In springtime, thoughts turn to taming wild hoses


Until you have tangled with the garden hose, the outdoor puttering-around season has not started. Once the hose has been hooked up, other affiliated, warm-weather activities -- car washing, sprinkler tending and backyard snoozing -- can begin.

Last weekend, I wrestled with the household hose and thereby )) opened the backyard watering season.

Someone else had already pulled the hose out of its basement hibernation spot, and had hooked the hose up to the outside faucet, or sillcock. It was a hurried hook-up job. Water was FTC trickling from the faucet down the hose, which lay on the ground in a great Gordian knot.

The drip annoyed me. For years I have fought faucet drip. Some of my goals in life -- driving a Ferrari, developing a booming tennis serve, and getting big refunds from the IRS -- have eluded me. But my lifelong quest to keep faucets from dripping has been successful. My tools in this effort have been pliers, a pocket knife, hot water, soap and persistence.

The other day, I used a pair of pliers with curved jaws to tighten the faucet connection and stop the drip from assaulting the safety of our home.

The truth was, I am not sure what damage, if any, the slight drip was doing. If my house were a tightly sealed unit, I might be able to make the case that dripping water was working its way through layers of protection, undermining the pristine foundation the house. But my foundation is so old, and has weathered so much, that I doubt a little drip would make much difference in how it carries its burden.

The drip does attract water bugs, mosquitoes and flies. But over the years, I have learned to tolerate unpleasant company in a variety of forms, insect and otherwise.

More than anything else, the dripping faucet was a blow to my self-esteem. On most matters domestic, I run a pretty loose ship. But when it comes to the hose, I pride myself on running a no-drip ship.

As I untangled the hose, my pride suffered a quick blow. No sooner had I attached my favorite nozzle, the pistol-grip type, than I heard the unsettling hiss of a hose leak. When the nozzle was shut off, the pressure built up inside the hose, and water leaked from a coupling that joined two sections of hose.

At first the leak was a mere mist. Then it worked its way up to a geyser. Soon it resembled a gusher, the kind Red Adair might cap.

I attacked the leak with my trusty pliers. The gusher got gushier. I retreated. The couplings marrying the two lengthes of hose had to be replaced.

I knew the recommended procedure. I knew I had to get new hose coupling parts. The parts are called "male" and "female." The males are the more aggressive-looking parts; the females are more receptive-looking. It may be politically incorrect, but hey, that's plumbing.

I knew the first step would be to remove the old, leaking parts. This is done using a technique the French revolutionaries once used to get rid of old members of the royal family -- chopping. The revolutionaries used a guillotine for their chopping duties. I use a pocket knife for mine.

Next I soaked the chopped off ends of the hose in hot water. This soothes the hose, and gets it ready for the following stage: forcing the new couplings into place. Getting new parts to fit in an old hose is always a struggle, but the struggle is eased if you first lubricate the hose innards with soap. Once the replacement parts have slid into place, you clamp them down, and soon your hose is back in a drip-free state.

The other day, I did not go through the recommended hose-coupling-repair procedure. Instead I stood there, like a seal basking in the sun, and felt the warmth of the day bathe my cold winter skin. A cherry tree was budding. The white petals of a pear tree were floating in the soft breeze. I felt lazy.

So instead of fixing the hose, I arranged the hose so its leak would hit the cherry tree, not me. Then I washed the car. The warm soap suds, the sloshing water, the sight of water running down the alley, were pleasingly seasonal and sensual.

As I soaped down the top of the family station wagon, my rag got stuck on something near the edge of the car's roof. I opened the rag and found a twig, a piece of the great, green Christmas tree we had hauled several months ago on top of the car.

I dropped the twig and sprayed with the hose. Then I watched as this remnant of winter floated down the alley on the soap suds of spring.

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