Monday, September 13, 2010

Canning and The Can

OK, I've been debating with myself for a while whether to post this bit or not. But my friend Lime went ahead and posted (a while back, by now) about a long-ago bathroom remodeling, and it poked my brain for this story, which I hope you'll find at least mildly entertaining. . . ------------------------- In my young life, I've installed and/or reseated something on the order of half a dozen toilets. Really, it's not terribly difficult, if you've already got a working flange in place - you just have to undo a couple nuts around the base, and disconnect the water supply to the tank, then put down a wax gasket, reseat the toilet, hook everything back up, and you're good to go. I did my first one under my dad's supervision, one Christmas break when I was in college. Since I've been a homeowner, I've done a few more on my own behalf. With eight kids, it's not unheard-of for miscellaneous sundry toys to end up lodged within the bowels (HAH!) of the toilet. On multiple occasions, I've had to fish various action figures out of the toilet. One or two of my kids have virtually taken on research projects investigating the toilet-clogging properties of various toys. . . I love all of my children. But their toys, stuck inside the toilet? Not so much. I have to say, though, that by the sixth time or so that you have to unseat and reseat the toilet, in order to dislodge He-Man from the porcelain innards, it's not quite so daunting as the first couple were. . . ------------------------- The nastiest toilet job I ever had to do, though, had nothing to do with any of the kids. In fact, for quite a while, I had no idea what was going on. Out of the blue, with no apparent rhyme or reason, our toilet developed an intermittent clog. It would flush just fine for several days, and then, without warning, it would be completely plugged. Not slow, or struggling to flush - when the lever was pushed, the bowl would instantly fill to overflowing, as though no water at all was going down the drain. Which, as you might imagine, made for some fairly exciting times in our bathroom; you never quite knew when The Clog would strike, causing frantic screams to emanate from behind the bathroom door. I rigged up a poor-man's toilet snake out of a coat-hanger, and that usually did the trick, inducing the toilet to drain, to the relief of everyone involved (except the person who ended up having to mop up the floor, which sometimes was, um, chunkier than others. . .) And, often as not, a Clog Episode would be followed by several days of normal operation, which would lull us into a false sense of normalcy, until the next Clog struck. ------------------------- The day inevitably came when none of the unclogging magic worked. The toilet overflowed, the bathroom floor flooded, I poked at the drain with my coat-hanger-snake, and nothing changed. By this time, we'd been living with the unpredictability of The Clog for a while, and the experience was getting old. Given that The Clog wasn't playing nice this time, I resignedly shrugged my shoulders and figured it was finally time to deal with this thing once and for all. I ran out to the hardware store and picked up a new wax gasket, and also a valve to replace the simple angle connector between the main house supply and the supply tube to the toilet tank (plumbing jobs are so much easier with local shutoffs). After hand-emptying the toilet bowl (I have no comment on the 'chunkiness' of the contents), I disconnected the supply tube, unscrewed the nuts holding the base to the floor, and lifted the toilet off the floor. I took it out to the back yard, where I could use the garden hose to get some liquid 'throughput' going. First, though, I turned it upside down and poked at the drain tube from the bottom, to see if I could determine what was going on any better from the opposite end. I heard a metallic *tink* from inside the toilet. Well, that was different; maybe now we were making some progress. I poked at it some more with my hanger-snake; I kept getting the odd metallic *tink*, but nothing came out. I detached the tank from the bowl, so I could more easily flip the bowl around to try different angles. Finally, I turned on the outdoor faucet and ran the garden hose through the drain tube. I heard a little rattling noise, and a shiny golden object fell out of the bowl. It was a large-mouth canning lid. Suddenly I understood. The canning lid had gotten wedged at the tight corner in the porcelain drain tube, and acted as a kind of random butterfly valve. Sometimes, it would be 'open', and the bowl contents could flow past it virtually as if it weren't there. Sometimes, soggy toilet paper would catch on it, and things would clog up and run slowly, until the soggy paper broke up and got washed down the drain. But if the lid turned sideways, across the drain tube, nothing at all would go down, and the bowl would rapidly fill to overflowing. I grabbed up the damning evidence and took it in the house, asking Jen if she had any idea how a canning lid would've gotten lodged inside the toilet. Instantly, her eyes got as big as saucers. She related a story of how, a few weeks previously, she'd retrieved a quart of home-canned peaches from the pantry, that had gone bad, so she'd just dumped them down the toilet. She vaguely remembered, since the topic had come up, hearing a small metallic noise as she'd dumped the contents of the jar, but she hadn't thought any more of it, figuring that, if she'd dumped the lid, it would just go down the drain anyway. Which, obviously, it hadn't. I sighed heavily. At least the mystery had been solved. And all that remained was to put the toilet back together, and all would be well. I took the bowl and tank back into the bathroom. I placed the wax gasket on the flange, seated the bowl onto it, and bolted the base to the flange. Next, I situated the tank on the back of the bowl, with the rubber seal in between. I inserted the bolts that held the tank to the bowl flange, and finger-tightened them. Then I got my wrench and screwdriver and tightened the flange bolts more securely. The tank was still pretty floppy and wobbly on the back of the bowl, so I went to tighten the bolts a bit more. Then. . . *POP!* I didn't know what had popped, but I was pretty sure that there weren't supposed to be any POP! noises at that stage of the process, and whatever it was, it almost certainly wasn't good. A second later, a chunk of the porcelain flange from the bowl, through which the flange bolt attached the tank to the base, fell to the ground. I stared at it with stupefied horror, knowing exactly what this meant - I had just, through my own overzealous ignorant stupidity, broken the toilet flange, rendering the entire toilet useless. For a minute or two, I just stared at it, with my mouth agape. Finally, I made my comment. "SHIIIITTTT!" (Well, you know, I was working on a toilet. . .) Truthfully, I didn't have much time to wallow in my self-loathing - it was getting late, and if I was going to procure a new toilet, I needed to hurry. The guy at the plumbing-supply store was very compassionate, and allowed as to how most every do-it-yourself plumber he knew had popped a porcelain flange at some point. I got the new toilet home (requiring the third wax gasket that I'd seen that day), got it seated and hooked up, and finally all was well. (Well, to get 'technical' for just a second, the new toilet had a different 'setback' than the old one had, so I wound up with a gap of a couple inches between the tank and the wall, which, in the fullness of time required me to build a little 'support bracket' between the tank and the wall. But, at least we had a functioning toilet.) But between my dear wife and her rotten peaches, and my own overzealous bolt-tightening, it ended up being one of the, um, more frustrating home projects I've ever done. . .


  1. that does indeed sound like an astonishingly crappy job. however, i'm calling you the next time we have a toilet issue as you are clearly a pro by now.

  2. I would never have thought to dispose of rotten food directly into the toilet.....did she really think a metal lid of any sort would NOT plug up a toilet???

  3. I have never had to resort to anything more than a plunger, but I don't have to deal with what kids might deposit in a toilet, either, so...

    Good story, and a surprising ending.

  4. Lime - 'Crappy job' - HAH! I get it!

    Cocotte - Well, it's what you do with dead goldfish, isn't it?

    She assures me that the lid going down the toilet was entirely accidental (tho I confess to having a bit of trouble conceiving of an accidental lid-flushing). . . And the thing is, if it had been a small-mouth lid, it probably would've gone down. . .

    Suldog - So you would understand if I tell you that I'm less fond of surprises than some people are. . . Especially surprises that go *POP!* (damn jack-in-the-boxes. . .)


  5. Having, as you have, replaced a few toilets & parts, now and then; and, as you have, been forced to do so in more than one case, by small toys and other shit, including (why? I dunno) one of the kid's toothbrushes ("It was old")...

    I empathize. I do, however, remain hopeful that for the rest of my plumbing career, I can stay virginal in the "POP" of the flange.

    Now, of course, that I said that outloud, I'm sure that as soon as I return home from GA, I'll have a job to do, and having jinxed myself, I'll report back....

    Great story :)

  6. Still can't get past the peaches in the potty - don't you have a garbage disposal??

  7. Sailor - I'm sorry. . . you lost me talking about popping and virginity. . .

    Cocotte - Actually, this was in our old house, and we probably didn't have a disposal at the time. . . (I know; and we both have college degrees, too. . .)