Monday, March 26, 2007

Star Tribune asks: Is the Party Over in La Crosse?
LA CROSSE, WIS. -- It was early yet, a little past 9 p.m. Saturday, and nobody seemed too worried about the cops on bar patrol, armed with the city's new anti-intoxication ordinance, or the dark, mist-shrouded river just three sloping blocks away.
Not Troy Boylen, 22.

"Honestly, nobody walks down to the river," he said with loud and earnest authority.

He pulled himself up and continued in a voice only slightly slurred:

"In La Crosse, experienced drinkers walk uphill."...

Apparently, there's been a rash of college guys disappearing after a night of drinking, presumably wandering into the Mississippi River and drowning, though folks haven't ruled out a serial killer. By a rash, I mean eight in the past ten years. That's .8 guys a year (which is a multiple of .08, the legal limit for blood alcohol content while driving -- coincidence or cosmic joke?).

In response, the city has settled on an increased police presence and stronger public intoxication ordinances. I prefer this idea to their original idea, which was to construct a large drunk-proof fence down by the river. Personally, I think they'd be better off with Troy Boylen's solution: walk uphill.

The only problem there though is that if they're really drunk, they may continue walking uphill so long that they wind up falling off the back side of Grandad's Bluff.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Nobody's bought the house, so we've decided to take a few "sell this house" steps (i.e., small, relatively inexpensive, but apparently vital changes that will make what is essentially the exact same house suddenly irresistable to buyers). The first "sell this house" step for us -- update the bathroom, and the first step of that is to replace the vanity/sink. Guess who got on-the-job self-training?

All the way through the process, I felt wildly out of my depth, but I got it all installed by lunchtime on Tuesday. Swelling with the kind of pride that can only go before a fall, I took one last look at the installation. I noticed there was still a small drip where I'd hooked up the hose that runs from the water supply out of the wall to the faucet. I got out my trusty vise grip and gave it one more turn.

And that's when the valve broke off and water started spraying everywhere.

You know, I've seen things like this happen on television and in movies. I wish I'd paid better attention to the solution, but I guess I was always too busy laughing. I tried to get the valve back on to the small bit of pipe to which it was attached (it has a name, but I'm saving that for later), but it just wouldn't get on there. Water was starting to pool in the bathroom and I could hear it dripping through the floor into the basement. I realized that I had to get downstairs and shut off the supply, so it was time to take a leap of faith. I caught one lucky break there, because once I just let it go, the jet of water shot over the floor and into the bathtub, which is conveniently located (in this case anyway) directly across from the vanity.

I sprinted downstairs and went to the hot water heater (thank God/Zeus/Cthulu it was the hot water supply, because I doubt I'd have remembered where the main water shutoff was) and took a shot that the Big Red Handle on one of the pipes coming out of it would shut off the water supply. It did. There is no sweeter sound than the sound of an unplanned spray of water coming to an end.

Once I got the bathroom and basement mopped up, I took stock of the situation. The pipe coming out of the wall (again, it has a name that I am still saving for later) appeared to be heavily corroded. The entire lower half of the threaded area had simply disintegrated. Hey, water's a solvent, right?

I had no idea where to begin. Here is this, at this point unnamed, length of pipe that is attached to another pipe that is inside the wall, and it's crumbling away. Pipes coming out of the wall have their own mystique, their own sense of permanence. I can figure out a lot of things, but once stuff starts being inside walls, they might as well be in Narnia.

About thirty minutes later, I phoned Neenie and gave her the news, dripping (heh) with I-TOLD-YOU-I'M-OUT-OF-MY-DEPTH-WITH-THIS-SHIT innuendo. She called her dad, who said it was fixable and that I should call him.

So I called my father-in-law to see what he had to say about the situation. I told him that the threads were basically gone from the pipe that had held the valve, and that I wasn't sure I could get the pipe out from the wall. Was it possible to shear off the corroded part and re-cut new threads onto the pipe? Yes it was, he said. I just had to go and get a pipe die, whatever that was.

Okay, so off to the neighborhood hardware store I went. Now, I'm not an exclusive "think globally, shop locally" guy. I can't afford to be. Most times when I know what I need, I heed the siren song of high volume and low prices and head on down to Menard's or Home Depot. But, when I need merchandise and information, you better believe I'm heading down to Parkway Hardware. Sometimes I feel a little guilty, since most times the information I need is "what kind of screw do I use for this?", and the small business owner winds up making about a buck and a half.

They directed me to the plumbing area, and I noticed that they actually had replacements for the length of pipe that was damaged. Said length of pipe, by the way, is called a "nipple." -- further proof that performing plumbing work forces you to silence your inner middle-schooler (Hell, the last bit of plumbing repair I did involved a ballcock for Christ's sake). I wondered for a bit why it was called a "nipple," until I realized that it must be because there are always two of them positioned next to each other, one for hot water and the other for cold.

You'd think the cold water nipples would be a little bit larger, but no.

They even had a tool called a nipple wrench. Seventh-grade Matt giggled mercilessly in the back of my head as I put that in my basket. I also grabbed a replacement for the valve that had snapped off, a small pipe wrench, and a replacement nipple (stop that laughing you little shit!). I brought my purchases to the counter and, describing my situation, asked the guy if this looked like everything I needed. He told me that I shouldn't need the nipple wrench (awwwww said seventh-grade Matt), since the pipe wrench was designed to grab hold of the nipple just fine (heeheehee). He cautioned me, though, that I might not be able to get it out of the wall, since sometimes in older houses, fittings could be such that pieces were effectively welded together.

Back at the house, I tried to use the pipe wrench to free the piece. I cranked and cranked at it, but it wouldn't budge. Naturally, I was a little gun-shy, since my last show of strength had caused all this trouble in the first place, but I became convinced that what hardware store guy warned me about had come true. The nipple was there forever and ever, aw man.

I went back to Parkway hardware, nipple in hand (snicker), and asked if they sold a tool to cut new thread onto a pipe. He looked throughout the store. Yes, they did sell tools that could cut thread, but they didn't sell them for plumbing. He told me to go to Park Supply, a plumbing wholesaler over by the West Bank, and that they might have them available.

I got in the car and thought to myself, do I really want to go be a novice in a roomful of people who do this stuff for a living?. I briefly considered checking Home Depot. It's a bigger store right? Presumably, they have a wider selection, but then I figured that while Home Depot might have one, a plumbing supply store was sure to have one. I might as well go for the sure thing.

Turns out, Park Supply doesn't sell pipe dies either. The guy behind the counter suggested I head to Minneapolis Hardware on 2nd St. N and check with them. I got to Minneapolis Hardware (by this time it was about 3:30) and was informed that they didn't sell dies for plumbing either and that I should check at, wait for it, Home Depot.

I was beginning to think that somewhere in Minneapolis, there was a plumber that was about to be very happy.

I got back into the car and called Neenie. She told me her dad was going to stop off on his way home from work to see if he could help, so I figured I might as well wait until he could eyeball the situation. Maybe there was a solution I hadn't considered.

Dad-in-law was waiting for me when I arrived and we went in to take a look. He suggested we take the vanity away from the wall so that we could give the nipple a good crank (ahehahehaheh...please, stop. I can't take it...). Turns out, more torque was all it needed. A couple of good yanks on the pipe wrench from my father-in-law and the nipple was free. He handed it to me and I stared at it for a good half-minute, the way you stare at a hangnail or a sliver after you give it that last tug and it comes out. Not so tough now are you?

You might think I had lost face with my father-in-law through this whole thing. Not at all. He knows I didn't grow up around tools and hardware and other manly pursuits. Personally, I think he was impressed that I hadn't called a plumber when the damn thing broke off in the first place. Besides, once the nipple was out, I knew exactly what to do from there on, and he went home. Neenie told me later that when her mother spoke to her dad and asked him why he didn't stay until it was all done, and he said he was confident I could handle it from there. I think that might be my diploma.

So yeah, nipples.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The stomach flu is making its way through the house. It's gotten the Bug, the Peanut and Neenie. I can only assume I'm next. If for some reason I don't make it, I think it appropriate for my last message to be a bunch of trained monkeys chimps pretending to be a psychedelic band.

By the way, doesn't it seem like they must have somehow bound the Ed Sullivan monkey's chimp's hands in that position? Creepy, I know. On the other hand, he's probably dead by now, so watching the video is like wearing vintage fur -- guilt free.