Home improvement

“You going from half to three quarter? Need threadtape?”

It’s the home plumber’s nightmare, and no matter how well prepared you think you are you’ll doubtless face it more than once during the course of any project, no matter how minor a fix  it might seem at the outset.

It’s the moment when the professional behind the counter, or even the semi-professional assistant, and sometimes — heaven forbid — even the highschooler working weekends discovers a chink in that tradesmanlike attitude you so carefully crafted before you left the house, and that you struck so purposefully as you approached the  plumbing department to buy your supplies.

You watched the youtube videos. You dug out some books you remember buying last time you fixed the sink. You even suffered the meaningless skirmishing among blowhard know-it-alls in the online home improvement plumbing forums. You felt ready to install that stopcock and avoid last year’s disaster when the outside faucet froze.

But somehow, despite your dressing as you imagine a shopping plumber might, adopting a nonchalance you feel suggests an appropriate level of experience, and parking the Prius well away from the store the assistant can tell you don’t have all the answers.

You knew the size of your pipe. You knew it was copper. You wanted a brass stopcock with screw fittings because you feared setting the house on fire with a blowlamp. You’ve seen ones with big red handles that look about right, and you know how to turn off the water before you start.

But there’s something desperate about the urgency with which you provide all this information. It’s clear you’ve shot your bolt; you have no more to give, and so it falls to the assistant to ask just one further question to which he’s pretty sure you will have no answer.

“Need threadtape?”

It’s middle school chess club all over again, where you lose the game after the first move. It’s being whitewashed at college foozeball against that guy who can do the flick of the wrist thing you could never master. It’s that damned bus lane that screwed up an otherwise perfect driving test. It all floods back.

“Thread tape? Oh — can I have the ones that come with built-in thread?”

Crap that was clearly wrong.

“Tell you what I’ll give you a roll just in case,” says the assistant who having made his point and probably his morning can now afford a degree of mercy.

The underlying problem, of course, is television programs like ‘This Old House’. If you think of how much plumbers get paid, then how much great plumbers get paid, then how much great plumbers with television contracts get paid, you start to get a feel for what you’re up against.

Wealthy, good-looking experts. And to successfully carry off that tradesmanlike front you so carefully cultivated you really do need all three.

The plumber turns to the camera and smiles at you without missing a step; he jokes with the homeowner while he makes the job look clean, quick, and easy. He never, ever, has to stop and make a quick trip to the store. Or the bathroom. Customers are always delighted; colleagues are inevitably impressed.

And if you’d watched more closely, you would have noticed in passing a quick application of thread tape before he tightened down that joint.

But you missed it; you were distracted by the purposeful looking wrench in his toolbag and wondering whether asking for one of those at the supply place might give the game away.