Friday, October 1, 2010

Still Life With Robin: Stinkbugs and Broken Toilets

by Peggy Robin

Today I’m not going to wax philosophical (or dredge up that old vaudeville line about Phil’s reaction to being waxed) about abstract issues. Today’s the day for some practical advice. First, about stinkbugs. You’ve been reading about the stinkbug invasion, I trust -- or, like us, you actually have stinkbugs in your house.

The oft-repeated advice is to vacuum them up. That way you don’t crush them and release the awful stink that gives them their name. But why haul out your heavy vacuum cleaner? A Dustbuster is better but it’s not ideal. I have just the thing for stinkbugs, and it’s equally good for wasps, yellow jackets, spiders, beetles, centipedes -- virtually anything that crawls or flies that you don’t want inside your house. It’s a bug gun. It’s light but powerful, with a telescoping tube that quickly and easily extends to normal ceiling height. It’s simple to use and will soon have you sucking up bugs on the wall or the floor; it will even let you whoosh up a fly in midair. I’m not good with weaponry, but I’m a crack shot with this baby. When there’s a bug on the loose somewhere, instead of squeamishly shrinking from the task as I used to do, now I grab my bug gun from its charging stand and off I go after it like Rambo. No, that’s too low-tech an image: The long neon blue reach of the bug gun’s tube and the futuristic handle make you feel like you’re Luke Skywalker with a light saber. And like a light saber, it “vanishes” its target in a clean, bloodless way.

The full-size model is a bit pricey (fifty bucks) but there’s a cheap mini-version for about ten bucks that you may want to try, instead. Speaking for myself, I’m happy to have the big gun on hand.

On to broken toilets. No one in my family is very handy when it comes to home repair. However, I do hate to call in a plumber when it’s something even an idiot ought to be able to fix. That’s the case with a broken toilet handle. You just unscrew the broken handle/flush arm and trot down to the nearest hardware store and pick up a new one. The cheapest ones can be had for four dollars but you can pay as much as fifteen if you want all metal, unbreakable parts.

For many years, whenever I needed a new part for some simple home-repair job, I would drive out to Bethesda to Strosnider’s Ace Hardware. I’m not into driving to the suburbs to shop, but I used to think the trip was justified by the quality of the staff who work there. If you had any question at all about what part to buy, you could always find a knowledgeable salesperson to advise you. I once brought in a partially-disassembled leaky faucet and handed it to the salesman to see what he thought it needed. He completed the disassembly, studied the pieces, and then went down an aisle, where he retrieved a three-cent rubber washer, after which he reassembled the faucet for me, right at the checkout, where I paid the three pennies for my now-working faucet.

Another time I brought in a piece from my dishwasher. I found someone to help me and described as best I could what was going wrong during the wash cycle. The salesman correctly diagnosed the problem, which was nothing to do with the piece itself; it had simply come loose. He advised me to take it back home and screw it back in more tightly. The dishwasher worked perfectly well after that for many more years. Strosnider’s made no sale that day, but it did earn my loyalty as a customer. That’s why I keep driving out there whenever I can use a little advice, along with my intended purchase.

As the years go by, however, I do learn from my experiences, and when it came to replacing a broken flush handle, I didn’t think I needed any help. So this time I stuck close to home and went to the Ace Hardware at Tenleytown. On my own in the plumbing aisle, I picked up the cheapest flush handle I could find, and checked out, and went right home to repair the toilet. But when I went to screw in the piece, it wouldn’t thread correctly. That was annoying. I figured I had bought a piece with defective screw threads. Oh well. Off I went back to Ace with the receipt and the non-working handle/arm and screw nut in hand.

They were very nice at Ace. They’d take it back, no problem. The salesman just wanted to make sure that the nut would not in fact line up properly with the threads of the flush handle. He tried it for a minute or two and could not get it to screw together, either. I picked out a different, more expensive model, meanwhile, thinking that the four dollar handle might not have been machined properly. As I was heading toward the checkout line with the twelve dollar model, the salesman called me back: “This one does work – look!” He held it up and I could see that the nut was now perfectly threaded over the screw threads of the handle. We’d both been turning the screw the wrong way. He tried it backwards, that is, turning to the left to tighten, in violation of the universal mantra of screws, “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey,” and that’s how he finally got it to work. Except, that way would only be considered backwards from the perspective of someone facing the toilet tank. If you considered the direction of the turn as if you were inside the toilet tank, you were actually going “righty-tighty.” In other words, the parts went together exactly as they were supposed to.

I thanked the man at the Tenleytown Ace, took my four dollar toilet part back home, and installed it in a jiffy (though turning the opposite way to tighten still felt weird). The toilet flushed perfectly. And now I know that we have hardware experts right in the neighborhood who can compete head-to-head with the mighty Strosniders. This may not be a matter of deep philosophical significance, but still, it’s nice to know.

1 comment:

  1. The stink bugs are DRIVING ME CRAZY! I can't sleep because I think they're crawling in my ears (turns out to be the fan blowing my hair every time). My seven year old daughter, though, is a true naturalist (trust me, she gets it from her Earthy father). She considers these home invaders her friends and pets. She'll find five on the shades, name each one, and then lovingly release them one by one back into the wild. The next day, she seems surprised but happy to see the "same" visitors back again: "Look Mom, Fifi came back to visit me". Arghghghg. I'm ready to send FiFi on a one way trip. Does anyone know when do they go away naturally? First frost?