I’ve been contemplating our downstairs bathroom.
If you can call it that, a 4 x 4-foot-windowless cell really, an afterthought, as if in the original construction of the house, a downstairs half bath was forgotten in the blueprint. It is a box jutting out from the wall. An indoor porta potty.
I’ve never given much thought to this bathroom. There is literally not much to think about, beyond the 18” vanity and toilet. And tiny tile floor.
Until the slow leak in the basement garage. Just below the bathroom. Seemingly, from the toilet. (Which, since the plumber’s diagnosis, has broken once and for all, the chain having snapped off from the disintegrating black rubber stopper.)
A very slow leak, but one that evidently, from the blackened puddles accumulating in the garage, on an old table and TV, has been persevering for some time.
And, very evidently, from the mold on the ceiling sheetrock.
“Black mold,” my plumber had said, backing away. “That could be black mold. Black mold can make you really, really sick.”
He was happy to fix the leak – once the mold was gone.
I called a mold buster. He gave me an estimate of $1200.
The mold buster told me to call our insurance company to see if we were covered for water and mold damage.
The insurance guy arrived. He grinned. The kind of grin that lets you know you will be the butt of a joke later, in a bar with his insurance buddies. “And how much exactly did this mold buster want to charge you?”
I told him, and his grin grew broader. He wasn’t at all self-conscious about his crowded, yellow teeth. Yes, black mold can make a person sick, he explained slowly, as if I needed to be reading his lips, but only if you’ve been inhaling it for days on end. Not from a few specks on the ceiling. He told me to get my "handyman," who was outside replacing the rotted trim around the garage doors, to simply cut out the moldy two-foot section of sheet rock, dump it in a garbage bag, and "voila," done.
He also told me that our insurance doesn’t cover mold or slow leaks. Only burst pipes.
He left, still grinning. Maybe he actually had something caught between his teeth that he was trying to dislodge with his tongue. Maybe I should have offered him a toothpick.
The “handyman” is actually my electrician, who’d had enough foresight at the start of the recession to get his home improvement license. To work for people like us, who are not looking to remodel, but to rejuvenate, actually merely to sustain a simple 70s salt box house, to replace rotted trim and shutters.
My electrician laughed when I told him about how my plumber wouldn’t come back until the mold was gone. “What, does he wear pink panties?” he said, getting up on a ladder, with a knife and cutting away the sheetrock. I held the garbage bag open for him to drop in the moldy pieces.
The mold was gone. The plumber returned.
Now he wasn’t afraid to stick his head up into the cavernous hole of pipes beneath the upstairs toilet and poke around with his flashlight.
He still wouldn’t fix the leak.
Not yet – the slow leak had rotted the plywood beneath the bathroom floor. The whole 4x4 bathroom tile floor would have to be gutted , too unstable to withstand a new toilet.
My plumber gave me the phone number of a reliable tile man.
When I called the time man, he was so eager for the job, he could come over right that minute for an estimate. He had no work, he said, as people no longer ripped out bathrooms just because they fancied a new look. The only ones remodeling were those like us, I suppose, who were forced to, due to water damage.
I agreed to the estimate, which he said was bargain basement recession pricing, and said to call him as soon as I’d picked out a tile and he would be right over.
So now, after all these years, I actually did have to give this cell bathroom some thought. Quite a bit of thought – well, for a 4 x 4 foot bathroom, anyway. The vanity was a cheap plywood Home Depot one, and from the boys’ toddler years of playing with soapy water and overflowing the sink, it had begun to disintegrate. The latch on the medicine cabinet, equally Home-Depot cheap, long since had broken, so that the door hung open, revealing to all the world messy toothpaste tubes, tangled dental floss and Listerine, and a nose hair picker.
And I had to decide on new tile for the floor. I would stand in the cell, contemplating the old floor, dull white squares, trying to decide on a color.
Blue. I wanted blue.
So I headed to the tile store.
The place was empty. There was one salesperson, and she was playing Angry Birds on her iphone. She looked blue herself, when I told her I was looking for tile to fill only a 4x4 cell. She pulled out what tiles she could offer in blue. Everything else was earth tones. “Well, it’s nice to have someone actually come in looking for color, anyway…” she said, knowing that I would only require about 20 tiles total, what it cost me for just a single week of groceries.
I was able to make a quick decision as there was only two blue choices.
Finding an 18” vanity proved far harder than picking out the blue tile. Obviously, they are not in great demand, as I couldn't find one one that wasn't made out of plywood.
I ventured into a kitchen and bath store, where they custom-make such things; bottom price, for a plain and simple 18” real wood vanity was $600.
$600. Odd, since that place too was empty.
I wound up back at Home Depot. But this time, I settled for a slightly higher-end plywood 18” vanity. Why it is high-end I’m not sure, something to do with the scratch-resistant sink, and the cherry veneer, a closer fascimile to real wood. I would just have to hope that Kenny wouldn’t overflow his test tubes when experimenting with different soap, food coloring and toothpaste concoctions.
So today the tile man returned to start on the floor.
And guess what! The plywood beneath the old tiles isn’t all rotted, as our plumber had thought, only around the leaking toilet. So the tile man didn’t have to actually rip up the old tile. He could just lay the new tile on top. And scrape a whole hundred bucks off the total cost!
So I’m about to go to sleep. And this is what is keeping me awake: outside of the toilet issue, did we really need to be remodeling this itsy bitsy bathroom in the first place?
The old white 70s tile wasn’t so bad; we could have gotten more life out of the disintegrating vanity, and had long since learned to live with a gaping medicine cabinet….
And what if, just what if I’d never found that leak in the first place?
Which I only discovered in my sudden fall vigor to clean out the garage? My urge to purge of the old, but not necessarily to make room for the new?
Such hard thinking past ten pm makes me want to go to bed and listen to crickets, that even on an October night, can still be heard singing faintly out my window.