Self Help 13

How To Fix A Shower

This newsletter is my process of writing a self-help book, tentatively titled How To Make Money: Financial Advice For Poets.

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Yesterday I had to fix a bed that fell apart. It’s an old bed, extremely heavy, and used to belong to the Frito-lay estate. There are coke mirrors on the side.

I wedged myself under the bed, joining the pieces back together. “This is a two person job,” I thought. But I was the only one there.

I noticed that the closet door had fallen off. And there was a mirror that had fallen and broke at the base.

I made the mirror into a coffee table top and told myself I would glue the bottom later, then I could hang it on the wall again. The closet door was simply beyond me.

I went to another property I manage. The cleaning woman explained that the water wouldn’t turn off in the bathtub.

I removed the handle, first with a flathead to reveal the screw, then a Phillips to remove the handle. Inside the handle is the faucet cartridge. You need a one inch wrench to remove the cartridge but you have to turn the water off first. I didn’t know either of these things but they are things you can figure out. The way I figure things out is the hard way. If you remove the cartridge without turning the water off it will blast water out of the wall. Most worrisome is the water blasting inside the wall with nothing to stop it. So if the water is really hot and you realize you’ve made a mistake you might have to fit the old cartridge back on while getting scalded, before searching for the water main to turn off water for the entire building.

Once you replace the cartridge (following a trip to the hardware store for a new cartridge and a one inch wrench) there is a piece that is a kind of a nut that goes between the cartridge and the handle. You have to make sure that is in place, otherwise the handle will still spin. The way to figure out how the nut goes is to take apart the other faucet handle. In fact, maybe it was just that little piece that had come loose and you didn’t need to replace the whole cartridge. Once you’ve finished you’ll never know.

There was a moment, at the first property, when I was on my back like Gregor Samsa, the bed frame lifted above me on my bug like feet, when I felt an extraordinary rage. I wanted to destroy everything. I finished up there and continued my day

But I did have a thought at the time that I was a poet, and poets shouldn’t be fixing sinks. It’s not true of course. Nobody has more time to fix a sink than a poet. Every poet I’ve ever met assembled their own bookshelves. It just wasn’t so long ago that I made my living as a writer/editor/teacher, and it all seemed a far cry.

Then I realized the dishonesty I was pouring into my own feelings, as if they were simple things just waiting for an explanation. It was true I had been falsely accused of rape but that was years ago. It was also true that the weather was changing; it was getting warm again. I was covered in sweat, hammering the boards together. I took my shirt off and stood in the open door staring down at the street.

I’m not good at fixing things, but I’m much better at fixing things than I’ve ever given myself credit for.

When the faucet was fixed I walked out of the bathroom with my arms raised. The older cleaning lady had come by and was speaking with the others who were finishing the laundry. She’d just had a baby a month ago, spent 30 hours in labor, and was taking time off.

“You’re never coming back,” I said when she showed me the baby (he was enormous with a gentle smile and you could just tell that he wasn’t going to give her any problems after what he put her through initially).

“I will be back,” she said. “And I will bring the baby. You can also call me when you’re lonely.”

These are the jokes we tell each other.

A plumber can change a faucet cartridge for not very much money, and they will know to turn off the water and will already own all the necessary tools. At the same time, I don’t think anyone has ever regretted spending money on a wrench.

In closing: Remember, the bed is only there to keep the mattress off the floor. Wood glue is the best glue. You already know everything you need to fix a faucet.



p.s. Subscriptions to the Self Help newsletter are totally free and the letters will always be free. Paid subscribers can have consulting on any of the topics covered, though keep in mind this is an advice column written by a person who has consistently made bad decisions.

I will also be putting up extra content soon for paid subscribers but I won’t email it I don’t think. I’ll just include some links.