The longer I own a house, the easier I am to please. Earlier this week for instance, I was dancing on air because I had found a small piece of leather. Finding it meant my quest for the leather piston plunger had ended.
After four days and unsuccessful visits to two hardware stores and a plumbing supply house, I found the elusive piece of leather and a companion rubber ballcock washer, at a store about 10 miles from my house. (Stebbins Anderson in Towson).
Now that the leather washer and its companion are in place, the household's busiest water closet is functioning again, just in time to accommodate a carload of visiting cousins from Vermont.
In addition to restoring family harmony, and preventing a big water bill, fixing the toilet was a great victory of man over machine.
In an ideal world man and machine work in perfect harmony. But in the real world we skirmish. A few days ago, for instance, the newspaper computer did something its keepers promised would never happen. It wiped out several stories including an earlier version of this column. The machines won that battle. But I beat the toilet.
When the toilet first started misbehaving, I did what I am supposed to do when my kids act up. I got down to its level and listened to the troublemaker.
I spent a good portion of Sunday afternoon staring at the inside of a toilet tank. What I heard and saw was a waterfall. Now some folks think all waterfalls are photogenic. I say it depends on where the water is falling.
If it is landing in a river or a mountain stream, then the waterfall is downright scenic. But when the water is falling down the overflow tube of a toilet tank, even Ansel Adams couldn't make it into a pretty postcard.
At first I tried tinkering with the toilet. I took everything apart, sanded off any corrosion and then put the pieces of the ballcock apparatus back in place. I stole this tinkering approach from business management theory. The theory holds that as long as it appears that bosses are concerned about employees' well-being, the workers will be productive. So by taking the ballcock apart, I was letting it know I cared.
But the ballcock didn't care that I cared. It continued to balk.
Next I tried to massage the old washer on the ballcock plunger. I figured that if a massage revived my tired old body parts, it might have the same restorative effect on the worn-out washer. I figured wrong.
Finally I gave the toilet a few days off and hunted for replacement parts.
It was a frustrating, tiring undertaking. I carried the ballcock part from store to store and presented it to plumbing parts salesman after plumbing parts salesman asking if they could help. Time and time again I was rejected.
But one night I found the parts I needed. I was excited. I raced home and, while still wearing my shirt and tie, put the toilet back together again.
Victory was sweet. But just in case my fortunes shift, I bought extra parts.