Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dead Sea

This week we are going to take a tour through the Middle East. I have always wanted to visit Israel, and the Holy Lands, but have never had the chance to. So, we will take a virtual tour through history of the region. This picture was taken in about 1900, and shows a man relaxing in the Dead Sea. He was part of the American Colony in Jerusalem, an aid organization formed by Horatio Spafford after he had lost his children at sea in a tragic shipwreck. The organization was active there from the late 1800's, and some of the organizations they formed there are still in operation today.

WARNING- This is a long tedious story. Stop reading now. Viewer discretion is advised.

So you have ignored my warnings once again, and have read on. Please don't send ugly emails about my story, as you were warned. OK, I have gotten lots of emails and some comments in the last week asking me how the tractor and/or buffalo for my birthday campaign is going. Well, I am sad to report that it is pretty much hopeless after the flood this week in Mrs. PJM's kitchen. You see, we have one of those 5 stage reverse osmosis water filters in the kitchen. Of course, I would want Mrs. PJM to have only the best tasting water, so when we had the house built we had this deluxe system installed in the kitchen. Mrs. PJM pointed out some time ago that the filters in the system were supposed to be changed out every 6 months, and we had been in the house a year, and had never changed them. She told me to call the plumber and have him come out and swap them out. I told her that we did not need to call the plumber, as I could do anything that a plumber could do. You see, the evil plumber is my nemesis, but that is a story for another day. Anyway, she strongly suggested I call the plumber. I reminded her that I had an advanced degree from Stanford, and that it did not take a rocket scientist to change out the filters, and that since in fact I was a rocket scientist, I would be perfectly equipped to do the job myself. Well, she had to leave for work, but on the way out, she said one more time to call the plumber. After she was gone, I went down to the plumber's shop, and bought the needed filters. I came back, gathered some tools up, and decided to crack into the system. The first thing I noticed was there were about 67 little plastic hoses running every which direction. It took a while just to figure out where the water came into the system, and where it came out. I finally traced through the system back to a valve, and I shut that valve off. I then get my tools and disconnected the first part of the filter system. It was at this point that the water started gushing from the system. I am not talking about a dribble, I mean it was like some sort of fire hydrant. It was like something you have never seen. I quickly tried to reconnect the hose, but found it impossible, as when you brought it into position, the spewing water would just force it back. The water was now pouring out from under the sink, and was running across the tile floor. I realized that the most important thing in my life was to stop the water before it reached the hardwood floors. I made one last desperate attempt at reconnecting the hose without success. I then started trying to retrace those 67 little hoses trying to figure out whether there was some other valve I had missed. The pressure was getting to me, so I abandoned that effort, and remembered that there was a main shut off valve to the house outside. I ran into the garage, but could not find the long rod that is used to turn the valve. I did find an old screw driver and an old jar of marbles that I had lost some time ago. I decided to take the screwdriver, and see if I could turn it off with that. I ran outside, and went over to the the shut off valve. It is down underground. I removed the hole cover and looked down into where the hole was supposed to be. There was no hole there . . . I realized that when I recently had them put dirt in the backyard so Mrs. PJM could have some nice grass in the backyard, the dirt had spilled into the hole where the shut off valve was, and there was no longer a hole there . . . it was filled with dirt. I got down on my knees, and desperately started digging trying to reach the valve. I had gotten 4 or 5 inches of the dirt out when I suddenly started getting a strange burning sensation on my arms. I looked at my hands, and noticed that I had about 450 fire ants on each hand and forearm. Now if you don't have fire ants where you live, you can not fully appreciate the panic. You see, fire ants ate insidious creatures. They like soft dirt, and moist places, so that new dirt in the water valve hole was the perfect habitat for their empire.

Fire ants are very smart. The first one on your hand does not sting you. They wait till the whole battalion has landed, and then they sting all at the same time in a coordinated attack. I immediately stopped digging and started trying to sling and brush the attacking waves of these little devils off my hands and arms. After about 20 seconds of countless bites, I finally got them all off my hands and arms. It was at this point that I realized that this attack had simply been a diversionary tactic. I knew this because all of the sudden I had sharp burning pains on both legs. You see, while I was distracted by the first wave attack on my hands, the second and third waves, comprising the main body of the force, were proceeding up my legs. Now some people say that I can not dance, but let me tell you I was doing a dance that day trying to get those things off my legs. I abandoned the strategy of turning the water off at the main cut off valve. I retreated back to the kitchen. At this point I notice that I am starting to wheeze in a significant manner, and that my throat and chest is tightening up, perhaps related to the 734 fire ant bites. I run up and find a bottle of Benadryl, and chug half the bottle, and then return to the disaster formerly known as our kitchen. There I find daughter on the phone giving a full report to Mrs. PJM that water was gushing out from under the sink, that the kitchen was flooding and that I was running around outside like a crazy man. I suggested to daughter that her efforts might better be expended at this particular time in trying to soak up some of the water before it reached the hardwood floors, and that she could file a complete report with Mrs. PJM at a later date. Well, she swung into action, and immediately started throwing paper towels at the problem. I am not talking about sheets here, she was in the pantry throwing rolls at a time at the rapidly advancing water line. It was at this point that I realized that I should have ordered that Shamwow that I had been wanting. You see, I had seen this ad that if I ordered within the next hour, they would double my order at only the cost of shipping. I had tried to convince Mrs. PJM that we should take advantage of that amazing offer, but she said no, and then the hour window was up. I am pretty sure that one Shamwow would have done as much as the, so far, 14 rolls of paper towels that daughter had thrown at the problem. OK, so I still have the problem that water is gushing out from under the sink. I remembered that there is another cut off valve that the water department has at the edge of the property, but then I remembered that the guy in charge of the water system is still sore at me about another matter related to damage to the street in front of my house, so I could not very well call him and ask him to come down and cut the water off. Plus, I sort of wanted to keep this whole thing in the family. I then decided that there must be some way to cut the water off under the sink, so I went back to that strategy. I got down under the sink again, and with water spraying in my face, tried to trace through the system again. This time I did find this really out of the way valve, and tried that one, and sure enough, it shut the water off. I am pretty much frazzled at this point, and decide that I have to take a break, and regain my composure. I pour myself a big tall glass of ice tea, and go in and turn on Gunsmoke. It was a great episode. It was that one where Festus adopts a bear that had been abandoned when the circus came through town. After watching the show, and having my ice tea, I had regained my composure. I decided that the thing to do was to go back in the kitchen, put the new filters in, and then try and clean up the kitchen. Note that during the crisis stage of this disaster, virtually every piece of absorbent material in the house had been thrown into the kitchen. Ladies and gentlemen, it was a mess in there. So, I go back to the sink to get down to serious plumbing work. I then learned that my nemesis the plumber had sold me the wrong filters ( I am sure, on purpose). Given that his shop was closed at this point, I decided the best thing to do would be to order the filters off amazon, and just do without the kitchen sink for a few days while we waited on the new filters. No problem, Mrs. PJM could just use the sink in the nearby utility room. It was at this point I remembered that the sink in the utility room was not working.

You see, when we had the house built, we had this "builder" build it. What a builder does is take your house plans, pass them around to his buddies. They all say how much their part will cost, and then the builder adds up the numbers, adds 15% for his efforts in adding the numbers up, and that is what your house costs. The builder does not actually build anything, he just adds up the numbers, and sort of is the referee on how to split your life savings up between him and his buddies. Well, as it turned out our house was going to cost a bazillion dollars. Always having a keen eye for the budget, I remembered that my brother had just replaced the sink and faucet in his kitchen with a newer, sleeker model. I noticed on the plumber's part of the quote on our house that the faucet in the utility room was going to cost $159. I felt that the old faucet from my brother's kitchen would work just fine in our utility room. So, I make a deal with my brother where he gives me the old faucet, and that way he would not have the hassle of figuring out how to dispose of it. I could not wait to spring on the plumber the fact that I had my own faucet, and that he could kindly reduce the cost of his part of the bid on building the house by the said $159. Well in the end the plumber did use this faucet as I requested, but when it came time to pay the plumber, the charge was exactly the same . . . he did not lower it by the amount saved by me providing the faucet in the utility room. I confronted this evil man with this fact. He then said that they had had to install an unexpected relief check valve (or something like that) in order to be in code. By some freak coincidence, this valve cost exactly $159. I asked for him to show me said relief check valve, and he said it was in the wall behind the Sheetrock. I am pretty sure he was bluffing, but I was fearful of calling his bluff. You see, if I made him break into the already taped and painted Sheetrock to show me the valve, and it was there, then I would have a major expense to redo the wall. So, he pretty much had me, and I paid the original price, much to my dismay. But I digress. Back to the matter at hand. About three months ago we noticed an odor coming from the utility room. Upon closer inspection, I found a leak coming from that faucet that my brother had given me. It was a slow leak, but it had soaked the bag of dog food, towels, and everything else under the sink. I had shut that sink off to stop the leak. Mrs. PJM had told me a month ago to call the plumber to have him come out and replace the faucet. I told here that I could do anything the plumber could do, and that I would replace the faucet once I was out for summer. Well, I did not get around to it, so now we end up in this situation where both sinks are shut off. We are waterless on the first floor of the house, which was not a good place to be. I realized my plan of waiting for the new filters to come from Amazon would not work. Nope, I was going to have to put the system back together under the kitchen sink with the old filters.

So, I start looking around for the old filters, and I can not find them. I ask daughter if she had seen them, and she said the had thrown them away while I was watching Gunsmoke. I look through the trash, and the trash can is empty. I tell her I need them to put the system back together. She said she had already taken the trash out. Now, I have mentioned before that our small community is not really a "town" so it does not have any city services. As far as trash goes, you are on your own. Now, our neighbors, being organized people, had contracted with a company to have a dumpster service. They have a large dumpster, and every couple of weeks someone comes around and empties it for them. It is a nice size one, so when we moved in I negotiated a deal with the neighbors that I would send them an agreed on amount each month, and for that we would be able to use their dumpster. It was a really great deal, as we don't have to fool with having a dumpster, and just have to drop the trash off there every couple of days. Well, in trying to clean up the kitchen, daughter had taken the paper towels and the filters over and threw in the neighbors dumpster. I realized I had to get the system put back together, and I had no option other than going over and retrieving the discarded components. Well, I get over there and realize that I can not reach the bags from standing on the street. Yep, I had to crawl into the dumpster. As it turns out, there were lots of bags of trash in the dumpster, and I am not sure which one is ours, as they were all black heavy duty Glad trash bags. So, I have to start rummaging through each bag. I learned much more about our neighbors going through the trash that day than I ever wanted to know, I tell you.

It is interesting that we normally do not have much traffic on our street, but on this particular day, I think everyone in town drove by. The first ones I am sure were incidental, but then I think word spread that I was dumpster diving in the neighbors trash bin, and everyone else drove by to get a look. Anyway, Mrs. PJM starts getting calls at work asking if everything is OK at our house, and that if we ever need food, all she has to do is call.

So, I finally find the bag with the discarded filters, and I retrieve them. That was a relief, because that pile of trash really wreaked. I mean, they don't come around very often to empty it, and in hot weather things turn ugly pretty fast is a trash bin. So, I get my parts, and go home. With the parts, I was able to put the system back together. I turn the water back on, and water starts squirting out of every one of those little connections that I had taken off and put back on. I tried tightening the connections, but the water continued to flow. I then cut the valve off again, and retreated to the study. I did a little research on google and found out there is this stuff called "Teflon tape", and that you are supposed to use that on plastic threads before you connect the fitting to it. Since the plumber's shop was closed, I sent daughter to Mr. Butler's little grocery store in the hopes they would have some. In about 5 minutes she returned, Teflon tape in hand. So, I take the system apart, put it back together, this time using the tape on all the threads. I turn the valve on . . . no leaks . . . success at last. We do the best we can to get things cleaned up before Mrs. PJM gets home but she still returns to a big mess.

Now, Mrs. PJM was not very happy, and starts explaining that perhaps if I had called the plumber much of this could have been avoided. She suggested that perhaps I should not have used her new bead spread to help soak of the water in the heat of the crisis. Also, she complains that the water tastes funny, and has an odor. Now, just between you and me, I do detect a little whang reminiscent of the neighbors trash bin, but I feel it is best if we do not share with Mrs. PJM the part about the filters ending up in the neighbors trash bin. Then, there is still the matter of the non-functioning sink in the utility room. She is insisting we call the plumber, but I remain convinced that I can do the job. Well, the bottom line is that Mrs. PJM feels that I am not ready for a tractor. She is concerned that I would injure myself. I tell her that in high school I drove tractors professionally, working for local farmers. I tell her that tractor work is very different than plumbing, and that it was really the plumber's confusing installation job on the system that had caused the whole mess. She is unconvinced, and I feel I probably do not have time to redeem myself for this particular birthday. But there is always next year.


  1. Dear PJM: I would make a comment, but I can't think of one, I can barely see the screen for the tears in my eyes. Some tears are from laughing, and some from wanting to cry. Better luck next year. Maybe you need to put the plumber's number on speed dial.

  2. Funny, Funny, Funny. Reminds of the time my husband was going to replace the handle on the toilet. His wrench slipped and broke the side out of the tank. Water was going everywhere. Instead of turning the water off under the tank, he's running around out side trying to find the turn off valve.

  3. I think every rocket scientist has his own plumbing story. I once replaced a leaky valve system on a shower. When I turned the main back on and watched the meter, I thought to myself for a moment, "Gee, that's funny, I didn't think the water would take that long to pressurize the system." It wasn't until I realized that the muffled screams were coming from my family inside our house were on account of my inadvertent conversion of our former kitchen into a water park.

  4. Nate,
    I had expected you would be one to side with the plumber. Learning that you have flooded the kitchen makes me think that maybe you are not as bad as I have thought all these months. Brothers, Unite Together Against Calling the Plumber.

  5. So, is the picture of the day of you in your kitchen in the midst of the flood?

  6. Gina,
    No the water in the kitchen was deeper.

  7. As Nate said, every rocket scientist has a failed plumbing story. I had mine few weeks ago.

    Not in my house but in the house of a friend, newly divorced poor girl with no man to help her. Obviously, I offered to help. Stupid mistake!!!

    First, I said to myself, I have to isolate the leaking faucet from the incoming water. So, grabbed the lever of the isolation valve and pulled to close. And said valve gets broken in half (terrible matterial, I have to say). And I realise I didn't look before for the general isolation valve before this one. And water comes powerfully out, and the floor is hardwood, not tiles, and I am wet and desperate.

    After about 2 minutes I find the main isolation valve, cut the water, realize is 9 o'clock in the evening with no shop available, that the next day I have no time to come and finish what I started and that it is summer, very hot and no drop of water in the apartment due to closed main valve.

    And the poor girl is alone, newly divorced and with no man to handle situations like this :)

    (well, I saved my honour next day by beautifully fixing the problem, teflon tape included :) )

    To my shame, I have to say I am a turbine commissioning and installation engineer, I have most of the time a screwdriver or a wrench in my hand and I am supposed to be better fitted for such jobs than a school teacher. Well.... I am not.

  8. Three words - this is hysterical!

    Thanks for the laugh and the mental pictures...

    ~Mad(elyn) in Alabama

  9. Those that can do. Those that can't teach.

  10. Dear PJM: Your story was great, my sister just had a big mess to contend with too, she had company come and visit and someone had cracked the toilet tank. They left her house and didn't tell her and she had 4000 gallons of water going through her house and it was a upstairs bathroom so you can imagine the water flowing. She was out watering her plants outside on the porch and noticed water comming out of the walls. She still has to call the insurance man........ She was sick to see that mess.

  11. The advantage of being outdoors riding on a tractor is you cannot be inside the house springing water leaks.

    Mrs. PJM should see this as an advantage and agree to your tractor.

    Now… go call the plumber.

  12. Thanks for the burst of hystertics!

    My darling husband, the Squire of Joppatowne, managed to break BOTH kitchen faucets on Thanksgiving morning. Don't ask. Turning on the spigots caused a geyser that reached the ceiling (I kid you not; I'll show you the water spots?) so we had to put coffee mugs over each handle.

    Fortunately, the dishwasher still worked, but we had to get running water from the bathroom.

    My mom always said, whatever happened to her, please to NOT bury her at sea. She's seen enough water in her lifetime, thank you.

  13. Thanks for such hilarious entertainment. (only to us 'onlookers', I'm sure). We are entering out 4th week of daily rain (western Wyoming) and outdoor activities are limited until the mud dries. Your blog is a cherished diversion from counting knotholes on the walls. My deepest sympathies are with you, but I agree with Mrs PJM.

  14. Oh PJM you should make a movie... Perfect Charlie Chapman movie featuring PJM. So sorry you were eaten alive by ants though. We have fire ants and that's no picnic.

    I too think that tractors and plumbing are two very differnt critters. Tractors are no brainers.Plumbing is always out to get you.

    You need to call a plumber. Maybe if you listened to Mrs PJM more she would reward you with your tractor?? However I do see her concern.

    Thanks for the gut laugh!!

    ;) S

  15. Oh, so funny. What a time you had! Oh those ants!

    I'm reminded of a time years ago when I decided to take off a kitchen sink faucet and then could not put it back together. And there it was when my husband returned from work. :-)

    You're gonna have to really be a "good boy" to get that tractor next year. LOL

  16. My brother, the plumber, would love this story. However he is busy installing an indoor pool in his million dollar home.

  17. I'm not a rocket scientist, but I had a similar episode with gushing water. I intended to replace some seals in my kitchen faucet. I knew about the valve under the sink, but I did not know that it did not work properly. I ended up with hot water spraying all over the kitchen. I was able to get the valve stem parts back in the faucet body somehow. And didn't suffer much more than a first-degree burn on my hand and a mess to clean up.

    Better luck next year!

  18. PJM,

    I believe this is your best story yet. We, too, have those dreaded fire ants and they do show up at the worst times. I am surprised that only half a bottle of benedryl actually got you to where you could think enough to enjoy Marshall Dillon (great episode incidentally) and Festus.

    In retrospect, you are in great peril because you must reailze that Mrs PJM now has the famous Automatic-No card she can use to dash your hopes and dreams for years (yes, years!) to come. I once a long time ago fell off a ladder while cutting a limb from a tree and to this day I am told, never to "crawl on that ladder or I will fall and be dead". You need to quickly find a project that 1.she sees as difficult, 2.Requires no help from daughter because she will just tell Mother and 3. is a project that you can actually do. Do not attempt plumbing for the recovery project and if it is electrical in any form, talk to an electrician first. Water flooding and elecrical shorts are really separate problems.

    Seriously, we all enjoyed your sharing here. Oh yes, anonymous ~ 10 AM, has obviously never taught high school before. Keep it coming.


  19. MBadragan,
    Why the heck would she need a man to help her? Obviously, it didn't do her much good...

  20. DAG,
    I am sure that 6 months after the nuclear holocost there will be only cock roaches and plumbers left living. After 12 months, only the plumbers will remain. (Just Kidding)

    Al, you have proposed an intriuging proposition. Identifying a hard job, and doing it successfully. Hmmmmm . . . just have to figure out such a project. The house is new, so not too much in need of doing on the house. How about if I build a pond in the backyard? That would require electrical and plumbing skills, plus if something goes wrong, nothing gets damaged.

  21. Ross_from _MaineJune 14, 2009 at 8:20 PM


    This was priceless. And Nate was right, I'm sure we can all relate.

    I had a similar story when I moved in to my house years ago and hooked up a new laundry sink in my basement. Why bother using copper and solder when they have rigid PVC and you can glue it? I assembled it and waited the requisite time and pressurized the line. It held for all of 10 seconds before a fitting blew off and the stream of water hit a very hot halogen work light causing it to implode.

    I went back to using copper and solder.

    BTW, I notice the Google ads on the blog are for kitchen leaks, plumbers, and water shut off valves. I was hoping for tractors and buffalo, instead.

    This may be an sign....

  22. Ross,
    I find it interesting that almost everyone had their own plumbing horror story. I thought it was just me, but I guess others have had the nightmare.

  23. I also have a plumbing horror story but will save it for another day. Mine is a Fire Ant story.

    Years ago I moved from Michigan to Florida, and being from the Great White North, had never heard of Fire Ants. That changed one night when, being somewhat short of funds, I decided sleeping under the stars would be rewarding. It sure was. First I kicked this big sand mound flat... then I spread my sleeping bag on the ground... drank a beer... crawled in and was comfortable as can be for about two mintues when I started to get this creepy feeling that there was something crawling on me. Well, when I pulled my arm out and looked, it was totally covered with ants so I swiped them away, they sent the word that the time had come to bite, and I discovered it was not only my arm that was covered. I was, in fact, bitten in places you don't want to hear about as well as every place else. 739 bites is nothing compared to what I received that night.

    That was almost 30 years ago and I'm glad to say that in all that, despite winning the initial battle, all the one's since have gone against those blasted ants.

  24. PJM,

    There are some really nice pond kits that can be installed in the ground that looh like the the real thing. The only trick is to connect it to a water source that can maintain the proper water level in view of the high evaporation rate for your area. The pump should be buried to kill the sound, but I am sure you can do these things.

    Sounds like a probable winner. I can see the fish swimming lazily as you and the mrs. sit sipping cool drinks on a late after noon. Heck, I may go put one in here!

  25. @Anonymous: Well, I don't want to imagine what could happen if she tried the stunt by herself (knowing the girl). On the other hand, I successfully did the plumbing of my apartment myself. Thought I could repeat the experience. Seems it was too high an expectation.

    But I can assure you the sink and faucet work properly now, no leak. And I don't expect one for the next 5-10 years considering the work done.

  26. All my sympathies to Mrs. PJM. I have been there.
    Wasn't there a cutoff just before the filter system? It's not that you didn't call the plumber, but why didn't you turn off the water before starting the job?
    My husband, the manufacturing engineer and tool designer was generally very handy with tools. He was a superb auto mechanic. (Former regional drag racing champ with his Chevelle.) He also loved his old Massey Ferguson tractor. But he believed certain precautions were not necessary. Like the time he installed a new dining room light fixture and refused to turn off the electricity because then he would have to reset the digital clocks. I offered to reset the clocks. He insisted it was OK. I said, "My father, who was an shipyard electrician during WW2, told me to always turn off the juice when working with electricity." He insisted there would be no juice because the switch was off. I could have walked out and turned off the breaker myself, but decided it would be more fun to let him prove that he was right. He was ZZZZZapped, not 110, but quite a jolt.
    Then there was the time he replaced the garbage disposal. He placed a dishpan under the old unit, pulled it off and dirty water cascaded into the dishpan. I assumed he would hand the dishpan to me to discard, but he poured it into the kitchen sink! He replaced the dishpan fast enough to catch half the water. Then he repeated the process! By then we were laughing so hard he was wiping tears. He probably had to watch some "Victory at Sea" episodes to recover.
    I also remember selling a Bridgport mill to a rocket scientist friend, who took it home on a rainy day. Before he was a rocket scientist, he was a machinist. He set it up that evening, plugged it in, noticed some wet spots on the base, leaned on the table and bent over to wipe them off and got a terrible shock in the chest.
    These don't compare to the PJM's flood of troubles, but illustrate the problem that can occur when engineers tackle everyday jobs.

  27. FYI,
    Relief valves, check valves, any valve, is never installed within a wall. If they have to function, they would ruin the wall. If it was a vacuum break valve, that would not be within the wall either. An no valve that would be used in a home would cost $159. More like $10 at the most. So, if I were you I would report the crooks to the BBB and send them a bill for the $159 they owe you.

  28. PJM:

    That's a terrible, but funny story. It's a good thing you didn't get or have a toxic reaction from the ant bites!!

    We have a really NICE plumber, who doesn't charge too much. At Easter, my husband ground up a meat thermometer in the garbage disposal and jammed it. Of course, this was all somehow MY fault, even though I wasn't even in the room at the time.

    Anyway, Joe (the plumber) only charged me $40 to get the broken glass and twisted metal out of the Insinkerator.

    And . . .another time my "talented" husband tried to replace a pull-chain ceiling light fixture in a closet. But . . . he forgot to turn off the power before he stuck a screwdriver into the socket. Needless to say, there were sparks and his hair got a lot more gray!!

    Good thing I have a big insurance policy on him!!!

    Maybe if you had a tractor, you would have been too busy playing outside to mess with the sink!!

  29. This story is a gem. I couldn't eat my lunch as I was laughing so much.
    Hard luck about the tractor but I have my fingers crossed for your next Birthday.

  30. I think Smart Girl has an excellent point about the tractor -you might have been too busy messing up something outdoors to mess up indoors.


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