Plumbing Curses

Kage Baker once broke our toilet with a conch shell. On Christmas Eve. With lots of family members coming over for Christmas Day. Including a clean-freak grandmother.

All of you, Dear Readers, probably have holiday plumbing stories. Some of you probably even have a similar holiday/plumbing curse. I’ve always felt that people simply remember the plumbing disasters that coincide with holidays, because they’re exponentially worse than normal days. But Kage felt it was a symptom and proof of the underlying sentience of the Universe, which was capricious, inhuman, and striving toward chaos.

Hence the conch shell disaster. Kage loved sea shells, and was especially fond of a couple of big, blush-pink conches she had acquired. She kept one on the toilet tank, as a grace note. During the frenetic cleaning of that Christmas Eve, the shell fell into the toilet bowl. Fortunately, it was unharmed. Unfortunately, it shattered the toilet bowl into half-a-hundred shards of razor-sharp porcelain.

(That accident was one of the reasons that, years later, Kage made Mendoza’s tropic hideaway with her three lovers out of nano-engineered sea shell. That stuff, she decided, was better than concrete.)

Our next door neighbor, Kent (who was a Disney Imagineer) glowed it back together with some sort of secret super glue; evidently what they used at Disney to keep pieces from flying off the Matterhorn and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Then we covered all the cracks with silicon gel. For the 3 weeks it took us to save up for a new toilet (because no one has extra money the day after Christmas!) the toilet worked – but sunlight shone through the transparent silicon and you could see though the cracks … hilarious and unnerving.

The entire incident has been memorialized in family history because there is just no ordinary aspect of it anywhere. Many families have holiday tradition of the plumbing going south – the sink clogs up or the dryer fails or the garbage disposal starts running backwards. This is the only occasion I personally know of, though, that involved blowing up a toilet with a sea shell. Or gluing it back together so it appeared to be encased in a transparent force field.

Today we are dealing, here in my family’s little century old California bungalow, with a leak in the toilet. It started out as a few drops round the bolts that hold on the tank, and rapidly escalated to a steady stream. Emergency work with Super Glue (and oh, dear  Kent, I miss you even more right now!) and Museum Wax  by nephew Mike gave us a brilliant improvised holding action for a while. But, with unaccustomed common sense, we decided to pursue a more permanent repair while the temporary was still working.

Those bolts, despite leaking, also proved to be rusted in place. Some heroic work with a hack saw by Mike got them loose, but we accidentally knocked a flange off the part where the tank is seated to attach to the bowl … we have just now finished gluing that flange back on (backed up by gaffers tape) and Mike has re-fastened the tank in place with nice new bolts.

Shortly, we shall draw straws. The winner gets to be the first to test the repairs. But it does look like it’ll last while we shop around for a new toilet. They come with so many bells and whistles these days – often literally – that a bit of shopping is needed.

The good thing is, the bathroom should then be free of toilet disasters for another 20 years.

Because no one has dared put a conch shell on the tank in this family since Kage murdered ours all those years ago.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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10 Responses to Plumbing Curses

  1. Lynn Downward says:

    Just think how happy Kage would be to know that you were getting a new toilet that wasn’t due to her decorating habits. And thank goodness Mike is handy.
    I don’t have a holiday plumbing story but we once had both our (large) families over for Father’s Day barbecue. Just at dusk someone turned on the coffee maker and the kitchen light, blowing out the electricity in the entire house (build in Alameda after the 1906 San Francisco Fire and ferried over to Emeryville five years later). My brother-in-law, the PG&E employee, put a penny into the fuse-holder-thingy then a new fuse and we were good to go. He didn’t mention that it was frightfully dangerous for about a month. We had blithly left it there, thinking that it was ok, since he worked for that Company and he should know what was safe and what not. We could have gone up like tinder.


  2. Medrith says:

    My brother George used to like to lie in the bathtub drinking a Coke (in the glass bottles, this was the early 60’s) and listening to the radio he put on the toilet tank. It was an old radio with no knob and he changed the station with a screwdriver. Well the station went kablooey and he stood up in the tub and stuck the screwdriver in…the shock flung him against the back wall of the tub and he dropped the Coke in the toilet bowl,which shattered, but the Coke bottle survived like Kage’s conch. Luckily we were a 2-bathroom family. My parents put a “Happy Birthday George” card on the new toilet. George has lived to be 63 and is doing fine, despite a number of different yet similar incidents through the years.


    • Kate says:

      What is the deal with toilet bowls? Why are they so infernally frangible? This is one of those great Cosmic Mysteries …



  3. athene says:

    I never had the good fortune (and I say good, because it is a splendid tale tthat has more than paid for the price of the toilet threefold over the years) to actually shatter a toilet with an object, but I did take the corner off the top of the tank cover with a deftly applied hair dryer. Cosmic mystery, indeed.


  4. Kate says:

    A hair dryer? Presumably made of plastic? And the tank cover is what breaks. I tell you, it’s not only a Cosmic Mystery, it’s a Conspiracy.


  5. Anne Baker says:

    Er – anyone interested in Great Dane puppies?


    • Kate says:

      Are they entirely Great Dane? Or is Daddy that German Shepherd Pandora used to live with? Either way, they are gonna be gorgeous – but holy moley! What a surprise!


  6. Carolyne says:

    Get a tall toilet…high profile or whatever they call them. You cannot believe how much more pleasant it is as arthritis begins to grip critical your joints and flanges to find that the toilet seat is willing to meet you halfway.


  7. mizkizzle says:

    As someone who grew up in a house that was built in 1860, ancient, eccentric plumbing and I are old friends and occasional old combatants. It’s possible that your toilet leak is caused by a defective seal. (Not the kind that eats fish and balances a beach ball on its nose but the type that’s made of wax that fits around the base of the toilet.)
    It’s much cheaper to replace the seal than to buy a new toilet, although if you were someone like my mother-in-law you would find a toilet sitting by the side of the road that someone was getting rid of and take it home and install it yourself.
    The irony is twofold in that my MIL is rich enough to buy an entire toilet factory, should she chose to do so and any cast-off toilet she lugged home would work perfectly.
    BTW, I now have “The Conch Fell into the Toilet” playing in my head to the tune of “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.” Thanks for that!


  8. Margaret says:

    And if it’s not a holiday, at least it happens on a Sunday. A couple of weeks after I moved into my new-bought, built-in-1957 house, I noticed water on the floor of one of the spare bedrooms, coming mysteriously out from under the molding at the bottom of the wall. Fortunately, I had some mechanically inclined friends who lived a couple of blocks away. They came over and we knocked a hole in the wall plaster. Behold, the line that led to the outside faucet, inside the wall there, was leaking, and apparently had done so before, as there was a grubby little rickrack-edged tea towel knotted around the newly leaking joint. Nice of some previous owner to leave this little belt-and-suspenders safety measure in place when they replastered the hole they had to have made to fix the outside faucet line the previous time.


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