distance of Greg’s Garage, not on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Man plans, God laughs.

Unless man is planning mechanical dysfunction. Then he simply nails it and there’s nothing God can do.


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