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Having lived in a NYC rental my entire adult life, I am accustomed to calling the super who calls the landlord who okays the plumber (at least that’s how it’s supposed to work) who fixes whatever is needed at the landlord’s expense. Only now, I’m the landlord. Vaguely I know a washer is a round black rubber thingy with a hole in its middle that has something to do with preventing a dripping faucet. A drip-drip began over the summer in my kitchen sink; by early Fall it was a prolonged dribble; then suddenly last week it became an unstoppable flow. Around the same time, one of the two sink basins became clogged and began to gurgle up matter you’d rather not know about. I dealt with it all by going to see “Un long Dimanche de Fiançailles” (a film I highly recommend) at the local cinema. Unfortunately, when I returned, the plumbing situation had not self healed.
I went in search of THE WOMAN’S HANDS-ON HOME REPAIR GUIDE: “written by a woman for women,” a handy little volume I’d purchased from AMAZON.COM along with a similarly entitled one about automobiles. I flipped through the plumbing section. Nothing exactly matched my kitchen robinet, but there was a bathroom faucet that seemed similar. Step one: Put your hand under the dripping water to determine if the leak is hot or cold. Definitely cold. Next, look under the sink (you cannot imagine what manages to accumulate in those cavernous cupboards) and turn off appropriate water. Turning off water I know is serious stuff. I took the plunge. No more drip. I was astounded I’d managed to pull it ofa href="http://www.autoeurope.com/showspecial.cfm?aff=bonjourparis" mce_href="http://www.autoeurope.com/showspecial.cfm?aff=bonjourparis" target="_blank" rel=”nofollow”> f without unleashing theBay of Fundy into ma cuisine. I had just moved to a new plane of being–handy woman! I sat down and poured myself a glass of Domaine du Maupas rouge.
Emily, my Westie, looked anxious. I got her leash and we took off on our “fait pipi” route—Rue Victor Hugo, Rue Phyllis de la Charce (generally the site of a serious deposit), Rue de la Resistance, Place des Herbes. Mission accomplished, we arrived home to find Mr. Robbie Jackson mortally wounded on the door mat. Robbie Jackson is not my cat. He is a street cat of legendary renown, who goes by various monikers, among them Le Vieux, Monsieur Testicule and PomPom, the latter two because he has the biggest chestnuts (as my friend Lydie calls them) ever seen on a cat. Consequently, Robbie is also the father, grandfather, great-grandfather, ad infinitum, of most of the felines in the Vieille Ville.
Poor Robbie had been in another fight. He was a bloody mess; his front paw was swollen and lame and he was wheezing and whimpering. Why he’d decided to come to me, I don’t know. Françoise-Marie, my next door neighbor, insisted he knew mine was a nurturing home. She announced he needed medical attention. Madame Didot from across the street solemnly nodded her head in agreement. Naturally it was Saturday night, which meant no vets would be around until Monday, except for dire emergencies at triple the price. Why me?
Already picturing my plumbing savings down the drain, so to speak, I cleaned Robbie’s wounds with Betadine and gave him something to eat. With an appetite like that he couldn’t be too ill. I unlocked the heavy wooden door to my cave and made a cozy nest for Robbie on the dirt floor. No way was a cat with a propensity for spraying like Robbie’s coming inside my house!
Next, I rang the bell of Collette and Christian, who own un petit café on the Place des Herbes. After all, Robbie is more their cat than mine; it is they who named him after an “Eastenders” character, to whom they insist he bears a physical resemblance. Plus Robbie is a summertime fixture on his chair in their café. Collette came over immediately with a can of tuna (apparently Robbie’s favorite) and some antibiotics left from when she worked for a vet. She agreed he could wait until Monday and offered to split the bill. One look at the sink and I decided that, too, could wait.
Sunday Robbie seemed a little better; he polished off the tuna and a large boîte of terrine au canard et aux haricots verts, plus the croquettes. I cleared off the counter next to the sink and anchored the hands-on manual open with a bottle of local huile d’olive. Switching from book to faucet and one pair of eyeglasses to another, I slowly dismantled the robinet. Like magic, everything went perfectly until the final screw. Try as I might, I couldn’t budge it. I phoned my friends Anne and Nick. Nick was more than willing to help out with my “screwing problem,” as he so delicately put it. A few minutes later, he arrived with his toolbox and 12-year-old son Marco as chaperone-assistant. All that was needed was the force of a manly screw. Nick explained what I needed, which was not to be found in his toolbox. A trip to Roux, our local quincaillerie, was in order. Only it was Sunday and they were closed; ditto Monday.
Monday morning Robbie was coughing and sneezing and clearly needed medical attention. He and I set off for the vet in Vaison-la-Romaine. I had my speech prepared. This is NOT my cat. I am performing a public service. Robbie is the progenitor of most of the feral cats of Nyons. No one will take him because of his enormous chestnuts. He is a sweet lovely cat. Once he no longer rapes and sprays, he will be able to find a loving home–definitely NOT chez moi. The elegant and dapper Dr. B immediately opened the carrier and took Robbie out for a look. “His testicles are completely normal,” says he, sounding a bit disappointed. “What makes you think they’re oversized?”
This was not a time to argue. I needed to broach the subject of a possible “petit prix,” since, after all, Robbie is NOT my cat. Dr. B mumbled and grumbled about his expenses, then we made an arrangement. He agreed Robbie would be better off without his hardware. I was to retrieve him the following evening.
I returned home to the clogged drain. Lying on my back, I slithered into the murky cavern, tugged and pulled, turned this cylinder and that. Periodically I slithered out to check the book, which was now on the floor. I shall spare you any description of the delights removed from the pipes. Miraculously I put everything back together again. Tuesday morning I marched the robinet innards down to Roux and purchased clapets perces and adaptateurs croisillons, bringing the total plumbing expenses to under four euros, considerably less than the expenses for Robbie Jackson’s plumbing, I might add.
I put the clapet and adaptateur into place and screwed back the robinet handle. The water flowed; it swirled happily down the drain; it turned fully off! Patricia le plombier—a genius! It had a nice ring. Tuesday night, I picked Robbie up in Vaison and brought him home. Five stitches under his tail—not oversized?? He ate a hearty dinner of saumon aux petits pois and contentedly settled into his bed in my cave. In a year, when Collette and Christian have finished building their house, they will take him. After all, Robbie Jackson is not my cat.
Among many other achievements, Patricia Fieldsteel has had an award-winning column in THE VILLAGER newspaper since 1997 and has also published in THE NEW YORK TIMES. She is an animal-lover par excellance and is divinely happy in Provence, though from time to time she misses the opera, ethnic food and Law & Order reruns. This is her story.