That is how it started.
A moment later, my wife stood in front of the chair where I was reading and remained there until I looked up.
“A drop of water hit me on the head,” she said.
“Gosh hon, that’s too bad,” I said and went back to my book. She waited until I looked up again.
“It came from the ceiling,” she said.
“Oh,” I said.
She showed me where she was standing when the drop hit her on the head and I looked around for water stains but didn’t see anything.
“It is probably just condensation,” I said, lying to both myself and her.
This time it hit me on the head.
Looking up, I focused my x-ray vision on the spot from where the water came and there above me in all its splendor – was the toilet. Again lying to both myself and her, I said, “It is probably just the wax ring seal. It will cost a couple of bucks and won’t take more than an hour to repair.”
“Let’s call a plumber.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I will show you why,” she said. Curling an index finger, she beckoned me to follow her down the hall to the scene of my last home repair project, the second bedroom.
“Open the door,” she said.
I poked a finger through the hole where the doorknob should be and using it like a hook, pulled open the door.
“What?” I asked.
“When did we last have a door-knob there?”
I had to think about that one. “Five years ago, give or take a year,” I guessed.
“Seven,” she said, “call a plumber.”
I don’t know why I never finished that project. It was like running an entire marathon only to give up on the last step. But projects, and sometimes marathons, are like that. We gather pain and baggage with each step until it seems that the burden of carrying them becomes overwhelming. It is as if the last step becomes the hardest because it bears the weight of every step behind it.
We called the plumber and he rocked the toilet back and forth then crawled around on the bathroom floor, poking at the linoleum with a sharp screw driver. “Let’s go sit down,” he said when he was done, “I have bad news for you.”
Once we were seated, he explained how the leaky seal had rotted the floor boards and the joists below them. He estimated the cost of repair to be north of five thousand dollars.
After he left, I added up the cost of materials and told my wife that I could do it for under a thousand.
“Prove to me you can finish a job by putting a knob on the second bedroom door, ” she said, “If you can accomplish that then you can start on the bathroom.”
It took me fifteen minutes to mount the knob (actually, it took me seven years and fifteen minutes) and an hour later I had ripped up the toilet, tore up the tub and pried loose all the rotted boards in the bathroom. Then things slowed down a bit, quite a bit.
You see, all projects, from launching an astronaut to the moon to installing a knob on the second bedroom door, can be divided into three distinct phases:
Phase I: Illumination. This is where the brilliant idea is born. It is when the light bulb comes on and everything seems possible.
Phase II: Actualization. This is when you realize that your idea was not that brilliant and each alternative idea turns out to be progressively less brilliant. It is when the seemingly simple becomes utterly impossible.
Phase III: Contrition: This is when you throw the hammer across the bathroom and shout, “Why didn’t we hire the plumber? Was five grand really all that much?”
The problem with do it yourself projects is that most people wallow forever in Phase III without having spent much time in Phase II.
But not this project.
After only a few months of domestic squabbles and way too much completely unnecessary nagging… the bathroom was usable and looking not all that bad – except for one tiny detail, the door lacked a knob — and still does.