Ahab Had the Whale

Ahab was obsessed with finding and killing Moby Dick. A whale. Leviathan of the sea.

Photo credit: World Wildlife Fund

I appear to be obsessed with a toilet. Somehow, it doesn’t have the same cache.

One winter break when I was in college, I worked as a temporary secretary for an office at which just about everyone was on vacation. With a lot of time on my hands, I spent most of my working hours reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for one of my classes. Never in a million years did I expect to feel kinship with Ahab. 

Looking back, there were warning signs that we weren’t so different. 

Every so often, I decide I am going to bake something special: a cake, blueberry muffins, you get the idea. Then time gets away from me and days go by without the chance to make that special something. Do I let it go? 

Regrettably, no. It becomes a larger than life goal, and I find myself at 10 pm pulling the muffins out of the oven just because, they HAD to be made NOW.

My husband says that the pandemic exaggerates everything. Issues that were minor become insurmountable. My bathroom obsession is proving him right.

A few weeks ago I shared a blog post, My Pandemic Plagues, detailing the myriad ways my upstairs bathroom was trying to prove that, no, I was not a plumber. 

Really and truly, when I uploaded the post, although I acted humble, I thought I had fixed just about everything that could go wrong; I had conquered my bathroom nemesis.

Less than 24 hours after the post went live, the toilet began to run. Again. Just a little. Nothing dramatic. I imagined it was more on the order of my nemesis letting me know that I had not had the last word. 

Unfortunately, like Ahab before me, my obsession had taken on a life of its own. Calling a plumber was no longer an option. My trusty teacher, the internet, suggested I put a layer of plumbers’ grease, or, in a pinch, Vaseline, around the flapper to seal and stop the toilet from running.

My local hardware store had never heard of plumbers’ grease. So, Vaseline it was.

I did it. It worked.

Vaseline, it turns out, doesn’t last long. Every so often, I hear the quiet trickle of water emanating from the bathroom and I know that the seal is no longer tight. I lift off the lid and apply another layer.

This morning, when I followed the sound of flowing water, I saw fronds of petroleum jelly waving like underwater sea plants around the pipe connecting the tank to the toilet. As I reached in to wipe out the excess and apply a new layer, the slick, smooth, sticky substance clung to my fingers. My mind flitted to Ahab running his hands through barrels of whale blubber. Oh, how far I have fallen.

Is there a better solution? Should I go online and find some plumber’s grease? Make another hour-long trip out to plumbers’ mecca? Surely, they have heard of it. Replace the flapper? 

Call a plumber? Like Ahab, it might be too late for something as reasonable as that.

7 thoughts on “Ahab Had the Whale

  1. You write so beautifully! When I got to “fronds of petroleum jelly waving like underwater sea plants …” I could picture exactly what you were describing. The perfect image! But who would think to describe it that way? So creative! And I love the connections to “Moby Dick.” Good luck!


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