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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Dose of Cold Water: Burnt Fingers and Burnt Egos

Well, last weekend the Bloogeyman was busy trying to install a new water heater. Now, if you’ve ever had your water heater break down you know two things: 1) Until you’ve installed a new water heater life is a living hell because you don’t have hot water and 2) While fairly simple devices, water heaters are a major pain in the ass to install.

First of all, you have to haul the old, rusty water heater out. I’m not sure when my old water heater was made, but it weighs 250 lbs (no joke) and nearly gave me a hernia on four separate occasions. Of course, the Bloogeyman is no hulk, he had someone else helping him, but I’ll be damned if it still wasn’t heavier than Dick Cheney after a trip to the all-you-can-eat buffet. In fact, I’m starting to suspect that its filled with bricks or something – seriously – it’s like some fucking leprechaun has been hiding his gold in that thing over the last ten years (and, yes, I did drain the water out of it before moving it – come on guys, I’m not that dumb). I wanted to crack the fat bastard open just to see what the hell was in it (I didn’t get around to doing that, but I did hit it a couple times with a sledgehammer, to my great satisfaction).

After moving the first water heater out we had to go get another water heater – luckily they’ve made some advances since the Stone Age and this water heater only weighed 148 lbs. It was still a bitch to carry up a flight of stairs. Next came connecting all of the water and gas connections. You have to really tighten the connections hard otherwise it’ll start leaking. Fair enough, after about 40 minutes we had made all of the connections and opened the valves for water. Well, hell – the fucking thing is leaking more than the CIA under George Tenet.

Now comes the hard part, we have to tighten the connections – but everything is already connected. I know that doesn’t make sense, but see if you can picture this: You have a solid pipe screwed into the water heater. Screwed onto the end of the solid pipe is a flexible copper pipe – you have two connections. Now, if you want to tighten one you have to move the other connection at the same rate otherwise it will come undone (if you can’t picture this scenario I’m not going to draw you a diagram, just trust me). Okay, so we start tightening the connection into the water heater, but we move the other connection too much. After a couple turns I notice that the flexible copper pipe is starting to tweak – fuck – I take off the insulation from the pipe and notice that the flexible copper pipe is major tweaked. Great, now we try to un-tweak it but, as you know, once copper gets tweaked it generally tears at the point of stress – now hot water is squirting out all over and we’re all yelling. We turn off the water valves and just stare at the thing for like five minutes. Then we think ‘Ok, this isn’t the end of the world, we can just unscrew the flexible copper pipe from both ends and buy a new one to put on…’. Yeah, right. Once we take off all the insulation we realize that the other end of the flexible copper pipe is soldered into the wall?!? Great, the last plumber-whore decided to screw us by basically welding the fucking thing into the wall instead of attaching a thread adapter like you’re supposed to ($0.97, in case you’re wondering how much it costs).

Long story short: now I have to go get a soldering kit and re-do all the connections. You’re probably wondering why I don’t just hire a plumber. Yeah, I can afford it, but I’ll give you three reasons (stories, actually) why I don’t want to:

1) I was talking to a friend about water heaters and he told me that his water heater broke a while ago so he called a plumber. The plumber said he needed to replace a part and took 30 minutes to do so. He charged my friend $50 for parts and $100 for labor. Later, my friend is at Home Depot and, being an engineer, decides to look at the part the plumber replaced. The part costs $5. WTF?!? I can understand that all plumbers / car mechanics / prostitutes mark up the goods, but marking an item up 10-fold?

2) Another friend took his car into the mechanic. Along with replacing a bunch of other stuff and doing a general tune-up, the mechanic says that the radiator needs to be replaced. Why? Well, because it’s rusted up. A week later my friend is sitting around his living room when he realizes something – the radiator is made of aluminum – it can’t rust! Everybody understands that mechanics make you replace things before they need replacing (semi-worn gasket, slightly leaky o-ring, etc.), but replacing something that never needs to be replaced? WTF?!?

3) Another friend had a leak in his wall – the copper pipe had started leaking. So, he calls a plumber and the yokel opens up the wall and starts to put in a new coupling. Luckily my friend was there watching him do this, because the guy is using the propane soldering torch and he set the wall on fire! How some guy who supposedly does this stuff for a living can set a wall on fire I’ll never figure out…but WTF?!?

    So there you go – I figure to avoid getting charged 10x on parts I could buy all the parts (I already lugged up the new water heater) and just hire some plumber to do the work. But, wait a minute, then I’d actually have to stand there and make sure this monkey doesn’t set my house on fire or blow it up (we are dealing with gas connections…). Why the hell should I pay some rube so I can stand behind him and watch him work– fuck it, I’ll just do it myself.

    By now, you’re probably thinking ‘That’s great Bloogeyman, but exactly why the fuck should I care?’ Well, this whole episode got me thinking: Is it just me, or has the work ethic in this country really deteriorated in the last 10 years? I’m not talking about how hard people work, I’m talking about the ethics of work. I’m talking about doing an honest day’s work and reaping the honest benefit. One of the most salient examples is the Enron scandal – ripping off little old ladies and laughing about it on tape, cashing out stock in a foundering company while publicly encouraging shareholders to buy more, and undermining a company to the point where thousands of retirees lose their pensions and walking away without shame or regret.

    Maybe it’s just me…but I’d like to hear from some of you: Have you had experiences like my friends or I have had lately? I’m not just talking about things that count as over-charging or moderate incompetence – I’m talking about stuff that is grossly unethical, even criminal. Some time next week I’ll give you an update on how my weekend welding adventure went (stay tuned to see if I light my hair on fire or blow up my house…) and I’ll talk a little more about Enron and Texas. In the mean time, I’d love to see some comments on your close encounters of the unethical kind.