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Sunday, September 29, 2013
One common literary structure is the quest. It can be tangible, such as a hunt for buried treasure, or intangible, such as a search for meaning or love. Either way, it plays out in adventure, wrong turns, lessons learned and more.
Vickie LaFon of Pearisburg has been on a quest. It’s far from Cervantes or any other high-minded literary classic. But it’s perfect material for a newspaper column. We’re talking basic bodily functions and a certain amount of indignity.
She’s been hunting and hunting and hunting — for a 19-inch-long toilet seat (the industry standard is about 16 inches). It’s a replacement for one that recently broke and has tossed her off her own commode twice.
The challenge has been daunting. It’s involved shopping forays, searches online, calls to Richmond, Atlanta and New York. She even got one of her state lawmakers, Sen. John Edwards, involved.
It’s the first time ever that a constituent contacted Edwards’ office about a toilet seat.
How does a toilet seat throw someone off itself? How could it be that Vickie and her husband Dennis can’t find a right-sized replacement? Why involve a state senator? Those were some of the questions I asked when we talked last week.
The LaFons bought their townhouse about two years ago. The previous owner had installed taller-than-normal, handicapped-accessible, white commodes. The brand of the ones downstairs is Pegasus, a name borrowed from the flying stallion of Greek myth. Those have longer-than normal seats that measure out at exactly 19 inches.
Metal brackets fit into slots on the molded seat to secure it. Those came loose one day a couple of weeks ago on the commode that Vickie uses most frequently. Believe it or not, loose toilet seats can be a danger. Vickie found this out during a vulnerable moment, around 4 a.m. The thing suddenly slipped, toppling her off the porcelain throne.
That’s when she realized the brackets in the slots on the seat had loosened. She tried to fix it with some high-strength glue. She believed the problem was solved until the next night when she went to use the commode again.
It wasn’t, and boom. Once again she felt like she was trying to mount a flying horse. The next morning she resolved to replace its saddle.
It ought to be a simple thing to buy a toilet seat, right? Vickie measured hers and went to the local hardware store in Rich Creek. They had nothing that was 19 inches long. That was hurdle No. 1.
It was there she leaned that Pegasus was a house brand for some made-in-China commodes sold by Home Depot. She called their Christiansburg store before she drove all the way there. She says she got put on hold for 15 minutes.
“I got mad and hung up and called back,” she said. The second time a human at the store was willing to talk to her. But he wasn’t much help. “The man told me they don’t make a 19-inch commode seats any more.” Hurdle No. 2.
The store had only one commode in that size left. But (attention bargain shoppers) it had no seat. He referred her to Home Depot’s distribution center in Atlanta.
She called there, got a woman named Melissa on the line and explained the problem.
“Melissa told me the regulations for Virginia was that you couldn’t have a 19-inch commode seat,” Vickie said.
“I said, ‘Who made them illegal?’ and she said, ‘Your legislature.’ ”
It turns out that hurdle No. 3 was not too big a deal for Vickie, because she lives within easy driving distance of both West Virginia and North Carolina. It would be simple to hop to a Home Depot in one of those states and smuggle an outlawed 19-incher back into the Old Dominion. The prospect was even a bit thrilling.
She outlined her law-flouting scheme to Melissa, who put her on hold then came back a few minutes later. She said Melissa responded: “Well actually, it’s a nationwide regulation.”
That’s when Vickie said she a uttered a word you can’t print in a family newspaper. She put the phone down then picked it up again, because, she told me, “there ain’t no hope for America if we voted on this in the legislature.”
Hurdle No. 4 was a call to Del. Joseph Yost. He wasn’t in. Hurdle No. 5 was a call Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office in Richmond. Vickie couldn’t get through. She called Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, and got his aide Alison Baird on the line and explained the problem.
Baird later called Vickie back after researching the issue. The Virginia General Assembly has “never, ever voted on the length of a toilet seat,” Vickie said Baird told her.
Which is not to say our lawmakers don’t get silly. To me, Edwards recalled a bill the House of Delegates passed some years back that regulated droopy pants. The killjoys in the Senate tore the legs out from under it, though.
Hurdle No. 6 was a trip to Walmart. There, Vickie and Dennis found and purchased an 18.5-inch seat for $23. It doesn’t buck her off, but “it doesn’t look good,” Vickie said.
So she got online and searched high and low for a 19-incher. She actually found one on eBay. But it’s almond-colored, not white. “Last time I looked it was up to $22,” Vickie said excitedly. There’s no telling how high it will soar, because there are days left in that auction. Hurdle No. 7.
“Maybe I should invest my retirement in a stock of 19-inch toilet seats. I could get rich,” Vickie cracked.
Next she called Goshen, N.Y., the home base of Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery, a nationwide home fixtures company. A man there was as helpful as he could be. The closest he could come is 18-7/8ths inches, however.
“I’m going to order it tomorrow,” she said Friday.
The lessons Vickie has learned in her quest are not exactly profound. One is that it can be difficult to find replacement parts for any household item that’s made in China. A second is that the state of customer service in this country has pretty much gone down the toilet, so to speak.
A third is that people seem ready and willing to cast blame on “regulations” that probably don’t exist, adopted by a “legislature” that probably doesn’t either. And they don’t even get embarrassed when you call their bluffs.
She also has learned more than she ever wanted to know about toilets seats.
Vickie is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her 1/8th-of an-inch too-short toilet seat.
In the meantime, she’s still keeping her eyes peeled for a 19-incher.
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