Tub was washed up, not hard of hearing

March 07, 1998|By Rob Kasper

I MADE A BIG mistake recently, one that veteran homeowners usually avoid. While standing right next to our old combination bathtub-shower, I talked about plans to replace it. The old tub, of course, got its revenge.

For years, water had drained out of that tub as smoothly as the Patapsco River empties into the Chesapeake Bay. All of sudden, it flowed no more. Instead of a mighty moving river, the water in the bottom of the tub backed up and began to resemble a large, soapy swamp.

The spring-loaded lever that had faithfully opened and closed the tub drain for 20 years had come unsprung. Once steadfast, now the lever was unreliable. Sometimes, in the middle of a shower experience, the lever would shift positions, closing the drain. To get rid of the resulting swamp water, I would have to jiggle the lever, coaxing it into a stable, full-drain position.

I might be getting rid of the old tub, but the tub was getting even.

It happened, I think, because I "dissed" it.

If I had merely mentioned, in an unthinking moment, the fact that the household was considering getting a new tub, the old tub probably would not have taken offense. The tub had been around for a while, and in my experience, the longer you hang around, the more accustomed you become to ignoring the thoughtless insult.

But my disrespect to the old tub had moved beyond words. I had invited members of a tub-replacement team -- a plumber and a contractor -- to visit the tub and develop a plan for action.

They probed the old tub. They measured it. They shook their heads. There was a discussion of how it would be disposed of. The old tub took offense. It perceived that it was being dumped, so rather than exiting quietly, it raised a ruckus.

The old tub had a good sense of timing. As a homeowner, you are especially vulnerable during the tender time that falls between your decision to get rid of something old and the arrival of something new. You don't want to spend any effort or any money ministering to the soon-to-be departed. Instead, you want it to turn in a few more days of quiet service, then disappear out the back door as its replacement arrives.

That was my plan for the old tub. It, however, had another agenda. It wanted a long, painful goodbye. It wanted me to get down on my knees, to loosen screws, to pull out the springs and linkage attached to the tub drain, and to make things right. It TC was the tub's parting shot. It got what it wanted.

I recognize that not everyone believes that old bathtubs, and other house parts, are motivated by revenge. Some folks blame bad behavior on the theory of inevitable decline. This theory says that things like the tub drain stop working because they are old, exhausted and have led stress-filled lives.

Proponents of this theory would point out that late in the tub drain's life, it had been worked over by two teen-agers, an experience that few survive unscathed. According to this theory, the tub stopped working because it was plumb wore out, not because it was piqued.

I am not so sure.

I believe that the so-called inanimate objects that we share our house with -- things like bathtubs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, furnaces and toilets -- communicate with each other. I think they do this at night, after we have gone to bed.

Those odd noises your house makes in the middle of night are not, as some people say, the sounds of your furnace kicking on, or your wood floors expanding and contracting. Instead they are the sounds of a domestic communication network at work. Plumbing fixtures are telling household appliances the latest goings-on, and vice versa.

So, after making the mistake of talking about a new bathtub in the presence of the old one, I took precautions. Whenever I discussed the plan for replacing our once-trusty old clothes washer with a new model, I made sure I was well out of earshot of the washer. Nonetheless, a few days later, when my wife tried to start the washer, its control knob snapped off in her hand.

Somehow, some way, the washer had heard the word that it was on the way out. I suspect the bathtub told it. They are, after all, both hooked up to the same water lines.

Pub Date: 3/07/98

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