"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rage Against The Washing Machine

If you ever move next door to me and need some help with an around-the-home project, you’ll be better served by asking your neighbor on the other side. I am incompetent when it comes to tools and anything smacking of fix-it. Some folks quaintly refer to the husband's "honey-do" list; mine is a "honey, for God's sake please don't" list.

  • Carpentry? I’ll cut the boards too short and get splinters.
  • Plumbing? Have plenty of towels on hand to sop up the flowing water.
  • Car repair? Make sure you’ve got a bus schedule handy.
  • Painting? As long as you’re not fussy about color, coverage or completion – I’m your guy. But I hate to paint, so there's that.

Buying our home up at the lake last year has provided me with multiple opportunities to display my general contracting incompetence. We’ve had tons of projects to complete and I’ve done an exemplary job at none of them. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, and I’m reaching for marginal. Most recently I attempted to repair our washing machine. SPOILER ALERT: there are puddles involved.

Our pipes froze and burst this winter. That’s another long story. Actually, it isn’t: our pipes froze and burst this winter -- The End. That led to damage in the water lines, the heat registers, the toilet, the kitchen sink and the washing machine. We had a plumber come in who handled the first four but for reasons unknown doesn’t *do* washing machine repair. He did, however, remove the lid to take a look-see and let me know the inlet valve was cracked. For those of you unfamiliar with washing machine construction, that’s the part into which you screw the hoses from the water supply. There are electrical connections so the machine knows if you’ve requested cold, hot or warm water for the wash. I went to the local appliance store in our small Maine town with the model and serial numbers for our washer, and the nice man behind the counter scrounged up the appropriately-sized replacement. I asked if I could arrange a service visit to get it installed… He laughed derisively and baited me by saying, “It’s an easy job! You can do it yourself!” Before I could contradict him he pulled up a diagram of our washer on his computer, one of those pictures with all the parts exploded (how apt) into three dimensions so you can see what goes where. He pointed out the valve and said I just needed to “angle it” to get the old one out and new one in. Two screws held it in place, and one of them was “blind”. This meant the screw was located on the underside of the valve assembly and it wasn’t visible while trying to put it in or take it out. (There's a joke to be made here about blind screwing but I'll pass at this time.)

Despite my better judgment, I let myself get carried away by his cajoling and, box tucked under my arm, headed home, prepared to successfully complete this simple install. By the time I got back (10 minutes later), my commitment had waned sufficiently that I no longer felt confident in my ability and told Carol I'd decided to “wait for another day” to attempt the job.

That day came six weeks later.

Fortified by a large breakfast, several cups of coffee and at least one shot of Maker’s Mark, I decided this was the time to tackle the task. I wrestled the washer out from its closet location far enough so I could squeeze in and line up behind the inlet valve. First screw out – no problem. “Blind” screw removal – big problem. Couldn’t see it, couldn’t reach it. Carol offered to give it a try.

Now, just because I’m incompetent doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings or an easily-bruised male ego… I politely (not really) rejected her first few offers and continued to express my mounting frustration in language I’ll delicately describe as “colorful”. Finally I agreed to swap places with Carol and she folded much faster than I had – couldn’t see, couldn’t reach, etc. We agreed I’d make an appointment for a service tech to come out some other time we'd be at the lake and take care of it.

That futile effort wasted nearly all of our Saturday morning. (Well, in the interest of accuracy I should mention I'd been up since 6:00 whereas Carol wandered downstairs closer to 11:00.) We made the most of the rest of a very pleasant day together by running errands, planting flowers, drinking beer, bird-watching, drinking gin and tonics, making pizza, drinking wine, and starting a fire (outdoors and intentionally). We went to bed still laundry-deprived and one of us might have been slightly hung over.

I woke up Sunday morning before Carol and slipped downstairs (literally – I slipped down the stairs; luckily they’re carpeted) to make myself a badly-needed cup of coffee and enjoy the early-morning view of the lake. After a while I pulled out my tablet and found a video demonstrating the exact steps necessary to replace the inlet valve. It turns out the parts guy was correct about the “angle” but failed to mention there was a tube just to the right of the valve that should be removed to provide sufficient space to reach in and handle the blind screw and manipulate everything into place. I extracted the tube and -- Eureka! I was now able to exchange the old part for the new. I hooked up the electrical leads, replaced the tube, connected the hoses, put the top back on, wrestled the washer back into the closet and tested it out with a quick rinse cycle. Success! The machine worked AND I didn’t see any water leaking.

Carol came downstairs and was thrilled I’d been able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We washed one load of towels and declared we were satisfied with how the machine was operating.

After completing a few more errands, it was time for us to pack up and head back to Boston. I was about to get in the shower when Carol asked me if I needed “those two screws”. I thought she was referring to the ones that went with the washer top; I couldn’t find the originals but had two others in my toolbox and used them instead. I told her that and she replied, “OK… but aren’t these the screws for the inlet valve?” Oh… shit. In my giddiness at successfully getting the part angled in, I’d forgotten all about actually securing it.

After a brief but intense session of colorful language, I pulled out the washer, took off the lid, removed the tube, and tried to figure out how to get the blind screw in place. After 15 minutes and using every screwdriver and piece of cutlery at my disposal, I finally found something that gave me sufficient clearance to get my hand in to turn while keeping the screw aligned. As Carol said: “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing three times.” Truer words were never more deeply resented.

As I started to push the washer back into the closet, I noticed something – a puddle of water on the floor. The parts guy had mentioned that the drain pump might also have suffered a crack from the freeze, but since we didn’t find any water underneath the machine when moving it out for the valve replacement I discounted that possibility (also because one of the two screws holding the kick panel in place, behind which the pump is located, was so badly stripped and rusted I couldn’t get it out).

There’s a video on YouTube showing what an “easy job” it is to replace the drain pump on a washing machine. You are welcome to search for it and if you agree we'll gladly provide you with overnight accommodations at the lake, some homemade pizza and up to two beers in return for your efforts. I’ll send directions after I hear from you. By the way, Carol likes to sleep in so please keep any “colorful language” while you work to a minimum.

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