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The parts apart

The parts apart

My shower has never worked properly. The hot has been too finicky and, until I learned a trick, absent. At the house inspection a plumber was secured who decreed the operation normal. I’m glad I didn’t pay him.

Those first October nights here were Seattle autumn nights: grey and not cold, but chilling if you stood outside wet. Standing inside wet with only cold Cascade mountain water sprayed on your back is more shocking than chilling, and though not enough to make your heart stop it does make it difficult to warm up enough to sleep. When turned to hot water would trickle out, but given the instant hot water heater’s flow limit, the trickle wasn’t enough to convince the heater to stay on. So, cold, dribbling showers in a new place, the walls full of echoes and the cat watching with ears-back concern as I did the cold shower dance.

Not long after I learned the trick: turn the valve slowly, and when a loud thunk is heard and felt, go back to cold and start again. With the right touch the valve will go all the way to hot and stay there. Hot water was like another country, a new color. I looked like some Seventies sex symbol in there, face upturned, hands open, silver beads of water pouring down, enraptured with the heat.

October showers were strange in a way hard to describe. They had a hollow quality, as if the house had been abandoned, or sealed in a deep freeze. The buttercream marble bounced sound off the glass doors and I felt I was twelve years old, up too late watching a black-and-white movie I didn’t understand, all harsh lighting and tired people with vacant eyes. I didn’t feel so much that someone would round the corner and demand to know what I was doing here, but I felt the certain absence of anyone. The 990 square feet seemed continental in its emptiness and disorder. The light above the shower was dim and very white. In bed, I would untuck the blankets up as temporary blinds and look out on the street, out at the pink streetlight and the sidewalk that seemed so close.

The trick works: turn so far, and if it catches, just start again. No way to know if it’ll happen, and really, how big a deal is it? It wasn’t enough to figure out how to fix, for surely, that plumber could not be right. The valve not working properly was something to depend on.

It seemed to not work best during the coldest weather: the valve might thunk once, and often would turn all the way without incident. The new year came, Saint Patrick’s Day, the time change that now has it light at five AM. Some Googling revealed this bright silver Moen shower with its PosiTemp safety features have a common problem of no or little hot water. When it isn’t used frequently enough, the valve sticks, and won’t unstick. Replacing the valve cartridge fixes it. A cartridge is thirty bucks. I decide it’s not bad enough to fix.

The valve learned a trick to counter mine. In the middle of showering it would thunk, dousing me with cold. Significant finageling would be required to get hot back, and its return was more reluctant each time. I wonder how strident I should be about saving thirty bucks.

The Google has no suggestions for cheaper valves, but does provide someone’s story of having the valves replaced under warranty. I fill out a form and Moen asks some questions, and later I get an email that two cartridges are in the mail.

Getting the cartridge out is more involved than the ideogram instructions let on, and dirty enough I don’t get any pictures while doing it. The installation is good quality, though the valve is inset a little more than it should be, so extra chrome has to come off, but pins pull out and things turn and soon the valve is out, raining parts in the tub. Its removal gives that sense of fresh, free relief known to shadetree mechanics and heart surgeons: I pulled it off. The new valve goes in, the handle goes on. I turn the main back on and water comes out the right places. The valve is smooth and silent.

Taking a victory shower the water is warmer, from temperature and also from familiarity. The shower is normal now, not tired and careworn yet, but familiar. I have cleaned it, changed the showerhead, scrubbed the corners with an old toothbrush. I have a shade instead of a towel over the window now, and the positions of all the items in the sink cabinets seems proper and normal. The hollow shadow ringing the shadows is no longer present. Walking the hall I know where it goes, and the space seems small now, but comfortable.

Everything is still new, but without the sharp edge. Everything has a place and is moving forward together.

The core

The core


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