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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Plumbing Doldrums


The idea had always been to get the bathroom fully operational so that we could then start dismantling the old bathroom to convert it into a small kitchen. Much like the clutter-bug who starts organizing one corner of the house only to get distracted by messes in other areas to where nothing gets accomplished by the end of the day, a dozen different jobs have begun and nothing’s been finished. This is the way my plumber operates.

He spent a phenomenal amount of time pondering how to install the shower pan only to tell me that he saw no way to proceed short of tearing up the hardwood floor. Would my builder mind doing it, he asked, because he was afraid he’d make a mess of it. It wasn't his métier. I was puzzled. Chris, my builder, had never said anything about having to chop up the floor.

“Of course he’s not going to tear up the floor,” Chris cried, horrified. “It’d be ruined. And you’d have to replace it all throughout the adjoining bedroom because of the direction the slats run. Tell him he’s got to put the pan up on blocks and make sure it’s level, so he can run the waste pipe through the blocks, on out against the wall beneath the vanity, where I'll box it up, and then out through the wall to the sewer. This is how they do it here in France because there are no subfloors. There’ll be no tearing up of floors!”

So, the next time the plumber showed up, I explained this to him. He put down some paltry lightweight blocks around the perimeter of where the pan would lie and then said to me he feared the plastic pan would flex in the center and break. “This is why I always work with stone pans,” he said, gravely. “And the floor's not level so there’s no way I can make this level.” Nothing in this 200-plus-year-old house is level, I thought. Nothing in France is level.

My white knight showed up again, shook his head and said, “What is he doing? He’s got to run blocks, not just around the edges, but throughout the center. If he can’t level it by applying the adhesive to the top of the blocks, then tell him to put it on the floor and level the blocks on top of it.” Chris was justifiably exasperated. He was there as a favor to me; he wasn’t getting paid to share his expertise with an plumbing professional.

“How long until I can use the shower?” I asked the plumber as the church bells chimed the magic hour of five o'clock. I glanced at my watch, nervously. 

“Quinze jours.” Fifteen days? He had to be joking. (He was, it turned out.) I said, “Je suis Americaine! Je ne suis pas Française!” He burst out laughing. Yes, he nodded, Americans are renowned for being more insistent on their daily bathing. (Actually, I’ve been lucky in that department with both the plumber and electrician. The odor emanating from some of these locals could blister paint off a wall.)

“What about the waste pipe?” He’d run it from the bathroom through the wall into the garden where it sat suspended four inches above the dirt. He shrugged. No problem if it ran into the street. It’d just be a week or so. I thought of all my lovely garden soil and compost running down the gutter and into the neighbor’s ditch because he didn’t want to extend the pipe three feet and patch it into the existing waste pipe coming from the old bath before he left. 

Pas possible,” I said. “It’s got to be hooked up before you leave.” He shrugged again. I looked at him. Resigned, he got to work. Naturally, he didn’t have the right size pipes so he rigged something up. Just temporary, he assured me. (I made a mental note to document how long "temporary" meant.)

After he left, I discovered that, although he had installed the mitigeur, the flow control/faucet for the shower and attached the shower head hose to it, inexplicably, he hadn’t taken ten more minutes to drill two holes to screw in the colonne, the support for the showerhead. I would have to hold the shower nozzle in my hand in order to shower—not impossible but hardly convenient and certainly unnecessary. Well, it was just for a few days. Or so I thought...

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