On Phantom Flushes and Angry Saw Blades

Life and business lessons often come from unexpected places and experiences. For me, they tend to come in bunches — recently, on consecutive weekends.


The first one involved a malfunctioning toilet. It had been a pretty solid performer for a decade and a half, but in recent days had begun to incessantly run — what Dr. Google now refers to as “phantom flushes.” I’m no plumber, but I know what to do when the gasket goes bad … time to head to the hardware store. For you toilet afficionados, this is not your traditional flapper. It has a 4-inch center ring that is placed on a plastic oval, so it’s a little trickier but still pretty simple.

Anyway, I did the switch, then went downstairs to enjoy a cup of coffee. Minutes later, that sickening “PSHHHHH” sound announced my failure. My wife shot me a disapproving frowny face. Back to the store.

A second gasket did no better, so in complete frustration I headed back to the store and purchased a complete tune-up kit. I spent the afternoon dismantling the toilet and rebuilding it, then crashed on the couch. Minutes later, the phantoms once again pulled down the handle. By then it was Sunday night, and too late to do anything about it. “I’m done,” I told my wife. “I’m getting a new toilet tomorrow.”

So now we have a gleaming new commode, and the world is right again. My takeaway from the experience is, don’t let the frustration of the moment cloud your judgement. Sometimes it’s best to cut losses and move on, rather than give something that’s not going to work a third, or fourth, chance.

Part two. The very next weekend, I was working with a table saw doing a 45-degree cut on legs for a table. Never in my decades of working with this saw had I hurt myself, so I had a barrel full of misplaced confidence, despite that fact that is was a tricky cut. And as I pushed each leg through the saw, I reminded myself over and over to be careful.

But at one moment halfway through I thought, “this would be a lot safer if I used a push block to get these legs through the saw.” But it was just too much trouble. So as I made the final cut, my thumb slipped and, well, I won’t have a thumb print for a while. I made the walk of shame into the house, grabbed a paper towel to catch the dripping blood, told my wife to hold dinner, and drove to the urgent care.

Life and business lesson No. 2 — cutting corners can be a dangerous game, whether you’re creating a tank mix or building a business plan. Don’t ignore those voices telling you to “do better” because time is short, or the pressure is high, or it’s the end of the day. As I found out, three minutes of course correction can save you three hours of needless time lost. And I was pretty lucky.

Be safe out there, and keep your thumbs out of harm’s way — hitting the spacebar with a load of bandages is a bear!