Biff America: Taking the bull by the porcelain |

Biff America: Taking the bull by the porcelain

Jeffrey Bergeron

Between the two of us – Louie and I – we have 14 years of college education. And even more impressive, if you don’t count my higher education, we would still have 14 years between us.It was because of just those intellectual credentials that I had every confidence that Louie and I could outsmart a toilet.Plumbers are the Mick Jaggers of the building trade. They are the charismatic front men while electricians, drywallers, and carpenters are the Keith Richardses, Bill Wymans and Charlie Wattses. All have important jobs to do, but the plumbers have the sex appeal (perhaps due to plumber’s butt) and get much of the glory. Not sure why that is.What I do know is that it is often difficult to get a plumber to visit your house for a little job; for this I can’t blame them. When someone has the choice to make big bucks riding in limos to plumb a trophy home, why would they want to make a house call and extract my wife’s long underwear from our garbage disposal?It is for that reason that I’ve become a do-it-myself, shade-tree plumber. For some reason I am better able to grasp the mechanics of plumbing and, unlike rewiring a stove, you can’t get electrocuted working with water.Over the years, I have replaced those curly things under the sink that catch your wife’s earring when she drops it down the drain. I’ve also installed washers in sinks and tubs, and once even cleaned the dishwasher filter of remnants of my mate’s world-famous yam smoothie.But though I know my way around pipes, faucets and plungers, last week I walked a plumbing path heretofore untrodden. That’s why I brought Louie into the equation: Between the two of us we outnumbered the toilet.My toilet ball was taking on water and needed to be replaced.The toilet ball is this float thing in your toilet tank that turns off the water when the tank is filled; my ball was leaking, causing the water to run intermittently.Come to find out the toilet ball is an obsolete mechanism, and all the better johns now have a fill-valve float cup and flush valve flapper assembly – complete kit available for $18.99.I knew the installation of these new toilet guts was at the top end of my expertise, so I called in Dr. Lou (who is in fact a real doctor but not much of a plumber).Before I put down my cash, I called my buddy Chris (who is, in fact, a real plumber) and asked if he thought Lou and I were up to the task. The first thing he asked was how many toilets did I have in my home? When I told him four, he said, “Go for it.” His reasoning was that no matter how bad I messed up, my intestinal needs would still be met by the three commodes I had not yet broken.The “Fluidmaster 400C Fill Valve & Flush-Flapper” came with all the parts and directions in English and Spanish. I couldn’t help but notice that the Spanish directions were shorter with different pictures – Luckily for us Louie was “fluid” in both languages.Being a doctor, before we began the job, Louie washed his hands. I didn’t see the logic – after all, we were working on a toilet – but I assumed it was suggested in the Spanish directions.We decided to work in tandem; I was lying on my back under the toilet while Lou was working from above.You never want to hear a doctor say “oops” during surgery or while working on your toilet. Five minutes into the job, Lou broke the tank lever arm and handle which connects to the flapper chain. I was beginning to have second thoughts when Louie said that – in the Spanish directions – they recommend replacing that part anyway. Luckily my plumber friend, Chris, has one in his shop, so I went to get it while Louie reread the directions.My rebuilt toilet now flows like a kegger at a frat house – thanks to my wife. It seems that not two, but three people are required to rebuild a toilet: one lying on his back under the toilet, one working from above … and a third on the phone calling a real plumber.Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8 and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at

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