Blow, Then Suck or, Have You Hugged Your Plumber Today?

So I called a plumbing company whose ads make the most of its heavy equipment.

They sent me Sam, a slight, energetic young man of the appearance that is often described as simply “ethnic” — dark skin, facial bones typical of nowhere in particular. He had a Christian fish on the back of his pickup and a trailer loaded with honking great pieces of what looked like Army Corps of Engineers ordnance — tanks, hoses, gigantic vacuums. This was what I needed last night.

He said that might be able to find me a discount for the swallow-hard price; I asked if there was an over-55 rate. The usual twitting about not looking my age, though this morning I think I did, fairly haggard from bailing, mopping, and moving things to higher ground to avoid the water that had come in overnight. Also, by this time I smelled like a goat that had been rubbed with Limburger. But as my engineer opined later: “You gotta think his profession has already killed his sense of smell.”

He sized things up confidently: he would need the high-pressure water blaster, which would crank up to 4000 psi. (I asked. “We usually stop around 2500,” he said.) He filled the tank on his truck from my hose bib and unrolled the “blaster” connection, pausing to say, “If you don’t mind me asking a personal question, are you married?”

What is it with this??? Dusky men with elegant accents show up at my place over one sort of business and another, and want to know within ten minutes if I am married. (None of the men I have ever actually dated exhibit curiosity at this rate.) I said no but there was a gentleman in the picture, and that he had been helping me bail last night but was at work now; that he was handy in all kinds of ways, even cooking, but that this was out of his league, though he had a clutch of theories about what was wrong down there.

We discussed past floods, income tax and the like while Sam set up an electric pump, then fired the pressurized water into the drain. Every so often he would don rubber gloves and probe the opening. Once he withdrew a fossilized acorn, but opined that the main problem was concrete crumbling into the drain trap, creating the chuck-stone like jam everyone could feel down there and no one could budge. This was close to the Engineer’s lead theory, as it happened. After about twenty minutes with the Blaster, Sam said he wanted to try a big vacuum on whatever was down there, and when he cut off the water flow, the electric pump suddenly sucked wind and kabloop went the pond down the drain. Encouraging.

He cranked up the vacuum — the hose was long enough to suction all the way to the street, if he could have gotten it that far into the pipe — and traded off his equipment a few times, suck, blow, suck, blow, till he had a container full of malty water and a double fistful of inclusion gravel (my engineer again, with the industry term) and, quaintly, a clear green glass marble that had been packed into the U-bend. We spread it all out on the lawn, admiring the shiny bits. I actually don’t think I have ever had so much fun solving an expensive household problem, especially considering that I have been sinking money into windows, roofs and gutters all year and this happened instead. It was snotty of Fate, like getting your wheels aligned and then driving over a caltrop.

We squatted over the drain opening and inspected the decaying concrete. It has taken 15 years for this to happen since the last time, when we thought it was a fluke or some nachlass of the previous owners’ creative home maintenance habits, so I probably don’t have to do anything right away, but I think a sump pump is in my future.

“Would you like me to leave my personal number?” Sam asked as he was writing up the ticket. “You mean, like if I need a drippy faucet or something fixed that doesn’t need all this equipment?” I asked quickly. Yes, he did that kind of thing. “Just between us,” he said.

I shook his hand solidly. “Oh, I was hoping for a hug,” he said. Distinctly unprofessional, but he said it with a smile so disarming I went ahead and gave him the standard Receiving Line or Actresses Greeting At Oscars hug, shook his hand again and said I’d probably call once I stopped feeling poor and had a wash-stand picked out. (The old one is rusting, and its taps leak just that little bit, off and on).

I probably will. But I want a chaperone.


11 thoughts on “Blow, Then Suck or, Have You Hugged Your Plumber Today?

  1. I really had felt an impulse to hug him considering how frantic I had been up to the point the drain started working again, but I didn’t want him to think I was some lonely old hag on the make. So much for prudence.

    I can just about hobble this morning, and the last load of soggy stuff has gone through the dryer.

  2. Hugging is good; but in the Burning Man community it has become as much de rigeur as shaking hands most places (or grunting, where I grew up) and thus lost much of its natural intimacy. It’s odd to think of this awkward trend developing amongst plumbers.

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