The Sound of Success

The thing about plumbing, and yes, there is a thing, is that it is, well, just like plumbing.

“It’s plumbing,” you’ll hear mentioned with regard to all sorts of endeavors.

“Fixing the aorta? It’s plumbing,” the cardiovascular surgeon will say.

“Containing a nuclear meltdown? Plumbing.”

The only people who won’t say something is like plumbing, in fact, are plumbers. To these guys, plumbing is microsurgery. It is quantum physics, engineering to the nth degree. It is like nothing else. 

I guess it is admirable to have gusto for your chosen profession, even if it is inflated a little. Why be a plumber and not think it is a great thing to be. I have always respected plumbers, and other tradesmen, with similar enthusiasm. When you are not skilled at something, you always revere the people who are. I have tried to perform many tasks that other people make their living doing, and have succeeded a portion of the time. So, I can appreciate those who do the harder of these jobs. The other day, I tried to be a plumber. It changed my life.

The toilet in the kids’ bathroom had been running, on and off, for months. They had become conditioned to jiggle the handle as part of the whole toilet process. You could hear it across the house. Fast clanks, then the filling sound, then silence. On Friday, the lever stopped levering. It hung down, lifeless. “Mom, I can’t jiggle the handle.”

I arrived at the scene with no tools, just annoyance. We will have to call the plumber, something I had been putting off. It is not so inconvenient to jiggle. But this… Meantime, I would investigate. Lifting the lid off of the tank, I saw immediately that the chain had fallen to the bottom of the tank. I could reattach the chain. When I reattached the chain, the long metal stick broke off of the part with the wing nut. I have since learned this technical term. Later that day, we went to Home Depot and bought a new chain/metal stick/wing nut/handle apparatus. I enlisted the aid of my older child, who would act as scrub nurse. We dismantled the old parts, using a wrench to remove a stubborn shaft. There is always a stubborn shaft in a home improvement project. In fifteen minutes, we had installed the new equipment, improvising one of the steps with a pink paperclip.

Then, the test. Flush. Not only did the lever perform superlatively, there was a beautiful quietude afterwards. During the transplant, I had somehow repaired the running. A bonus. A spiritual message. A pat on the self-reliant back. Though the first instinct now is to jiggle, the children are enjoying newfound freedom in simply walking away.

I Am Woman, Hear Me Sizzle

I have a grill, purchased when we moved into our house five years ago. Every house should have one, I thought. I have put food on the grates and cooked, myself, without assistance, about three times. Grilling, still, in these modern times, is male domain. About sixty percent of all outdoor cooking is done by men. A casual sampling of males I know turns up a higher percentage, even on gas or electric contraptions, on which women tend to participate more.

We have a charcoal grill, which requires some knowledge of science and engineering, I am learning. On Saturday, I thought we should use it. The weather was just right. At 5:15, I lit the fire. We ate at 8. This is a long time to the plate for a process that is supposed to be convenient. About three coals turned gray. The other 900 didn’t. I tried to cook four hamburgers and four chicken breasts over the three coals. After a half hour, the meat was raw. I could put my hand on the grill without incident.

“Girls,” I said to my daughters and their friend, “I don’t think it’s getting hot.”

Laughter all around. I threw an entire box of matches on the mound.

“Should I call my dad?” the friend asked. 

Horrified I was at the suggestion, four-foot long tongs clenched in my fist. “Absolutely not. I can do this.”

“Maybe, start over,” she said. 

I took the meat off of the grill and put it on a plate. Then, I sprayed the coals with the lighter fluid that I am afraid of, and tossed a match on the pile. I stood across the street to do it. Thinking the coals were lit, I put the meat back on the grill. I was getting really hungry. My entire being smelled like a smokehouse. I was a smokehouse. It took an hour to cook the burgers and the chicken, and that is without the finale in the microwave. And, we needed new buns because all the pink juice drenched the original ones. 

When we were done eating, the fire was perfect. I filled up the teapot with water and poured it on the grill. Sizzle sizzle. 

Strong Woman Lesson No. 9042

The thing about people who try to strong arm women just because they are women is, it is so old. People used to do it years ago and then, women realized they could say, “Don’t do that” and actually get results. So, fewer males, I think, try because they think, perhaps, they won’t succeed. And, this type of male is inherently lazy, so the extra effort, with no guaranteed gain, might not be attractive. Still, there are ignorant fools who continue to try to intimidate, disrespect, insult, pick your term, women, just in case they, in fact, do get away with it.

This comes to mind because of a situation in which some male tried not to pay me for my writing services. It is really boring, actually, because it is so, well, old, and because the idiot in question is such a, well, idiot. But…of course there is a lesson. And when you are a mom, and a single mom of girls who don’t see male-female discourse on a daily basis, it is important to make a lesson of it. That is a thought in and of itself, perhaps for another time, the notion that parents who do not have another adult in the house feel the weight of talking about, describing, making sure the kids know what you take for granted if you grow up with two adults in the house. For now, we will talk about the idiot male person who tried not to pay me.

So, I accept a silly assignment knowing I probably shouldn’t because the people doing the assigning seem a little incompetent. But, I figure it’s a quick job. Spending cash. While I am sitting in the office of the assigning man watching him try to work the fax machine, I am reminded of something my first Managing Editor told me back in 1985. I happened to run into her on the Madison Avenue bus heading uptown in the evening, and she told me that whatever I do, wherever I work, make sure it is for reputable people. Take a lesser position, she said, with a smarter operation. I have put this into practice for many years. The few times I’ve accepted assignments from less worthy companies, I have, in fact, encountered trouble. 

But, when you freelance, you tend to accept most anything that is offered. These days, you don’t even think about it. You will write about nail clippers. Anyway, the man, let’s call him John, tells me after the piece is turned in that the piece is not good. Of course the piece is good. This is a tactic. Tell the person the piece is not good, after you already told her it was good, so that you don’t have to pay her. It has been a month since John has had my invoice, and no check has arrived in the mail. Meantime, I email John and all of his coworkers about how it is time for them to pay me. John, of course, gets mad that his coworkers now know that he cannot operate a fax machine.

My kids think this story is funny. I tell them that people will try to take advantage of you, and no matter how significant it is or not, you cannot let them. This is insignificant, but we will use all we have at our disposal to make sure we are treated fairly. My older daughter suggested we all go to John’s office to demand the check. She wants to watch it. 

Meanwhile, John called saying that he will pay me if I sign a statement saying I will not email his coworkers and tell them that he cannot operate the fax machine or is trying not to pay me or looks like a mushroom. I told him I won’t sign anything so insane and that he should mail a check to the address on the invoice, just like real businesses do. 

He said he would. We are taking bets. Lesson No. 9043 is in the works.


On the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer game yesterday, three young boys were playing a game of “Star Wars.” I don’t know exactly what the game involved, but one of them had a flashlight and there was some mention of “protecting” people. “You go protect your mom,” one said to another, maybe five years old. Then, the one who issued the order, who was about six, brought the other boy to meet his own mother. “This is my friend, Mom,” he said. Very cute. Very nice.

A third child tagged along. He was no more than four, with a blond crew cut and shirt that spelled something about an all-star team.

“You can protect your mom, too,” the older one told him.

“My mom’s not here,” the little one said.

“Okay. Protect your dad.”

“I don’t have a dad,” he said, as if he was describing a shoelace. My first thought was that the man died. Then I wondered who brought him to the game. “He’s in jail,” the child said.

The other kid didn’t ask what the man did to be sent to jail. I would have thought a six year old would ask. I wondered why the boy thought his dad was dead, when he was living. Maybe he did something terrible, and the mom told her son that his dad was dead. Maybe he was, in fact, dead, or died in jail, and the four year old got his facts wrong. It was all very disturbing, to me, anyway. The boy didn’t seem distressed, at least, not yesterday. They didn’t figure out who the child was going to protect, so he just ran along side the older one, the leader’s assistant. He was fortunate to have found a good leader, I thought.