Sunday, April 10, 2011

Home Improvement: If It Isn't One Thing . . .

He that owns a house (to paraphrase Dr. Bacon) hath given a hostage to fortune. Or (to put it differently), it's always something; if it isn't one thing it's another; if something can go wrong it will. And so on. (Funny how the inevitable brings out the instinct for tautology in us: "if it isn't one thing it's another." Well of course, what else could it be? and what does that tell you in any case?) In this case, it all started before our holiday in Mexico last December. The hydrant in the front yard, the bloody Woodford Model Y34 without which the West would never have been won, was found leaking for the thirtieth time.

Unfortunately, only the top third or so of this same item is visible above ground. It connects directly to the water main, a vile and precarious-looking length of crumbling galvanized pipe installed deep in the pre-Cambrian layer, a paradigm of inevitability stretching about 40 yards from the street and entering the (basement-less) house at some indiscernible point beneath a layer of bricks, dirt, fossils, dog bones, prehistoric middens and the assorted detritus of forgotten civilizations. This is a time when the prudent homeowner seeks the services of a teenager or a paroled criminal to excavate the point of the difficulty by main force.

"Sod off?"

None of this is to speak ill of ditch diggers, arguably the font and wellspring of human civilization (even though they can be unreliable sources of heady conversation). When the Mesopotamians needed a ditch to be dug, they called out the ditch diggers.

So this heavy-caliber piece of plumbing had been lying about the front yard for several months now, while the botanical features, always carefully tended, slowly languished in an incessant spring wind and were badly in need of regular watering. In times of prosperity, of course, my preferred tactic would have been to find a plumber, go fishing, pay him for his services, and be done with it. These being leaner times, however, there was nothing for it except to arm myself with assorted pipe wrenches, crescent wrenches, hammers and mallet, channel lock, penetrating oil, plumber's tape - all laid out on the picnic table like a surgeon's accoutrements - and go at the thing hammer and tongs, finally reducing it to this:

I lack a deep understanding of how things work; I am promptly confused by basic spatial relationships, and hence diagrams and exploded schematics will not dock neatly in my brain. To disassemble a thing is merely, on my view, to enter a wilderness like a knight-errant whose weapons fall from his nerveless hands and all is confusion to his lusterless eye. Nevertheless, as the prescribed repair kit contained only five pieces (one of which was a washer), I felt my chance for error considerably reduced and, $50 and two additional trips to the plumbing supply later, the hydrant was reinstalled with the assistance of my friend and neighbor, Larry, who undertakes the technically complex projects on this ranch in exchange for the occasional meal.

But I cannot rid myself of the gnawing feeling that it's always something. In my dreams I have seen the ancient pipe slowly and noiselessly rusting beneath the ground, finally bursting like an old man's artery and turning this place into a veritable oasis on the High Plains. And, as my dream fades, I see a nightmarish scene, and hear a lone voice in the night:

"This is gonna cost ya, buddy."


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