So, what does a guy do when his wife says, "The kitchen faucet is dripping. Can you fix it?"
I took a look at it. Yup. It was dripping, no matter how I turned the Kohler single handle faucet.
I vaguely remembered that the faucet used a cartridge. And that the last time I'd tried to replace a Kohler cartridge, I ended up having to call a plumber to bail me out.
With increasing age (occasionally) comes increased wisdom. Grabbing the Salem phone book, I called a plumber right off the bat.
When he arrived, after having told his scheduler that we had three other minor plumbing problems that needed fixing, the first words out of my mouth after "hello" were...
We've got some small jobs that shouldn't take you too long. I called you because my handyman skills are such, I can turn a small problem into a big one with amazing ease.
I felt better right away, having deflated my macho resistance to another man coming into our house and fulfilling my wife's plumbing desire. We ended up having a good conversation as I watched the plumber, whom I'll call "Joe," take a pleasingly long time replacing the Kohler cartridge.
Pleasingly, because I told Joe that my biggest fear -- and also my greatest hope, given his hourly rate -- was that he'd come out and fix everything in ten minutes, making it look disgustingly easy.
Which reminded Joe of a story.
He said that once someone else had called him about a Kohler faucet. The guy had taken it apart as far as he could, then had spent half an afternoon trying to finish the job.
Joe told him, "I'll come out and help you. On one condition: that you don't get mad when you see what I'm going to do." The guy reluctantly agreed.
Joe said that he walked up to the faucet, took out some pliers, and pulled out a copper retaining clip. Then handed the guy a $68 bill for the trip charge, or whatever it was he was charging at the time.
The customer was upset, but kept his cool as much as he could.
While he was telling me this story, I was encouraged to see that Joe was having some trouble disassembling our own Kohler single handle faucet. He told me that every model is different, requiring different tricks to disassemble so a new cartridge can be inserted.
I liked how Joe muttered under his breath and cursed frequently (mildly, probably for my benefit). That reminded me of me when I attempt a plumbing repair. However, Joe succeeded in finishing the job, so that's where our resemblance ended.
Figuring that I might as well bare my soul to get more therapeutic bang out of the bucks that I was going to end up paying Joe, I told him that long ago I decided I wouldn't let my manly self-esteem be determined by my fix-it skills.
Which are minimal, albeit greater than my wife's.
Talking with Joe about this was akin, I guess, to walking into an AA meeting and immediately telling everyone "Hi, I'm Brian. And I've got a drinking problem." Admitting my plumbing incompetence openly felt better than slinking into my office and playing with my laptop until Joe was finished and presented me with a bill.
Plus, I wanted to look over his shoulder and try to learn something.
The main thing I learned was that even for a highly skilled plumber, things don't go smoothly. It took Joe several hours to deal with the four seemingly minor problems, several of which ended up being fairly complicated.
I kept thinking, "Boy, if I'd attempted these on my own, I'd really have screwed things up."
For example: the pressure switch on our well pump was leaking slightly. I'd taken a look at it, noticed that various wires would have to be disconnected to unscrew the switch and put more wrapping tape around the stem, and decided to pass on a repair attempt.
When Joe worked on it, the stem broke off. He didn't have the right size replacement in his truck, so his son had to drive out and bring him a part.
We would have been without water for quite a while if I'd tried to fix the pressure switch leak. So I told myself, "Real men don't unnecessarily risk leaving their wife (and dog) without water."
While Joe was working on a toilet that wouldn't flush right (I learned that this model required a specific flapper, not the generic replacement that I''d unknowingly bought), I told him my favorite cautionary story about guys who believe they're more competent handymen than they really are.
"We bought our house from a man who did the finishing work himself. For years after that, whenever we had professionals come in to fix something, they'd take a look and say with amazement, Wow! Who put this in?!
I told Joe that we had an electrician out to fix a problem. He opened our circuit breaker box, took a quick glance, and immediately yelled to his partner, "Hey, come down and see this. You won't believe it."
Then he turned to me and said, "Do you ever smell smoke?" The electricians ended up doing a lot of re-wiring.
Moral of this story for me: I don't want to be a guy who's responsible for a plumber coming into our house after we've sold it and asking the new owner, "Jeez, who did this work?"