Tuesday, February 2, 1988
Wilma lives in Santa Cruz but has a house in La Honda. Today she calls me and says, "My tenant is a bit of a whiner. He's complaining about toilet odors. Will you fix it?"
I'm expecting something like a bad seal between toilet and floor. A one hour job, a $1 wax gasket.
At the rental house I find a tenant named Gary who's caring for an infant while his wife is working. He leads me to a pretty little bathroom and a stench of sewage coming, oddly, from the wall. It won't be such a little job. I try to call Wilma but she's not there. She said, "Fix it." Meanwhile Gary is fussing that the odors are possibly poisoning the baby.
When I start a job, I hate to stop. So I tear an exploratory hole in the wall and find a crumbling, crusty 4 inch cast iron vent. Again I call Wilma; again no answer. Gary says he doesn't mind the mess and he wants those odors gone right now. I rip out more wall, cut out the pipe and replace it with ABS plastic and a no-hub joint. The bathroom now looks totally raped.
I really should've talked to Wilma before I did all that.
In the evening I finally reach Wilma and say, "This is the kind of phone call I hate to make."
I hear an intake of breath. "Is Gary going to sue? He's the type. Oh I knew it was the septic tank. This'll be thousands of dollars, right?"
"No, actually, it was the vent pipe." I explain that the odors are gone but I still need to repair the wall and replace the roof jack. "It'll be about six hundred dollars."
"Oh thank heavens!"
Unwittingly, I used the right approach. A trashed bathroom, a $600 plumbing repair, and she's happy about it.