Scott Hollifield: Plumbing misadventures on a dark and stormy night

I’m not much of a plumber.

Some folks swear I’m not much of a newspaper editor or columnist either judging by my email from time to time, but if I had to replace a toilet in the home of a disgruntled reader, I’m sure he or she would be even more disgruntled by the quality of that work than the quality of this work.

I assumed the role of handyman 32 years ago when I left the cozy confines of college to live in what seems like a never-ending series of fixer-uppers. While I’ve done my share of poor carpentry work (“That level must be off”) and electrical wiring that wouldn’t pass inspection (“Is it supposed to spark like that?”) my biggest failures have come in the plumbing department.

If water runs through it and I’m anywhere near it, it’s eventually going to leak. And I’m going to make it worse and turn the air blue.

I’ve had shower handles come off mid-stream, bailed out flooded basements after burst pipes and when the kid was little I fished a naked Barbie torso from a clogged toilet. (“Daddy, I think the dog did it.”)

Before the internet, we either learned handyman skills from our wise, experienced elders (“Son, I said hand me a 9/16 wrench not a damn pair of needle-nose pliers”) or books given to us by our wise, experienced elders who ran out of patience.

Today, though, we can turn to Youtube where there are countless instructional videos on how to do everything from rewiring a lamp to building a nuclear-powered cruise missile. (For the record, I would like to assure Homeland Security I am not building a nuclear-powered cruise missile nor am I encouraging anyone to look up how to build a nuclear-powered cruise missile. That was an exaggerated example, the kind that leads to emails from disgruntled readers.)

So it was to Youtube I turned when the bathroom faucet began to drip and I could no longer pretend it would stop on its own.

“This is one of the easiest repairs you can do,” said the Youtube guy, who obviously didn’t know my plumbing history. But, after a trip to the hardware store (OK, two trips) and a review of the video, I successfully stopped the drip.

Finally, success.

Until, a few weeks later, at midnight, in an electrical storm, when hot water would not stop flowing from that perfectly repaired faucet and I discovered the shutoff valve under the sink was no longer a functioning shutoff valve.

At that point, I was not going to look up how to repair a shutoff valve on Youtube because I was too busy turning the air blue.

My choices were (a) go to bed and let hot water continue to flow; (b) locate the water meter outside in the electrical storm and use the metal tool to remove the metal cover and turn off all the water to the house; or (c) detonate that nuclear-powered cruise missile I’ve been working on and be done with it.

I chose number b. (I know, disgruntled reader with an email address, b is not a number. Also, a pair of needle-nose pliers is not a 9/16 wrench. I’m aware of that now.)

The torrential rain tore at my body and lightning ripped across the sky as I pried away the metal lid, shook my fist at the heavens and cursed my lack of plumbing skills (a bit dramatic, I know, but that’s a fairly accurate description).

I successfully stopped the water for the remainder of that dark and stormy night, reviewed Youtube the next morning and eventually fixed the faucet – for now, at least.

But, as I said, I’m not much of a plumber so I don’t expect it to last. Thanks for reading and I hope I didn’t disgruntle anyone. If I did, please don’t look up how to build a nuclear-powered cruise missile on Youtube.

Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at

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