By Larry Teren
Some things you can’t keep putting off and one of them is buying a new toilet. The john in the master bathroom of my condo apartment had been acting up for quite a while. It had been around even before I bought the condo 14 years earlier and it was showing its old age. I had brought in plumbers a few years ago to fix the ball and chain assembly but now the internal workings required more than a facelift or transplant. It needed to go away forever and be replaced by a younger, sleeker, more efficient model.
I knew that buying a recent technology model would mean less flush power but would result in a 20% water savings. It didn’t affected my pocket directly as I did not pay my own water bill. It was included as a group expense by the condo building buried in our monthly dues. But, just maybe if everyone else- okay, even just 30 or more other unit owners- would buy late model toilets in the next year, we could see a little savings off the monthly condo assessment dues in the following year’s budget. I know- wishful thinking.
Anyways, I go to one of those famous national chain home improvement stores to look at their toilet selection. After waiting patiently (yah sure) for fifteen minutes when the one department worker finally finished helping another customer, I asked him to help me pick out a new toilet. He said, “not so fast. What is the displacement of the bolts from the wall?”
I said, “come again?” He then explained that I had to measure the distance of the two bolts that secure the toilet to the floor from the wall to determine whether I buy a standard model or special-to-order one. So I asked him what the normal distance was and he told me “12 inches.” He then told me to go home and measure it and then come back and he or another store associate could help me.
It was my turn. “Not so fast. If I buy one tomorrow, being Thursday- what is the chance of paying the installation fee and having someone come out Friday or Monday and do the nasty?” He said, “You come buy in the morning, pick out the one you want and tell them you want someone to install on Friday.” I said, “okay, but if they cannot promise, I’ll just call a plumber and have them do it.” This, of course, would have been foolish because a plumber would have charged far more money. The store was willing to install the new toilet and remove the old one from the premises for $149.99 plus give a one year warranty for labor. If there would be any trouble, I could call for up to a year and have their plumber come back for free and fix it. I was hooked, and they knew it.
The next morning I measured the position of the bolts and it was indeed 12 inches from the wall. This allowed me to take a model off the floor at the home improvement store and not be delayed by special order. The installer showed up the next day with the newest addition to my condo. I figured right away that he was not one to pay attention to detail. It had been specifically written into the order to come to the west side of the building using the street along side it, park in the small lot there and call me from the driver’s cell phone. I would let him know to meet me at the driveway to the lower west garage and proceed to bring the new unit inside.
Instead, the driver called to inform me that he was on the east side of the building. I asked to verify if he could see the swimming pool on the other side of the bushes. He confirmed and I told him to swing around to the west side of the building and I would meet him in the parking lot.
Once we were both there, he first had to bring up some tools along with a water vacuum to remove all possible water out of the old unit after the water connection was turned off. After this action was done, he dislodged the old unit from its mooring and started to go out to my front door with it. I stopped him in his tracks and asked him where he was going. He said he was going to take it down to the truck and bring up the new unit.
I said, “not like that. It has to go inside some type of protection. I cannot have you traipsing a still slightly damp toilet through the floor corridor on top of clean carpeting. You need to cover it up.” He gave me a look of exasperation and went down on the elevator with me to get proper material to protect the condo’s common area. He gave me a look like I was a zealous nut but that’s okay. He’s got his job to do and I got mine.
After the new toilet was put in its place he came to the room I was in and asked me to take a look and test it. He made a point of indicating that he didn’t believe in putting caulk around the bottom because he felt that if there was a leak it would cause erosion damage trapped under and in the base area. I told him to put light caulk around the toilet and I would be responsible for the consequence. The previous toilet had caulk and there were never any leaks.
Before he was ready to walk out of my life, presumably forever, I asked him to take a look at a couple of issues in the other washroom. The irritation there was a hard to pull open and close shower knob. As a courtesy, he showed me how to remove the shower cartridge and re-grease it to make it easier to maneuver.
As I am a nosy person by nature, I asked him if he was employed by the home improvement store. He said that he worked for a plumber who had a contract to provide independent job work upon request. I asked him if his boss had his own customers, too. He said that the majority of the business was their own customers and that it was easy, extra money to rent out his younger plumbers for the independent contractual work that came to them from home improvement stores.
He then told me that his boss usually charged 200 dollars an hour to their own customers. Ay, Chihuahua! I thought about the old routine where Jack Benny wanted to make a long distance call on a public phone. When he asked the operator what the fee per minute was, and she told him, he decided to talk very fast when he was connected to his party. If I had to hire this kid plumber’s boss at 200 dollars an hour, I would have him work very fast whether he did a good job or not.
I could go on about the simple, practical look of the new toilet, how it is quieter, flushes faster and has a smaller footprint. I could contemplate on why I waited so long to get rid of the aggravation of the old unit, of the noise, the constant fixing of the water flow inside the tank. But, I’ll leave it at that. And for those of you who think I’m full of it- not anymore! You, see I have a new toilet.
Follow-up: The other bathroom deserved a new toilet was well. I went back to the same home improvement store but this time used a handyman I knew who did the installation job for $50 less. I learned alot about what it takes to install a new flusher. I guess you can say I graduated from potty training.