Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rainy Days in Dining Rooms Always Get Me Down

Here’s a riddle.

What is the connection between this

which is our dining room, and this

which is Billy's bathroom?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I’ll give you a hint: The bathtub is right above this:

I know this because sometimes, when, ahem, issues arise in the bathtub area, water comes streaming out of the chandelier. It has something to do with gravity.

Seven or eight years ago, it rained in our dining room a couple of times after the boys had bathed in that tub. We were never exactly sure why. The rains had to stop, though, so Bob and I made the ultimate sacrifice.

We made Billy and Ben take their baths in our bathroom.

Four people are most definitely a crowd in the 7 x 10 confines (what a perfect word!) of our master bathroom. But we got used to it.

Besides, Billy’s bathroom was unfortunate. I don’t have photos, but I can draw you a couple. Here is what the floor looked like:

Here is what the walls looked like:

And here is the light switch cover.

(I had to keep it. Wouldn't you?)

The light switch cover is probably why Billy seemed perfectly happy for the longest time to share a bathroom with his parents. For years, we basically forgot about his bathroom. Our two cats had the biggest kitty litter room on the block.

But all good things must come to an end. And so one day about six months ago, all involved parties, except the cats, agreed that it was time to make Billy’s bathroom useable. For humans.

It started out such a tiny deal, as deals go: a miniscule deal, actually, involving only new floor covering, some fresh wallpaper, and a determination of why it was that every time I washed clothes in the laundry room next door, strange bubbles arose from the toilet.

But you, being the astute reader that you are, surely have figured out that remodeling that bathroom turned out to be a huge deal.

Putting up new wallpaper involved taking down the old, and trying to figure out why the two walls at one corner of the bathroom dormer had split. By the time the crack detectives had solved that mystery, we’d replaced half the drywall.

Replacing the Marsha Brady vinyl with ceramic tile meant that the vinyl had to be ripped up (please do not say scary things to me about asbestos -- the contractor told us we didn’t need to worry and it’s too late to start now). When they did that, they discovered that the plywood sub-floor was too thin to support tile. So they ripped up the sub-floor. This was in December, so I guess the most appropriate way to put what happened next would be this: “And what to the plumber’s wondering eyes did appear, but a whole system of drain pipes that was about to blow.”

Yes, folks, the plumber insisted that he had gotten there just in the nick of time – that if we’d been even a little later, a plumbing Armageddon would have transpired. The original builder, who apparently had the construction IQ of a cheese ravioli, had laid the drain pipes running uphill. Water had been sitting in that old and gnarly cast iron for years, just waiting to burst through our first floor ceiling at the least opportune moment. (Actually, when would a ceiling collapse be opportune?)

When layman like us receive this sort of news, we really have no choice but to put ourselves at the mercy of the plumber. This was actually not that hard, because we were otherwise occupied, what with buying Christmas presents with our few remaining pennies and worrying ourselves sick over what else the builder of our house had done catastrophically wrong.

If you have ever remodeled, you know that it won’t be long before “in for a dime, in for a dollar” becomes your favorite saying. The self-talk goes something like this: “Weeeeell, if we’ve got to replace most of the plumbing, we might as well move the toilet over there, because that’s a lot more private than right here. And if we do that, well, shoot -- suddenly there’d be room for a really neat storage closet. And honestly, who ever has enough closet space? I mean, turning down a closet is like telling a Girl Scout you don’t like Thin Mints. And since the closet has to have doors, it would really make a lot of sense to match them to the vanity. But we really can’t do that unless we replace the vanity. And if we replace the vanity, we’ve got to get a new countertop, because, I mean, it would be really, really stupid to put the ugly old sink and faucets into the new counter….”

And of course, we needed a better light switch too.

So that before we knew it, we had suddenly spent about seven times more money than planned on Billy’s bathroom. (And yes, I know you’re thinking, “But isn’t he the one who’s going to college in 16 months?” and yes, you are correct, and I appreciate that you’ve been paying close attention, but now really, if you’ve spent enough time reading me to know that, surely you’ve developed at least a fondness for me, and you wouldn’t want me to fall on the floor writhing with regret, now would you? So will you at least not remind me what a bad financial decision this was? Thank you.)

Anyway, in just a few short weeks, which in contractor math means 2½ months, Billy had a gorgeous, almost entirely new bathroom. We replaced every last thing except the toilet, the tub, and a little bit of pipe beneath each of them.

We never gave a second thought to the problems we'd had with the tub in the past.

Which brings me back to this week.

Now that he has a lovely new bath, we don’t see a whole lot of Billy. He shaves in that bathroom without being reminded and showers every morning and bathes every night. Which was what he was doing Tuesday night when Bob shouted “Shit!” from the dining room.

I ran in there to find water streaming down the chandelier cord, streaming around the fancy parts of the chandelier, and then scattering in oh, four or five directions, all of which ultimately ended at the surface of the dining room table. A huge white spot had already appeared, the laptop was wet, and there was a rapidly growing puddle on the floor.

What – what’s that you’re saying? “But I thought they just replaced all the plumbing in that bathroom!” What a coincidence – that’s EXACTLY WHAT I SAID!!!! Only I also said some bad words too.

But not nearly as many as I said the next morning, when the dining room ceiling appeared to be caving in.

I was in my office upstairs, reading blogs (what else?). A load of laundry was churning away in the upstairs laundry room. The friend who cleans my house (and believe me, only a friend would take that on) was downstairs. Suddenly, she was yelling just like Bob had the night before. “BETSY, THE WASHING MACHINE IS LEAKING THROUGH THE DOWNSTAIRS CEILING!!!!!!”

Not that I doubted her, but I did run downstairs for independent verification, stopping only to turn off the washer.

I had already left a message with our contractor that morning, asking (politely) that he come figure out why we’d had the chandelier leakage. Now I called back and, not quite as politely, told him that I really had an urgent need to know why water was POURING from ALL the drywall nails in the ceiling AND parts of the ceiling were SAGGING and EVEN the ceiling in the adjoining room was starting to look A LITTLE FUNNY!!!!!

My friend and I moved everything out of the dining room except the piano, which was too heavy, and the dining room table. I can’t stand that table, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to have my homeowner’s insurance buy me a replacement.

In just a few minutes, which is two hours in contractor math, our contractor’s right hand man was there. He disappeared into the bathroom and a few minutes later came out to ask me when the toilet overflowed.

I told him the toilet hadn’t overflowed.

He told me it surely appeared to have overflowed, there being all sorts of mushy paper and unspeakably gross black stuff all over it, and the bathroom floor, and the rugs, and the towels Billy had left on the floor.

Oh. That toilet.

I followed him up and saw what he meant. The source of the water wasn’t the washing machine. It was our geyser, I mean, toilet.

I was bound and determined to persuade him that there was a connection between the toilet overflow and the tub leak, and that the connection was the brand new drain pipes we’d spent so much money on. He was just as convinced there wasn’t.

So we did what any reasonable adults would do. We cut four holes in the dining room ceiling to see where the water was coming from.

He was right.

There was all kinds of wet stuff underneath the bathroom floor. Only none of it was under the new pipes -- only the two small stretches of pipe we’d chosen not to replace.

What’s more, the nighttime chandelier leak had resulted not from defective contracting work but from Billy’s filling the tub nearly to the rim and then sloshing water all over the edge of the tub, which, my contractor friend pointed out, had absolutely no caulk around it.

Which was probably, now that we think about it, why the tub leaked eight years ago.

And the toilet overflow? Billy’s disturbing propensity to put way too much toilet paper and assorted debris in toilets was all coming back to me. Nine years ago, we had to quit shopping at my favorite boys clothing store because Billy flushed so much toilet paper down the store’s stockroom toilet, he transformed it into a water volcano that damaged several thousand dollars of merchandise.

I couldn’t stand it. I had to know. So I drove to Billy’s school to haul him out of class to find out just what he’d been putting in his toilet.

I caught him between choir and chemistry. I didn't particularly care whether I embarrassed him or not.

“Billy, just what have you been flushing down your toilet?”

“Nothing. I mean, I flushed some paper towel the other day. But it was only a sheet or two.”

“What else?”

“Some matches."


"They were paper matches.”

“How many?”

“Oh, two or three.”

“Two or three every time you burn incense?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“What about the incense ash?”

“Well, that too.”

(I know what you are thinking. Believe me, I have a sensitive nose, and it can pick up pot from a mile away. He honestly just likes incense. I’m reminded every time I’m near his room of my father, who, during my baby sister’s incense-burning stage, told my mother he was sure there was a dead animal stuck in a wall somewhere.)

It was time for Billy to get to class, so the lesson on What Toilets Are For had to wait for last night. It was conducted while he scrubbed the toilet, the floor, and the tub.

Meanwhile, I had to go home and eat crow.

As it turned out, the contractor was a little bit at fault. They had forgotten to seal the tile floor, which meant when 50 gallons of water started spewing all over it, there was nothing to prevent it from seeping through the tile into the dining room.

But besides that, it was just bad luck, and a teenage boy with excellent personal hygiene.

Speaking of bad luck, the ceiling didn’t fall in. So I don’t even get a new dining room table.


MommyTime said...

And I thought only my daughter didn't know what was and was not supposed to go down the toilet. This morning, it was about 28 kleenexes, accompanied by the gleeful announcement "I did it!" She's only 2. :) Nice to be forewarned, though, that I'll have to remain vigilant for a long time. I never would have known.

I'm glad you have no more leaks. And oh so sorry you didn't get a new table out of it all.

Anonymous said...

Lil'Betsy, I can hardly believe it. I am so sorry you had to experience this!! What a nightmare. I am enjoying reading your blog, but this just made me sad and a little sick to my stomach as I recalled a shower pan incident and a laundry room incident from earlier days. Hope your day improves significantly.
Love, your ChooChoo city friend

PS I love the colors in your dining room and kitchen!

Snappy said...

OMG!! I would totally freak out! But it must have been somewhat cool to see the water come out of the chandelier? I mean, some folks would pay BIG money to have their chandelier do that!

M, Ms. R, Mom, Auntie M, Marey said...

I think Billy goes by another name and moonlights at my house!

So sorry to laugh at your expense...water damage sucks!

Janie said...

Oh, my Lord. I can't believe you've been through all that.
What a nightmare.

Hope things are better now.

Mr Lady said...

I'd have taken a broomstick and gotten my new table already.

That? Sucks.

My basement ceiling and pipe above gave up the good fight a few months ago, and aside from a new paint job and floors, NONE OF MY CRAPPY FURNITURE DOWN THERE WAS RUINED.

I almost cried.