From the archives: Baffled by eternal mysteries — like plumbing

Photo by Dan Smedley, via Unsplash

From time to time, we will visit the Wayback Machine to read stories from The Senior Times archives. This story by Joe King was published in November 1989.


I am a man who periodically — even frequently — is defeated by plumbing. Other people have to face much more dramatic challenges to their well-being.

“Sir, the bank will only lend you $5 million. You’ll have to find other $80 on your own.” Or: “I’m sorry your fuchsia cummerbund won’t be ready in time for the party in San Morino. Will a carmine-coloured one do?”

My problems are more prosaic. They are centred on the bathroom — modern plumbing, specifically. This stems from the fact that I have virtually no hand skills. I managed to manipulate a fork and knife with modest dexterity and shovel 70 to 83 per cent of the food on my plate into my mouth. But beyond that, my skills are limited.

I didn’t start driving a car till I was 50. Even then, my driving instructor, now president of the White-Knuckled Club, suggested a change in the basic rules. “They way you drive, it might be better if you did drink and drive.”

In spite of my better judgment, occasionally I try driving  a nail in the wall to hang a picture. When news of this hilarious effort gets around, crowds of friends, relatives and neighbours gather and my children set up popcorn concessions and sell tickets. Inevitably, I must be taken away howling with pain while the repair men, who have been standing by, move in to patch up the wall.

Bathrooms often represent a nearly insurmountable problem when gleaming new chromium taps are installed. Theoretically, they are there to provide hot and cold water. But they baffle me. I encountered one in my favourite New Hampshire motel. After entering my room, the clerk showed me the shining mechanism. Then he left, brimming with good will.

Now I know these shower devices with two circular taps can be manipulated to provide water at precisely the right temperature. The next morning, I enter the bathroom and spend 30 minutes trying to adjust the volume and temperature control. Finally, I hop into the shower, hoping the water won’t scald. I shouldn’t have worried. The water was so cold that I immediately hopped back out. In my view, these complex adjustments provide two kinds of shower spray — too hot or too cold.

On the rare occasion, I am able to clamber daintily into the shower and discover that the water is precisely the right temperature and volume. Which lasts about eight seconds.

Someone in some other room apparently turns their device and suddenly the cold water flowing from my tap vanishes. Bellowing like a wounded buffalo, I leap out of the steam to safety.

Off in the distance (although I can’t verify this), I hear a fiendish laugh.

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