Michael Campbell

Story Time.

Feeling Flushed

by | Aug 19, 2009 | Uncategorized

I got my water bill this week. My usage was five times higher than last year. It’s the price I pay for not fixing the leaking toilet. At about $29, it’s a fair price.

I know exactly how to fix a toilet. I know what’s involved, because I’ve done it before. That’s why I put it off.

The first time I liberated a toilet from the floor was when I remodeled the former Musette Bar. It had the kind of bathrooms you’d expect in a 70-year-old pub. I didn’t want to stand in the bathroom, much less crawl down on the floor with a wrench, cheek to cheek with the toilet, looking up from the bottom to remove the tank.

If you can find the floor bolts under the filth, they will be rusted on. Urine is corrosive.

It amazes me that a man can hit a tiny golf ball with a skinny club and knock it into a four-inch hole three hundred yards away, but he can’t hit a toilet bowl from thirty inches.

It’s hard to drain all the water out of the tank and bowl before you remove them. Inevitably they splash. Yes, it’s just water, the same water that comes out of the sink. But once it’s been in the bowl, it’s toilet water, and now it’s running into your shoe. You try to get your mind onto more palatable things, but every step reminds you of the task at hand.

The toilet peels away easily from the floor. The gooey connection that once existed between bowl and sewer pipe looks exactly like you’d expect. But it’s not what you think. The gummy charcoal-colored goo is wax, a once amber-colored seal. It’s fake shit, really, as real-looking as the fake vomit in the novelty store, except it’s made of wax. It is Madame Tussaud’s mixed with Spencer Gifts.

It scrapes off easily with a putty knife. Nothing could look more repugnant, but it doesn’t stink. Of all the vile places to find yourself in the world, the connection between toilet and floor doesn’t smell. Good news, but you’re not smiling.

Jimmy lived in a humble apartment above the bar. A one-eyed Marine veteran and retired union bricklayer, Jimmy’s job was to defend his stool at the R Bar from 3pm until close. He didn’t walk well sober. Weaving home late one night, he managed to conquer the long, pulsing stairway, making it to the bathroom just in time to relieve himself, at which point he got the spins. The small bathroom became a white tile carousel. He grabbed the metal medicine cabinet for balance. It came loose from the wall, smashing open the toilet tank on the way down.

At 6am the next morning, his neighbor George checked on him to see why the water was running. He found Jimmy asleep on the wet floor, medicine cabinet still clutched to his chest. The toilet, unable to fill a tank that had no front, was now raining onto the bar below. The new stage I had finished the day before was curled up like a potato chip.

There is an unpleasant intimacy in removing the toilet of someone you know. At least by now I was getting faster at it.

Reattaching a toilet is a snap. Set the new wax seal, drop the bowl on top, screw it down with fresh, shiny new bolts, attach the tank on top, screw on the water connections, turn the water on, scream because water is flying everywhere, shut the water back off, tighten the connections, and—voilà!—you’re done. Okay, not voilà. Voilà is not a toilet word.

After replacing a toilet, you can’t wash your hands enough. I took a whole shower, scrubbing with an abrasive, long handled brush because I didn’t want to touch myself. Some sweet-smelling lotion afterwards, nice white clothes. Fresh, garden tomato bruschetta, a glass of red wine. A spirited discussion of live theatre. Anything to reel me back to civilization.

I sat on the veranda in the candlelight holding my wine, unable to relax because every droning cricket and cicada sounds just like a leaking toilet.


  1. Peter Cales

    My dad is a plumber, and while I was growing up I helped him fix toilets, sinks, bathtubs, etc., and I can clearly imagine the steps you're describing. You should tackle the process of removing a cast iron bathtub sometimes – quite an adventure. Congrats on the book coming out! – Peter –

  2. michaelbcampbell

    Peter, as a kid I used to have a claw-foot iron tub in my bedroom. I filled it with pillows. Dad had remodeled the bathroom and was afraid to take the old tub down the long, narrow stairway. If we lost control of it, it would have gone through the wall out into the yard.

  3. YourFireAnt

    When I was a kid we had a clawfoot tub in our second garage with a worm farm in it [my 3 brothers went fishing a lot]. I must say, I like the idea of a bathtub in a bedroom better.



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