My toilet kept running after I flushed it, so I called in Bob, my plumber. “It needs a new part,” he told me.
“I’ll send you the bill,” he said as he left. I knew it would be a hefty bill, but Bob is reliable and trustworthy, and always turns up promptly when I have a plumbing emergency, which is just what you need in a plumber.
Bob fixed the problem. The toilet stopped running after I flushed. Instead, it began to whistle. When I flushed, it emitted a high-pitched whistle, which continued until I jiggled the handle.
I did what I normally do when it comes to new plumbing problems: I ignored it and hoped it would go away. Over the next few days, my toilet whistled after I flushed. Not only that but it would occasionally begin to whistle even if I hadn’t flushed.
I’d be sitting in front of the fire reading a book, enjoying the peace and quiet. Then my toilet would begin to serenade me.
When the bill arrived, I didn’t pay it. Instead, I called Bob. “You definitely fixed the problem, but the fix seems to have broken something else.”
‘It needs a new part’
He turned up the next day. “It needs a new part,” he said. “But my original fix didn’t break anything. It’s just a coincidence.”
“I find that hard to believe,” I said. “The toilet didn’t whistle. Then you worked on it. And when you were done, it whistled. How can that possibly be a coincidence?”
“I understand why you feel that way,” he said. “But it wasn’t cause and effect. Really. Just a coincidence.”
At this point, a more hostile or suspicious person would have told Bob the plumber to piss off. But Bob has been my plumber for years. He’s been there for me through many a toilet malfunction. He came through on the awful day I returned home to find it raining in my dining room. (The pipes in the second-floor bathroom had burst.) Not to mention when roofers wrecked my toilet by dropping debris down the venting pipe.
In all of our time together, Bob has never broken one thing while fixing another. I’d like to believe that if he did, he’d fess up to it.
What to do?
An important relationship
I could authorize the new repair, then pay for both. I could authorize this new repair, but only pay for the first one. I could authorize this new repair and refuse to pay for any of it. I could also play the drama queen and order him to leave my bathroom forever.
“As God is my witness, Bob,” I’d proclaim, “you’re never touching my toilet again.”
Of course, then I’d have to find a new plumber.
With plumbers, as with any other important relationship, it all comes down to trust. Did I trust Bob? Could it possibly be that my whistling toilet was, as he claimed, a total coincidence?
It defied all reason. And yet — would Bob lie to me?
I decided that I didn’t want to live in a world where my plumber was a bald-faced liar, so I authorized the new repair and paid for everything.
Did I do the right thing? Should I have insisted that he make the second repair without charge? Did the fact that I decided to trust him make me a good judge of character? An unrepentant optimist? Or just a total chump?
All I know is that, while my bank account took a hit, my toilet now works perfectly. I’ve managed to hang onto my faith in my fellow man. And I don’t have to search for a new plumber.
But if my toilet suddenly starts humming “Funky Town” when I flush, all bets are off.
This article was first published on Newsworks.