The Measure of a Man (Or, Clamp my Nipples)

Written by Lord Lansdowne

My grandmother's 38 years old gas stove decided to break the other day. It turns out that if you have a stove that's more than 20 years old, you can't find any spare parts for it. So you're stuck with a semi-functional stove just because a small bracket the size of a credit card that holds a piece together somewhere inside is no longer made. My grandmother decided therefore to go and buy herself a new gas stove. I overheard this whole conversation in the back of my brain but took no notice, mostly figuring that a gas stove could not possibly interfere with my life in any way possible.

The first sign that this assumption was terribly wrong was when I arrived at her house and found the new stove just sitting there, and I saw that evil gleam in my family's eyes. I realized right there and then that I was the new Gas Stove Installer. This seems to be one of the faith induced cruces I enjoy, thanks to the random cosmic chance of my birth that assigned me to this family.

I have never installed a stove before. I don't know half of the things that are involved in doing such a thing or if there are any special rules, other than making sure the gas main is closed while you work. This is where I think school should come in handy. Instead of teaching you algebraic formulae that you forget four minutes after the end of high school, there should be a course that gives you practical teachings in life that you will actually use.

An example of this would be teaching young students how to change a flat tire. How to change fuses. The proper handling of a baby with a full diaper. How to operate a washing machine, with the understanding of hot, cold wash, the difference between whites and colours, and how to fold clothes once done. And, in my case, if your grandmother buys a stove and makes you the install man, how to do so with the least amount of swearing, broken fingers and spilled blood.

It's no surprise that no amount of Math, English, Biochemistry or History, or tuition paid helped me out here. Physics was the exception, which made me realize that gravity works at all times, when the huge pliers fell right on my toe.

Logic dictated, however, that this could not be a difficult task. Pull out the old stove, close the gas valve, undo the flexible cable that hooks up the old stove to the gas main, move old stove, insert new stove and repeat in reverse the steps involved. If I can build a computer with random scattered parts, a stove should be a primordial piece of technology in comparison. So I pulled up my sleeves and with a sigh of surrender I began.

About two hours later, I discovered that pipes, when they've been well tightened together for over 38 years, form some sort of bond that prevents them from ever coming apart. It doesn't matter that you just may have the right tools for the job or have plenty of strength to open an endless supply of marmelade jars. They're stuck together no matter how many helpful suggestions your family -- all hovering around you -- can possibly come up with.

On the bright side, parts that were not meant to come off, did, allowing me to take the flexible tube, the regulator and two feet of pipe with me to the hardware store.

At the hardware store, after explaining my tale to the clerks, we tried to remove all the extra pieces of piping that were attached to the flexible tube. We failed miserably, despite the tools and a workshop. The pieces proved to be as stubborn as one of those old Italian men that sits all day long in a barber shop. So I opted for the only option left: buy everything new. The clerk also explained that I needed some sort of compound in some parts of the bolts but not in others, albeit I am still at a loss as to why.

This turned out to be the first of many trips to the hardware store. When I got home I discovered that the beauty of standards is that there are many of them to pick from. Whoever makes stoves seems to pick the one that wasn't used for the previous one. My only task at this point was to figure out which standard the new stove and the gas main followed and get the appropriate pieces.

Back at the hardware store I explained how the new flexible pipe had female connectors at both ends and both the stove and the main were female connectors. I was asked if I had any nipples at home ("Yes sir, I do, but I fail to understand what that has to do with a stove..."), but I suppose the look on my face explained both my ignorance and confusion.

The clerk quickly explained what a nipple is. For all you pervs out there, it is some sort of piece that has both ends as male connectors, allowing it to be a bridge between two female connectors. Or something. I forget now.

When I went back home I discovered I had the right pieces, but of the wrong size. To add insult to injury, all the measurements for these pipes, connectors and related were in inches, which I still fail to understand. All the measuring tapes I found in the house are metric. And to me a quarter inch to a three-eighths of an inch look exactly the same. It's like when I drive in the States and I fill up the car in gallons. Am I being ripped off or is the price good? I have no idea, meanwhile my car took a ridiculously low amount of gallons but the tank appears to be full.

So I drove back to the hardware store and we tried to figure out what size I needed. I got different parts, and headed back to my grandmother's. The pieces this time were too small.

Out of desperation, and since this was already taking three hours longer than the one I had planned, I drove home, grabbed my Polaroid camera, drove back to my grandmother's, snapped photos of the main with the pieces I had next to it as a comparison, snapped a few of the stove's connector and then drove back to the hardware store.

At this point they seemed to have an idea of what pieces were involved. They muttered incomprehsible jargon that involved inches, nipples, males and females, making rude gestures with fingers. Confused, I quickly traded the old pieces I had bought before for the new pieces, ran back and lo, they fit.

In less than five minutes I had the main fixed, secured with the new connectors and the flexible pipe, connected the stove, opened the valve and watched as the methane blue flames lit up without any problems. People that had climbed Mount Everest and came back to tell the tale with their feeling of achievement are nothing in comparison.

When I returned home, I found my mother measuring the height of the fridge to that of the cabinets on top of it, less than a centimetre above it. She bought a new fridge. It's significantly taller than the one we currently have.