Sometimes Fixing Problems Requires Stocking Spare Parts


October 26, 1991|By Rob Kasper

One of the side effects of trying to fix things is that you build up an impressive collection of spare parts.

The other morning after an attempted plumbing repair, I added a slick-looking length of flexible hose to my array of plumbing parts.

The old hose, which connects the bottom of the kitchen faucet with the sprayer on the kitchen sink, works fine now. But someday its career as a water carrier will be over. It happens to all of us. When it happens to the sprayer hose, I'll be ready. I have the spare parts.

I got the spare hose because I needed a new sprayer. The sprayer is a very popular piece of equipment in our family. I am real fond of using it to blast gunk off the bottom of wastebaskets. And the kids are constantly yanking the sprayer out to use it for a variety of watering missions including the highly forbidden, but highly attractive option of squirting each other.

After years of being jerked around by all members of the family, the kitchen sink sprayer sprang a leak.

That was about six months ago. I reacted to the leak with my standard solution to any domestic problem. I taped it up and ignored it. The taped-up sprayer didn't blast wastebasket gunk the way it used to, but I could live with it. I did until the tape gave way. Then, whenever I turned on the kitchen faucet, water flowed from the sprayer. Sometimes it was just a trickle. But other times it was a gusher. When it was in its gusher mode, the sprayer could effectively soak anything or anybody that passed within a 3-foot range.

After one especially wet incident I decided it was time to head to the plumbing parts store. I put on my plaid shirt and faded jeans. I was trying to look like a plumber. I've always believed that if you look like a regular guy, the plumbing salesmen won't try to sell you extra parts. I cling to the conviction that real plumbers, guys with wrenches in their pockets and grease on their shirts, walk out of parts stores with just a few 50-cent washers while the rest of us end up buying $50 faucets.

The other day I figured that if I wore my usual coat and tie get-up, instead of leaving the store with just a new sprayer I might walk out with a new kitchen sink. "That is the only way those sprayers come," I imagined the salesman telling me, "with an entire sink."

As it turned out, the only spare part I ended up with was the length of hose. I needed a sprayer head, but to get it, I had to buy its partner, the attached length of hose. It was the same kind of you-can't-have-one-without-the-other deal that Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale worked out some years ago when the pitchers were negotiating new contracts with the Dodgers. I rooted for Koufax and Drysdale, so I agreed to the hose and sprayer package.

When I got back home I was looking forward to replacing the old hose. That, after all, is the code of the weekend repair people, rip out the old, put in the new.

But when I crawled underneath the kitchen sink, I changed my mind. I couldn't see the spot where the hose connected to the faucet. All I could see was the hose heading in the general direction of the water pipes, then diving into darkness. It looked foreboding.

Sure enough, when I glanced at the instructions that came with my new sprayer-hose package, I saw a little warning note. "To reach this fitting easily," the note read, "you may need a basin wrench, obtainable at plumbing and hardware stores." Next to the note was a drawing of needed wrench. I had no such tool. Without it I was not going to venture into the dark world of the underside of faucets. Instead I moved out of darkness, up from the belly of the sink, to the brightly lighted top of the sink where the sprayer head resided. There I took the leaky sprayer head off. It simply unscrewed. Next I removed the new sprayer head and washer inserts from its companion hose. After some jiggling, I got the new sprayer to fit on the old hose.

To give it a test, I turned the water on full blast. To my great delight, all the water went where it was supposed to, straight down the drain. There were no drips, no trickles, no gushers. And when I blasted the bottom of the wastebasket with the new sprayer, the gunk was history.

I coiled up the new hose and carried it back to the basement to put it in my spare parts cabinet. I put the hose on the shelf where I keep leftovers from previous home repair efforts. On one shelf were the washers that come in packages of 100. On the other shelf were the box of electrical wire nuts. I needed two; I ended up with 50.

In a neighboring cabinet were the leftover parts of a car taillight I fixed. I only needed the plastic taillight cover; to get it I had to buy a five-piece package.

Some people I know, including one I live with, question why I keep all these spare parts.

I tell them that collecting spare parts is like collecting wine, or stamps, or china. It is a habit that gives you a sense of quiet pleasure.

And in some cases you become a collector out of necessity, not choice.

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