I was walking through my bedroom on a recent Sunday morning when I suddenly had a feeling that something was wrong. I'm not sure how I knew; perhaps it was a "sixth sense" I've developed after years of home ownership. Or perhaps it was the fact that there was water coming out of the ceiling.
But whatever tipped me off, I knew that I had a potentially serious problem, so I did not waste time. Moving swiftly but without panic, I went into the living room and read the entire sports section of the newspaper, thus giving the problem a chance to go away by itself. This is one of the four recommended methods for dealing with a household problem, the other three being 1) wrapping the problem with duct tape; 2) spraying the problem with a product called "WD-40"; and 3) selling the home, and then telling the new owners, "Hey, it never did that when we owned it."
Unfortunately, when I went back to the bedroom, the ceiling was still dripping. My wife suggested that maybe there was water sitting on the roof and leaking into the house, but I knew, as an experienced guy of the male gender, that she was wrong. I knew that the problem was the plumbing. It's time that we homeowners accepted the fact that plumbing is a bad idea. Many historians believe that the primary reason the Roman Empire collapsed is that the Romans attempted to install plumbing in it. Suddenly, instead of being ruthless, all-conquering warriors, they became a bunch of guys scurrying around trying to repair leaking viaducts. (Tragically, the Romans did not have "WD-40.")
So I knew that our plumbing had broken, and I also knew why it had chosen that particular morning: We had a houseguest. Plumbing can sense the arrival of a houseguest, and it often responds by leaking or causing toilets to erupt like porcelain volcanoes. And, of course, our plumbing had waited until Sunday, which meant that the plumber would not come for at least a day, which meant that it was up to me, as a male, to climb up into the attic and do the manly thing that men have had to do as long as men have been men: shine a flashlight around.
"Maybe you should check the roof first," my wife suggested. "Maybe there's water sitting up there." She was fixated on this roof theory. Women can be like that. I had to explain to her, being as patient as possible considering that I had urgent guy tasks to perform, that she was being an idiot, because the problem was the plumbing.
So I got my flashlight and climbed up a ladder into the attic, where I was able, thanks to my experience as a homeowner and my natural mechanical sense, to get pieces of insulation deep into my nose. I was not, however, able to locate the source of the leak, because my attic turned out to be a cramped, dark, dirty, mysterious place with pipes and wires running all over the place, and off in the distance-just out of flashlight reach, but I could definitely sense its presence-a tarantula the size of Mt. Everest.
So I came briskly back down the ladder and told my wife that, to stop the plumbing from leaking, I was going to turn off all the water to the house until the plumber came. Speaking in clipped, efficient, manly sentences, I instructed her to fill containers with water and write a note for the houseguest telling him how to flush his toilet with a bucket.
"Before we do all that," she said, "Maybe you should check the. . . ."
"Don't tell me to check the roof!" I explained. "Stop talking about the roof! The problem is the plumbing!" Sometimes a man has to put his manly foot down.
So while my wife wrote toilet-flushing instructions for our houseguest and prepared a small apologetic basket of fruit and cookies, I tried to locate the valve that would shut off all the water. This was very difficult, because our plumbing system turns out to have approximately one valve for every water molecule. We could start a roadside tourist attraction ("Turn here for the amazing valve forest").
The fascinating thing is, not one of these valves controls the flow of water to our particular house. I shut a number of them off, and nothing happened. So if, on a recent Sunday, the water stopped flowing in your home or store or nuclear power plant, that was probably my fault.
Since I could not turn off our water, our ceiling continued to leak all Sunday night, so that by morning our bedroom carpet was a federally protected wetland habitat teeming with frogs, turtles, Mafia-hit victims, etc. So we were very happy when the plumber arrived. And if you are a student of literary foreshadowing, you know exactly what he did: He looked at the ceiling, went outside, got a ladder, climbed up on the roof and found some water sitting up there. It couldn't drain, because there was a little place clogged by leaves. The plumber fixed it in maybe 10 seconds. I could have easily fixed it myself at any time in the previous 24 hours if I had not been so busy repairing our plumbing. I wrote the check in a manly manner.
So far, my wife, showing great self-restraint, has said, "I told you so" only about 450,000 times. Fine. She's entitled. But don't you start on me, OK? Not if you want me to turn your water back on.