Until I download my photos and blog about the before/during/after photos, read this hilarious article (full text below) by Joyce Wadler of the New York Times about a Manhattanite who is also renovating her bathroom- many of the trials and tribulations she faces are similar to what P and I have been dealing with.
Two Weeks Without a Toilet
Published July 14, 2010By Joyce Wadler
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
THIS is my new tub, a Rubbermaid Roughneck XL plastic bin. What do you think — is the lime green too much?
I picked it out in the storage section at Home Depot, kicking off my sandals and stepping in, doing a nice straight-back knee bend partway down to see if I would fit. At 18 by 32 inches, with a depth of 20 inches, it was perfect. But five days into my bathroom renovation, it was not so great.
Sick of the Y.M.C.A. showers, I decided to try using the bin as a true bathtub, rather than as the place where I would stand and drip after lathering up at the kitchen sink. I folded my limbs in, feeling like an insect with extra joints. (On the fifth day of her renovation, the reporter awoke to find she had turned into a giant cockroach.)
Seated, it was a very tight fit, leaving me three inches to move my hands, but lots of space to free-associate. My first association was flying tourist class to Shanghai. Then I thought about the stowaways who cram themselves into shipping boxes on freight containers. Then, realizing just how tough it would be to get out, I wondered if I would die there and what the headline might be.
Reporter Drowns in Makeshift Tub; Home Renovations in New York on Upswing
Bathroom renovation is not easy in Manhattan. In the rest of the country, most people have bathrooms in multiples: master baths, children’s bath, powder rooms. In a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, you are lucky if you can find the space in your only bathroom for extra toilet paper. Renovating, you have a few choices: move out, use the neighbors’ bathroom or improvise.
Having the work done while I was away, which was my plan, finally didn’t seem to be a great idea: questions come up often during a renovation. Moving in with friends would be inconvenient, and hotels are expensive. Using a neighbor’s bathroom, which a lot of people suggested, was a terrible idea. Even if anyone was crazy enough to agree, it would mean that one day I would have to do the same for them, and who wants someone popping into their apartment several times an evening and in the middle of the night?
So improvisation it would be, and I had a plan. Use the Y.M.C.A. a block and a half away for showering. Buy a big plastic tub for an at-home lather-and-rinse bath. Brush my teeth at the kitchen sink.
Of course, the most urgent question — the one friends seized on constantly — was what I would do for a toilet. There were two camps, the ones who knew exactly what I was going to do — or as I came to think of them, the ones who had read Henry Miller in high school — and the ones who pretended they had no idea. The first camp, I am proud to say, was in the majority.
“O.K., the sink, I get it,” a science reporter said. “But what about — — ”
The doormen have a toilet, I told him. Somewhere.
I reminded the squeamish that I don’t cook. If a cup or two is poured carefully down the drain with the occasional Clorox chaser, so what? It’s not like I’m rinsing vegetables in the sink.
The night before demolition, I set up my bathroom in exile. I moved cosmetics and soaps and shampoos into the kitchen. I propped a hand mirror between the handles of a kitchen cabinet, which turned out to be exactly the right height for a makeup mirror. I put the Rubbermaid Roughneck tub near the sink, and stacked bath towels on a counter. The oven door handle of the snazzy Italian stove I put in during a kitchen renovation a few months earlier made a perfect rack for hand towels. I thought I could hear the stove sniffling, it was so grateful to be finally getting some attention, poor thing.
My contractor estimated that he could put in the bathroom in less than three weeks, connecting the toilet by the end of week two. This schedule was immediately knocked off course when the service elevator was shut down on Monday, meaning everything would be a day late, and I would be without a toilet for two weekends, not one. But my neighborhood is full of restaurants with bathrooms, and I had a plan; what did I care?
Demolition began on a Tuesday. I had dinner out and came home late to a bathroom stripped down to concrete and pipes, and a living room covered in dust. Annoying, but I had gone through it with the kitchen renovation and lived. I hate people who whine about renovations.
I went to the kitchen to rinse out a pair of white jeans for the next day and turned on the faucet: nothing, no water.
The plumber, shutting off the water in the bathroom, had cut off the water to the entire apartment. I panicked. I can live without a bathroom, but with no water at all, my apartment was unlivable. There are five exposed valves in the bathroom, but I had no idea which one would turn the water back on and which one would erupt in my face, blowing my eye out. I called the contractor. He apologized profusely, told me which handle to turn, and after a few wrenching tries I was able to turn the water back on, though I had a feeling I had dislocated my shoulder.
But I am independent woman, strong like bull, proud, and the plan was back on track. I washed the jeans in a little detergent, then pulled the plug. Then I heard the sound of water running in the bathroom — which was not, under the circumstances, where I wanted to hear it. I raced over.
Soapy water was dripping from an open pipe, the water forming a fat, muddy puddle on the floor. I threw towels onto the floor to mop it up and made a panicked run down to the basement to find the super, realizing as I did so that I was in desperate need of a bathroom. I stopped a passing doorman.
“There wouldn’t be a bathroom somewhere down here, would there?” I asked.
He led me to one in a corner of the basement I had never noticed, though I have been in the building 22 years. The secret bathroom — salvation!
Then I found the super, who, after giving me the “that’s what you get for hiring an outside contractor instead of me and my extended family” look, said he would see what he could do. He came up to my bathroom, screwed on a U-shaped pipe to prevent overflow and gave me a crash course in plumbing. I gave him two $20s.
OPERATION Live Without a Toilet for Two Weeks, It Won’t Kill You was back on track. Wimps who leave their apartments just because they have no bathroom? I sneer at them.
I showered at the Y in the morning, and used the bathrooms at work and at neighborhood restaurants, although the question of whether to have an after-dinner drink was now fraught. At night, instead of my evening bath, I had a standing wash in my Rubbermaid Roughneck. (An interesting couple, those two, when you think about it: Does the maid find roughnecks irresistible? Is it roughnecks who wash like this? What about roustabouts? I understand why the Roughneck likes the Rubbermaid — she is so pliant, it must be like dating a ballerina. But does she ever become fed up with bathing in a bin and demand to be taken to a hotel?)
The standing wash is something between a shower and a splash. I scrubbed and rinsed in the sink from my waist up, then lathered up from the waist down, rinsing with a beat-up pewter pitcher I got at a flea market 30 years ago. It was surprising to me how little water it took to get clean this way.
Still, after three days, when I had an out-of-town article to report that enabled me to stay in a hotel, I was delighted. The facilities on Amtrak are magnificent — they have flush toilets. When I checked into the hotel, the first thing I did was take a bath. Also exquisite.
The woman I was doing the article about had a beautiful house, and after I used her bathroom I was so overwhelmed, I returned, blathering.
“I’ve been renovating my bathroom and living without a toilet,” I told her. “I feel like I’ve been to a Mecca or something.”
“That’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard,” she said.
Returning to my apartment, now Steinbeckian in its buildup of dust, was not easy. The showers at the Y do not have doors, just billowing curtains that allow the water to come streaming out, and as the showers are opposite one another, it’s like going out naked during hurricane season.
I decided to try to take a real bath in my bin. I poured some Bigelow’s Bay Rum bath oil, a good strong scent, into the Merry Maid Roustabout; angled it to fit under the kitchen faucet, and started filling it. This took a while. The stream from a kitchen faucet is smaller than a bathtub’s. Also, water is heavy. I got five inches of water into the tub, then managed to angle it out from under the faucet and set it onto the floor without spilling it.
I felt a strain in my right shoulder, but I stepped in and sat down. The warm, scented water was lovely but not what I would call relaxing. My arms were crisscrossed at the elbow. I couldn’t move much. It evoked some movie memories, but those tubs were bigger and the bathers — French aristocrats or gunslingers in hotels of questionable repute — had people bringing them hot water.
Lifting the tub to empty it in the sink was much tougher than lowering it to the floor. I thought I could hear the tendons in my shoulder snap and found myself wishing I’d gotten closer to the neighbors.
I was also starting to wonder about the legality of pouring urine down the sink in New York City. It seems no worse than a lot of the things from the back of my refrigerator that I have poured down the drain, but getting into trouble over it would be an inglorious end to my career.
I tried to research the subject on the Web, but all I found was a video on public restrooms in my neighborhood. There seemed to be a nice one at Whole Foods. Good to know. Meanwhile, the weather was getting hotter, my apartment was getting dustier, my shoulder was getting worse.
Ten days into the renovation, I went to see my friend Loren Fishman, a doctor who specializes in rehabilitative medicine, who examined my shoulder, looked concerned and sent me for an M.R.I.
A few days later, I got the diagnosis: frozen shoulder, most likely brought on by muscle strain. If I am lucky, after a course of physical therapy, it will go away in a few months.
Next time, I’m going to a hotel.