Zen and the Art of Plumbing Maintenance for Dummies

Lest I go on the most cliched millennial diatribe ever, I’ll just say that housing where I live is obscenely expensive. So, I consider myself very lucky to have found an apartment close to my job for a fairly affordable price. It is clean, quiet, and generally a pleasant place to live. Until a few months ago, I was fortunate enough to never experience any problems with things like heating or plumbing. However, in this instance, when it rained, it poured, and I mean that quite literally.

An illustration of Erica's author photo used on this site -- which ordinarily is her dressed in a 1920s big overcoat, wearing a turban that also has a crown on top of it. But in this, there is also water all the way up to her nose. You only see the top of her head, and crown (and turban). Written on the bottom of the image, it says "Portrait of the Author in July."

Several months ago, I took my normal evening bath and went to turn off the hot water tap. As I did so, I felt something give in my hand. A small stream of water had begun trickling from the faucet, even when the tap was in the ‘off’ position. Concerned, I immediately texted my landlord a picture. At this point, it was a steady stream, though not especially forceful. The date was Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Since then I have grown and aged countless years as a person. Several hours after I initially contacted my landlord, he sent me a text explaining that he was in Europe. He asked if he could give Ethan The Plumber* my number and have me talk to him. Naturally, I agreed.

The next day, I received a phone call from Ethan, who informed me that he was in Florida until Monday. I jokingly told him that that was fine, because my landlord pays for utilities. Ethan, however, assured me that I was his first priority once he got back. He then asked if I was currently at my apartment. I informed him that I was not, since it was 3:38pm on a Thursday. Ethan asked if I knew if anyone was home. I told him that I was not sure (which was the truth). He explained to me that he was going to reach out to one of them and ask them, “to go into the crawlspace under the house and shut off [my] tub.” When I mentioned that both of my neighbors work irregular schedules, Ethan suggested that I could do it when I get home. I delicately implied that I am not in the habit of crawling into small dark spaces under buildings, nor do I feel friendly enough with my neighbors to ask them to do so on my behalf. Ethan assured me that he, “[knew] exactly what’s wrong and it’s a really easy fix as long as you have the right part.” This was the first of many, many red flags. I still reiterated to him that I would rather wait until he returned. He agreed, and requested that I send him pictures of the problem. I did so as soon as I hung up. Ethan immediately informed me that he would try to get someone out there to fix the issue, “within the next few days”.

By the time Monday rolled around, I still hadn’t heard from Ethan. The water situation in my apartment had gotten significantly worse. I was unwilling to go five full days without showering, so I had to use the tub multiple times since my initial call. As a result, the gentle cascade coming from the faucet had turned into a heavy, constant stream of water. It was like I was running a bath 24/7. I suspect that at least one of my neighbors was concerned that I had decided to wage some sort of oddly specific war against water conservation. Ethan did call and text me on Monday to inquire when he should come over to fix the world’s worst water feature. I informed him that any time on Monday was fine, and that Tuesday was also doable, but would be difficult. Mondays and Tuesdays are my days off in a given week, which I mentioned to Ethan… multiple times. I assumed that stating my strong preference for Monday would also express my strong preference for the issue to be resolved in a timely fashion. I now recognize that I was a fool.

Photo of the faucet that is in need of repair. There is a pretty hefty stream of water coming out of it, although not full-blast (yet). The image has written across it in blue handwriting "No Big Deal" because I like to caption everything in the image itself.
The first day. The water was running significantly harder soon after this.

Despite being incredibly clear about my schedule, I did not hear from Ethan for another two days. Finally, I got a text from him at 1:07pm on Wednesday asking if I was at my apartment at that very moment. I immediately texted him back that I wasn’t, but I had evening availability or could work from home on Thursday. Ethan texted me back and informed me that that evening should work, but if it didn’t, I’d be his, “first priority on Thursday”.

At this point, Ethan had clearly decided that we were either friends or that I cared very deeply about the nuances of plumbing. He sent me several text messages about what he needed to do to fix the problem. I did not care much about the specifics of this process, but I texted back, “Sounds good!” because I wanted to be encouraging and have been taught that it is important to be nice to people, even if they are morons. It was quickly becoming apparent to me that that was the case in this scenario.

I am sure that anyone who has read to this point has now determined that my shower would not be fixed that evening. Instead, Ethan decided to grace me with his presence at approximately 11:30am on Thursday. This was two hours after he initially told me to expect him. Upon arriving, Ethan asked me again if I knew if either of my neighbors were home. Because I am a woman who lives by herself and watches a truly astounding amount of true crime documentaries, I immediately assured him that at least one of them should be. Ethan explained that the reason he wanted to know was because he went into the crawl space before coming to speak with me. While he was there, he heard the sound of water running and assumed that someone was taking a shower. “Could it perhaps be my shower, since it’s been running nonstop for over a week now?” I asked, with as much tact as I could possibly muster. Ethan acknowledged that this was a likely possibility, but wanted to go back into the crawl space to check. To this day, I am not sure what sort of siren song continuously beckoned Ethan to the crawl space under our building, but he was clearly drawn to it. Perhaps it reminded him of the cave or rock shelter he had undoubtedly been raised in.

Here is a photo of the broken faucet, expelling water wildly everywhere. Except now there is a photoshopped-in powerful waterfall in place of the water stream. There's like trees and rocks, a whole valley where part of the tub should be.

Handwritten to the side of the stream it says "very good artistic interpretation I M V H O."
It’s a powerful waterfall, you see. Natural splendor, etc.

Once Ethan had stopped playing Premature Burial under my dwelling, he told me again about what the repair would entail. I would have been significantly more satisfied with this interaction if he had just fixed the problem, but he had deluded himself into thinking that I actually wanted to talk to him. He also felt certain that I would want to know about his recent vacation to Florida. Then he proceeded to tell me a story that will forever shape the way I interact with the Ethans of the world.

About a year prior, Ethan moved into a camper that he decided to fix up and sell at a profit. At first, this seemed like an uncharacteristically prudent decision for someone who could not figure out why a plumbing emergency might cause him to hear the sound of running water. However, true to form, Ethan decided to sell the camper — his only residence — before securing another place to live. Naturally, Ethan and his friend drove to Florida in part to locate a new camper. On their way back from whatever it is troglodytes do on vacation, Ethan managed to find a camper that he liked. He explained to me that they had driven for about 20 hours, so he assumed they were relatively close to home. Chuckling, Ethan recalled that he had just signed the papers without stopping to figure out where they even were. Then, he suddenly realized that they were in Tennessee! So now, Ethan informed me, he was going to have to drive back to Memphis to pick up the camper this upcoming weekend. His tone was of someone just mildly inconvenienced, and he told me this story without a hint of shame.

It was then that I felt a wave of clarity. Ethan was so profoundly bad at critical thinking that he didn’t know where he was going to live for multiple months at a time. He was so foolish that this was just how he lived his life. It wasn’t that he wasn’t taking my situation seriously, it was that he fundamentally lacked the ability to take anything seriously. This included basic human needs like food and shelter. Upon further reflection, perhaps his obsession with the crawl space was rooted in the need for a backup plan in case the camper in Tennessee fell through. Whether it was due to a head injury or just garden variety stupidity, Ethan was hopelessly and irredeemably senseless. Even though I thoroughly believed at this point that Ethan was likely just three children in a trench coat, sitting on top of each other’s shoulders like in The Little Rascals, I simply smiled and nodded as he talked at me. At random intervals, he would assert that this was, “a super easy fix”. I was now fully convinced that Ethan’s definition of ‘easy’ was rooted in the over-optimism of the profoundly ignorant.

Screen Capture taken of a far zoomed out google map of the USA. Plotted out on the map are some options for driving between Memphis, Tennessee, and Denver, Colorado. The fastest time is 15 hours and 20 minutes, and 1,095 miles. Just one way.
“brb lol,” Ethan the Eternally Unbothered.

Somehow, miraculously, Ethan managed to both turn off the water and completely remove the tap from the stem. This was the first time that I’d observed him doing any actual work. It did not instill me with significantly more confidence, though I was less concerned about him being an overgrown groundhog who had somehow acquired the power of human speech. About ten minutes later, he reemerged from my bathroom and told me that he needed to get something. Ethan left my apartment. I waited for a few moments, unsure if he needed to acquire an item from his truck, the local hardware store, or Clearwater, Florida. After a few hours, I texted him to let him know that I had a life that did not include waiting around for his return like some sort of Civil War era widow. I asked him when he thought he would be back. Ethan admitted to me that he was having a difficult time finding the part he needed in the county, but would be back later to turn on my water.

Ethan finally returned to my apartment a few hours later. Once again, he was able to spend time in his beloved crawlspace. After my water was turned back on, Ethan lamented that he would have to go to Denver to get the part needed for my “incredibly easy repair”. He informed me that he was planning on heading to Tennessee the next morning and wouldn’t be back in town until Monday, “Tuesday at the latest”. I reiterated, once again, that Mondays work significantly better for me than Tuesdays. In response, Ethan stated that I was, “[his] first priority” when he got back. Even more hilariously, he also asserted that he would, “work around [my] schedule”. I am still proud of myself for not bursting into laughter.

Photo taken from the internet of a cardboard grave stone someone made for Halloween as a craft. The original words have been expertly scrubbed off by Sneer Campaign's resident artist, Amandoll, and written in their place are the words: "Ethan. A plumber by trade. Died honorably. Quote: "You're my first priority.""
I time traveled and found Ethan’s grave stone.

Before Ethan left, he assured me that the screw was too stripped for him to reattach the tap to the stem. I suspect that this was not actually the case, but rather that Ethan had just forgotten ‘lefty loosey, righty tighty’. However, you’ll be pleased to know that Ethan left me with a large wrench of his so that I could at least turn the water on in order to shower. He also asserted that if I “just cranked on it really hard, it’ll probably fix itself.” Ethan then proceeded to demonstrate his hypothesis and was utterly astounded when it proved incorrect. Before he left, he once again groaned about having to drive down to Denver and asked me if I thought my landlord would be willing to pay for his gas money. Well, he actually asked if someone named ‘Martin* ’ would pay. My landlord is not named Martin. This would be less concerning if my landlord hadn’t hired Ethan for at least one other major project not four months prior. That evening, I took a shower and used the wrench Ethan had left me. There was a wad of used chewing gum stuck to the handle.

The next morning, the humidity in my apartment had become untenable. I was running the exhaust fan 24/7, and opening my windows when I was home. I even purchased a box fan. As expected, the weekend passed and I did not hear from Ethan. Monday passed, and still no word. Tuesday afternoon came, and still nothing. At this point, I was mildly concerned that Ethan had been catfished by the people in Tennessee and would never be heard from again. It wasn’t as though I wanted him to be murdered by hill people, rather it seemed a likely fate to befall him. Early that afternoon, I texted my landlord. Due to the time difference, he didn’t return my text until the following day. But, he assured me that he would follow up with Ethan.

On Wednesday, August 4 — a full two weeks after first reporting the issue — I texted Ethan that I could work from home on either Thursday or Friday. About an hour later, Ethan said that Friday would work better. I immediately confirmed and asked him when I should expect him. I did not hear back. Thursday night, I texted him asking what time I should expect him that next day. Two hours later, I sent him another text pleading for just a ballpark time and asserting that I was truly sick of hearing the constant sound of running water. Finally, he texted me back suggesting 9:30. I went to sleep and set my alarm. By 9:50 Friday morning, I hadn’t seen any trace of Ethan. I asked him if he was still planning on coming. He assured me that he was, but that he still couldn’t find the part at the local ACE. Ethan said that he was going to need to get the part from Denver. This, as you may recall, was a fact we established the week prior. Instead of looking for the part at any point during his travels, he decided to just wait and hope for the best. The best did not happen. Instead, Ethan came to the conclusion that it would be better to replace all of the hardware in my tub. He just needed my landlord to reply to his text.

I was not confident that Ethan sent that text. It wasn’t that I thought he was a liar; more that I thought he had maybe confused his phone with a brick or an old baguette. So naturally I texted My-Landlord-Who-is-Definitely-Not-Named-Martin. After a few more hours of texting back and forth with Ethan and Not-Martin, they finally determined that they were both going to come to my apartment the next day (Saturday) to fix the problem. My landlord had gotten back from his trip the night before. He was jetlagged and understandably pissed with Ethan. Because Not-Martin has a fully functional frontal lobe, he was able to find the needed part in Denver. Thus, it was decided that my shower’s hardware would be entirely replaced on Saturday.

Reminder to everyone to use a tarp in the tub when doing repairs. Otherwise you will be an Ethan and leave many deep scratches and gouges in the surface.

I would love to tell you, my sweet little pinecones, that my shower was fixed that day. However, the part that my landlord purchased turned out to be defective. This is perhaps the only moment in the story where Ethan wasn’t at fault. Honestly, Not-Martin wasn’t either. In my mind, the blame for this rests solely on the shoulders of whatever Home Depot employees decided to repackage a clearly pre-used and broken part. Because that’s exactly what happened. In the end, Not-Martin’s wife had to drive up from the Denver area with a new part. This one, fortunately, worked. Finally, on Sunday, August 8, 2021, my shower was fixed. The apartment was so quiet without the sound of running water that one of my neighbors actually texted and congratulated me on getting it fixed. The hot water had been running in my apartment for eighteen straight days.

There are several things that I learned from this experience that will hopefully prove useful for Sneer Campaign’s avid and esteemed readers. First, there are some people in the world who have somehow reached the age of maturity without developing even the most basic common sense. If you can recognize and avoid these people, do so. If you find yourself in a situation like mine, you might be better off learning a new trade or skill before relying on them. I firmly believe that if I had had the time to take classes in plumbing, I would have been able to resolve this issue more quickly myself.

Second, anger is a perfectly normal emotion, especially when you are dealing with someone like this. However, it is ultimately neither useful nor productive. The Ethans of the world will not be impacted by your anger. Me getting angry at Ethan for not being able to do his job would be just as absurd as getting angry at my dog for not knowing how to play chess. Some things are just outside of people’s capabilities. My advice is to acknowledge that you are angry and let yourself feel that anger for a few moments. Then, do your best to let it go. The Ethans of the world are not worthy of your time or emotional energy. You are not going to change their utter lack of sense. Just take a few deep breaths, and realize that at some point these people’s cluelessness will catch up with them. It always does.

*Names have been changed to protect the laughably incompetent and those who hired them.

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