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Oy, whotta day. Or how I got to look cool, calm, savvy, and prepared, all with minimal effort

Yesterday was … a day. It was a Monday that fell on a Tuesday and a Friday the 13th that fell on the 29th. Yeah, that kind.

Or maybe it wasn’t really so bad but my hermitty, deadlining writer self just doesn’t deal well with the particular type of chaos that involves people in and out of the house all day, asking questions, wanting to chat, making alarming saw, hammer, and cuss noises, and hauling mounds of deconstruction rubble through my living room.

All for one little ex-bathroom. But bathrooms are complicated, and therein lies where I got to look cool, calm, collected and smart without even trying.

Mid-afternoon, just when things seemed to be calming down, the guy gutting the bathroom went under the house to see if water pipes were still connected before moving the tub. Most of the pipes in that room weren’t (the room hasn’t been used in years), so I wasn’t surprised when he came to the front door a moment later and said, “There’s no pipe connected any more.”

I said, “No problem,” and he said, “No, you don’t understand. There is no pipe. There was a pipe and there was water running through it, but it just … disintegrated. It came apart in my hands! And now there’s water going all over the place!”

This guy is good at what he does, but tends to be defensive. He had already run a Sawz-All through a live electric wire about an hour earlier and not told me about it, so I think he was expecting to be in Big Trouble. The look on his face was TEOTWAWKI.

But stuff happens on construction sites and a plumber had previously Pronounced Dire Warnings about the ancient galvanized pipes under the house. So I just said, “Oh. Well, then. Here’s the meter key” (an uncommon tool I got to pull oh-so-coolly from behind a convenient door, as if every woman naturally keeps such things on hand). “You shut the water off while I call a plumber.” (Typical of older houses, this place has no master shut-off valve, in case you’re wondering why nobody just went and turned a handle.)

Once that was done, knowing that none of the local plumbers were likely to show up in the next few days, he asked, “Will you be okay without your water?”

Will I be okay. Ha. Will I be okay. “Of course. I’ve got at least a week’s supply on hand, and if I need running water, I’ll just go out and turn the meter back on for a few minutes then shut it off again.”

Now you and I know that this is just what people like us do. I’m not trying to sound like I’m hot stuff or anything. I know I’m not hot stuff.

But apparently I made an impression on him. Before he left he told me that I reminded him of some woman he knew in Alaska who split her own firewood and slaughtered her own hogs or whatever. (Baloney; if I were like that I’d be sawing through my own wiring and breaking my own plumbing pipes.) Then he thanked me for “understanding what happens on construction sites instead of going, ‘Eeeeeek! Eeeeek! Oh-no-panic!'”

The latter is a compliment I’ll accept, even though I know full well it has more to do with being of silver-haired age, having seen more than a few construction oopsies, and stocking a small number of supplies.

Still, having that meter key right behind the door did make me feel pretty damn slick. πŸ™‚


  1. naturegirl
    naturegirl October 30, 2013 11:48 am

    Yea! Score one for the smart woman list. Yes, having a meter key does make you both slick and hot stuff. Enjoy it, since these moments don’t always come often enough, LOL.

  2. ILTim
    ILTim October 30, 2013 11:54 am

    Your ‘uncommon tool’ link doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.

  3. EN
    EN October 30, 2013 12:00 pm

    Nice Job. It’s no small thing to be able to handle yourself in a small crisis. My experience is that those who panic during the little stuff (at one time this was mostly based on gender but we’re living in 21st century America where a lot of men will also panic, weep, require counseling and need to call someone to turn the #*@%ing water off) you’ll not do better when something serious happens. You did well.

  4. Claire
    Claire October 30, 2013 12:17 pm

    ILTim — OOPS! Fixed now!

    naturegirl and EN — Thanks for the nice strokes. It did feel nifty even though it was no big thing. Probably a good point, though, that being cool and prepared through the small things is good practice for the big things.

    Scary that even a lot of 21st-century guys might not know how to turn off water or gas in an emergency.

  5. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty October 30, 2013 12:28 pm

    “Scary, though, that even a lot of 21st-century guys might not know how to turn off water or gas in an emergency.”

    Indeed… There is a supposed shut off valve on the upstairs toilet, but I’ve never managed to get it to move a hair. At least five strong, studly and hand – build anything – gentlemen have looked at it and tried to shut it off, with no luck. I’ve been terrified to allow anyone to use a wrench on it, fearing it would break and then I’d be forced to hire a plumber. Thank goodness for the whole house shut off valve in the basement. I know how to turn that off.

    But the other day I got a notion, and sprayed the valve with CLP – break free. Guess what? It works now. πŸ™‚

    I’ve lived alone most of my life, and seldom had money to hire stuff done, so I’ve learned how to take care of lots of things. Sometimes, the obvious escapes us, however.

    But heck yes, the key was a master stroke. I’ll bet he’s gone all over town talking about this really smart lady. … oh oh… oops?

  6. Joel
    Joel October 30, 2013 1:15 pm

    Very cool on the meter key. Not a tool you’ll find behind the average kitchen door. And the Incredible Disappearing Iron Pipe took me back to incidents in my own first old house – the first such incident sent me to the hardware store to buy a meter key, because incredibly there was no way in the whole damned house to turn off the water. πŸ™‚

  7. naturegirl
    naturegirl October 30, 2013 1:25 pm

    Oh, awesome idea Mama, thanks for that tip. WD40 doesn’t always do the job, now I have an alternative to work with.

    Claire, you’d be amazed at how many guys/people in general have no clue how to do stuff like that. And they do seem to be the younger people, so I pity future generations. Unless a disaster teaches them real quick, the hard way.

    I like diy/construction stuff. But like others, I had to learn how to do it myself because of money and because of the ridiculous work habits/attitudes in the industry. So thanks to them I learned how to take care of things myself.

    Just for the safety factor, every homeowner should know how to at least turn off the gas, electricity and water manually at their house. Waiting for someone to throw a switch or come and do it is a dangerous mistake. I have noticed on some of the newer homes built they like to make that harder for people to do themselves. Another example of being nannied.

  8. Matt, another
    Matt, another October 30, 2013 2:21 pm

    I learned how to shut off gas and water in an emergency by generally causing the emergency in the first place. I also learned to never take someone else’s word as to whether or not they turned off the water/gas. A large crescent wrench with heavy screw driver makes a reasonable replacement for the meter key. My meter key now resides inside the door to my furnace room. It also is keyed for gas valves.

  9. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal October 30, 2013 2:34 pm

    I have to go over to my parents when I need a meter key. Which I actually just used about 2 weeks ago while “fixing” a leaking faucet or two. Yeah, one leaks worse now than before I “fixed” it.

  10. LarryA
    LarryA October 30, 2013 3:28 pm

    Don’t have a meter key, but I do have a cutoff valve at the meter. Don’t have gas. Don’t like gas. Electricity can bite seriously if you mess with it, but gas will come looking for you.

    Speaking of bites. Back when I was in college and living in a dorm I hung a gooseneck lamp over my desk. It was high enough so I didn’t hit it getting up, and therefore out of reach unless I stood up. So I decided to add a roll switch to the cord, where I could reach it seated.

    I unplugged the lamp from the outlet, which was on the other side of he room. (This was far enough back that the lamp was the ONLY thing electric on my desk.) Then I got everything ready. Just before I cut the cord, to be extra safe, I asked my roommate if the lamp was unplugged.

    “Yes,” he said, and plugged it in for me.


  11. naturegirl
    naturegirl October 30, 2013 4:51 pm

    Was just vaguely mentioning this post to a construction dude who was in line at the post office. He made a great point about this story: “She knew what it was called? The actual name?” *sigh* – so give yourself extra credit, Claire…I guess it’s not just good to know how to use it, apparently it’s more impressive to actually know the right name for a tool………LOL…

  12. jesse in DC
    jesse in DC October 30, 2013 6:36 pm

    To the “thinking” people, this is just normal behavior. Of couse I have a meter key..Like of course I am breathing air..Nowadays, most people don’t think so much..No doubt he went away impressed. I am a mechanic in my 50s, and most folks don’t have a great opinion of the practicioners of my trade. I quoted some Kipling or Mark Twain to a customer years back, and he still reminds me of it every time I run in to him. Fun to shock people that no longer expect much of the people they interact with.

  13. Terry
    Terry October 30, 2013 7:32 pm

    Good job Claire, and everyone else who is a) prepared and b) calm.

    I work in a hardware store, and am constantly assuring people they can do their own repairs. It’s a rush when they come back triumphant!

    Yikes! on the lamp being plugged back in . . . .

  14. LarryA
    LarryA October 30, 2013 8:11 pm

    My dikes had insulated handles, so it was mainly a spark and a flash of copper plating on the blades. I didn’t quite have to change my shorts.

  15. Karen
    Karen October 31, 2013 4:53 am

    You go Claire! Funny how what most of us would consider to be simple common sense and normal demeanor are now considered to be extraordinary. I hope the plumber can get to you and resolve the problem quickly.

  16. Claire
    Claire October 31, 2013 7:03 am

    Karen — Sad commentary on us, isn’t it? As to the plumber … I was able to get one there in about 26 hours. (It’s a MIRACLE!) Less surprisingly, when he “fixed” the broken pipe he also *&^^%$##@! cut off all water to my one functioning bathroom. Which I didn’t discover until after he left last night. And which I’m mind-boggled he didn’t see. How on earth … ? I’m just stunned by the sheer, bloody incompetence.

    naturegirl — OMG, that’s funny. Well, don’t tell your construction friend that when I originally bought my meter key at a local hardware store, I told the clerk I was looking for “one of those water-shutoff thingies.” I’d hate to loose my sterling reputation, however undeserved it may be.

  17. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit
    The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit October 31, 2013 7:34 am

    By way of variety here, I’m going to picture Claire going “eeeeek, eeeeeek.”

    True, it ain’t gonna happen.

    But I’m going to picture it anyway. πŸ˜‰

  18. MS Jordan
    MS Jordan October 31, 2013 9:21 am


  19. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau October 31, 2013 10:28 am

    [There is a supposed shut off valve on the upstairs toilet, but I’ve never managed to get it to move a hair.]

    You’d be surprised how often this is the case. Local shutoffs are code-driven nonsense. The extra fittings required to implement them are themselves leakers, more often than not. I have at times just eliminated the damn things and made sure the house shutoff was working. Although since toilets are cranky contraptions I usually make an exception for their local shutoff. Anyway some newer ones have a nylon shaft that is not frozen by minerals. There are definitely better and worse kinds of shutoffs.

    [ Yeah, one leaks worse now than before I β€œfixed” it.]

    Probably compression fittings. Infernal things that never should have seen the light of day. Just do it over again.

    One gets to learn plumbing pretty well running a guest ranch with 15 cabins. I once had to fix 16 freeze breaks under a single cabin.

    People on wells need to know how to shut off the well pump, and it should be done whenever leaving the home for any period of time. Don’t ask me how I know…

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the younger ones. They will learn just the same way we did, by surviving disasters.

  20. Karen
    Karen October 31, 2013 10:58 am

    “when I originally bought my meter key at a local hardware store, I told the clerk I was looking for β€œone of those water-shutoff thingies.”
    Sort of like me going in saying “my husband sent me with a list”. Clerks do everything but run screaming…..

  21. naturegirl
    naturegirl October 31, 2013 12:25 pm

    LOL Claire, do not be embarrassed – the first time I encountered one I called it a “Water T shaped metal thingy”……we all gotta start somewhere heh…….

    Sorry to hear about the bathroom water situation…..I’m not surprised, but still – it’s maddening when stuff like that happens…..If we had to check everyone’s work once they were finished we’d just do it ourselves in the first place, right?……

  22. rusty
    rusty October 31, 2013 2:49 pm

    Hi Claire,

    I got bored in my ’30’s and took 2 night school classes in a county trade school.
    Plumbing then Electric !
    2 days a week, took one at a time and the teachers were professional too! The best subjects I took!

  23. Roberta X
    Roberta X November 1, 2013 5:22 am

    I don’t think they even sell meter keys around here — the only non Water Co. person I know who had one had made it in a welding-for-art class and filed it to fit.

    Not to get all little-old-lady, but if you shut off your water for very long, it’s best to turn off the water heater, too. They get unhappy if they’re on and empty.

    (Also, there’s a line of press-together water fittings for copper, PEX and CPVC, first made as “Sharkbite.” Very easy and fast, though they cost more. It has made it possible for me to do some small projects by myself and not having to pay a plumber more than made up for the materials cost. But it needs adapters to threaded pipe.)

  24. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau November 1, 2013 8:38 am

    Sharkbites don’t seem to tolerate turning the pressure on and off very well. I’ve had one let loose when applying pressure after being shut off for the winter. Might be OK with constant pressure though. They make more sense in accessible areas, maybe not so much enclosed in walls.

    You’d be surprised how easy it is to solder copper pipe. Just steel wool the oxidation off the pipe and put plenty of flux on it. You can buy a few fittings for cheap, and practice before actually working on your plumbing. Use a heat shield, like an old license plate, to avoid burning your house down!

    Drain pipes tend to be a bit more fussy as water does not run uphill, heh.

    There are lots of how-to books out there. Anyone doing electrical should get one of these:
    They have been around forever and usually can be found in hardware stores.

    My general philosophy on working on stuff like this is to take the risk and try it myself. Usually the cost, even with some learning mistakes thrown in, is still less than it would cost to have somebody else do it; and when you are done you have another skill.

  25. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau November 1, 2013 8:44 am

    Oh, you can also rent a pex compression tool and use pex pipe which is even easier than soldering. Again, buy a few fitting and practice first, just to build confidence.

  26. naturegirl
    naturegirl November 1, 2013 7:35 pm

    It is easy to solder copper pipe. I was surprised at how well it turned out, too.

    And it’s addicting to any artistic types, because it’s so easy…the temptation to experiment is mesmerizing….

  27. Claire
    Claire November 2, 2013 4:53 am

    LOL, naturegirl — I’m trying to picture experimental, artistic plumbing pipes. It’s … interesting.

    I’m also seriously feeling I’m loosing what little DIY cred I had. πŸ™

    I’ll make it up later, though, ’cause although I don’t do plumbing (esp the old galvanized type that’s falling apart) or electrical, I’m the drywall queen. πŸ™‚ And this time will be doing some slightly heavier carpentry than I’ve tackled in the past.

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