SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
November 26, 2006

The Charles Bronsons of Plumbing

I should have taken the hint when the plumber asked me if I had any plans for Thanksgiving. He wasn’t inviting me over to have dinner with his family—it was his polite way of saying “because you aren’t going to have a kitchen.”

     And sure enough, as I type this, a large, friendly man is destroying my kitchen. At least this time I was expecting it.

     It started off simply enough.

     A week ago—this was Monday evening—I was on the phone with Morgan when I heard a knock on my door. Normally I ignore knocks on my door, but this one was persistent. I finally excused myself and set the phone down. At the door was the woman who takes care of the elderly lady on the ground floor.

     “We have a leak downstairs,” she said. “Do you mind if I come in and take a look?”

     Now, I knew there were no leaks around, but I let her in anyway. She looked under the sink, felt the pipes, and came up dry. She thanked me, excused herself, and went back downstairs. That was that, I figured.

     Then the next afternoon there was another knock on my door. I’m not accustomed to much company, so for me this was a madhouse. This time it was the handyman—a nice fellow who almost spoke English. He, too, peered under the kitchen sink, but couldn’t find anything and went away, saying he’d be back the next day.

     The following day came and went without any leak-seeking visitors, so I figured they’d found whatever it was they were looking for and had taken care of it.

     But then the next day—Thursday, this was now—there was another knock about four in the afternoon. Once again it was the caretaker from the ground floor.

     “There’s a plumber downstairs,” she said. “He wants me to turn on the kitchen sink and flush the toilet.”

     “Oh,” I said, “I see.”

     So she did those things, and left, asking me to let the water run.

     “Okay,” I said. After she left, I sat down at the kitchen table, took another swallow of the beer I’d been carrying, then lit a cigarette as the water continued running behind me.

     After I finished the smoke, I turned the water off, figuring that was plenty enough to let them see what they needed to see. A few minutes later, there was still another knock on the door.

     “Jesus,” I mumbled.

     “I’m the plumber,” the small man in the hallway said when I opened the door. “I need to see something.”

     I stepped back and let him in. He—this came as no surprise—went into the kitchen and looked under the sink.

     “There’s nothing going on under there,” I said. “All sorts of people have looked recently.”

     He said nothing, but stepped over to the stove and pulled it out from the wall. Then he squeezed himself behind it and began tapping on things. Then I heard a small crunch as he punched a hole in the wall. I winced.

     “Problem starts up here,” he said matter-of-factly, as he stood and headed for the door.

     “Well that’s not good news,” I said.

     “Oh yes it is,” he said. “If it weren’t here, I’d have to cut a hole in the ceiling to the next floor.”

     “Oh,” I said, though I was wondering why he wouldn’t just use the steps.

     He ran downstairs to share the glorious news with the people on the first floor. Then he came back to my place and started drilling holes.

     As he drilled holes into the wall and the floor, I stepped over to the fridge and opened another beer.

     “Found it,” he said from behind the stove. “It’s just under your floor.”

     “I see.”

     “What that means is that I’m gonna have to remove the stove, tear out the wall, and dig a hole in the floor.”

     “Why, that’s super.”

     “Everybody wants to save their walls,” he said, “but sometimes they just can’t.”

     Damn materialistic slobs, I thought.

     Then he said he was done for the day.

     He couldn’t say when he’d be back, but I could foresee a lot of flinching in my near future.

     The next day my landlord came up to assess the situation. It was an old building and the plumbing had always been a little iffy.

     In the apartment below me, the handyman had knocked a hole in the ceiling to see if maybe he could reach the leak from there, without all the mayhem and wanton destruction.

     “You down there?” my landlord yelled at the floor behind the stove.

     “Yeah!” a muffled voice yelled back. “Turn the water on!”

     A moment after she turned the handle, there was a high-pitched scream from beneath us. She turned it off again.

     “Guess he found it, huh?”

     She ran downstairs to make sure he was okay, then returned to lay out the situation. The handyman couldn’t reach it from downstairs, so the plumbers would be here first thing Monday morning to demolish my kitchen—or at least one corner of it. Normally I would be catatonic with dread at the prospect. It took this same landlord fifteen years to finally talk me into letting her get my place painted—and that prospect nearly killed me. But I was greeting this with little more than a shrug of resignation. Maybe it was because I didn’t really have anything else going on at the time. Hey, at least it would be a change of pace.

     I got up early Monday, and made a few preparations. Moved the cat food and litter box out of the kitchen. Moved a few snacks for myself, too, given as I was going to be cooped up in the front room most of the day.

     Then I started to worry. I was going to be cooped up there all day. And when I’m cooped up all day, I tend to listen to the stereo pretty much all the time. But suddenly I became very self-conscious. What do you listen to when plumbers are around ? If they don’t like the music, they could really fuck things up. Or worse, they could think I’m some kind of foof or something!

     “You’re making problems for yourself that you don’t need,” Morgan said when I mentioned this to her. And of course, she was right. Still, though.

     CCR did a lot of songs about running water—rivers and rain and what not—maybe plumbers like CCR? Hell, everybody likes CCR. Only problem was I didn’t own any CCR, so that was out.

     This kept me going until a little before nine. Then I just put on some Blue Oyster Cult and forgot about it.

     At ten after nine, there was a heavy knock on the door. I wanted to make some jaunty, upbeat comment about the destruction of my kitchen to get things off on the right foot, but all that came out when I opened my mouth was, “So you’re uhh...ah...”

     To which the burly shadow in the hall replied, “Yeah,” before stomping past me and ripping my stove away from the wall.

     An hour later, after seeing what he needed to see, he asked me what my Thanksgiving plans were, and set about ripping out my entire sink. That business behind the stove would come later.

     It’s gonna be a swell week.

 

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