Creative

It’s on Me

1

The plumber tightened the last fitting with the sense of satisfaction that came with every job completed. He stowed his tools, grabbed his worn tool box, and prepared to leave the small yellow house. As he did so, he spoke to the attractive young woman waiting to usher him out of the front door.

“All set,” he said. “You shouldn’t have any more issues with the leaking.”

“Thank you so much,” the young woman said. “Can you just put my bill in the mail?”

“Of course,” he said. “It will be $268.”

“That’s fine. I appreciate it,” she said, clearly distracted. She shut the ornate, red door as soon as he had crossed the threshold.

“Bye then,” he said under his breath, as he rolled his eyes.

The plumber made his way through the small yet well-manicured yard, which was mostly comprised of freshly-mowed grass and carefully planted flower beds, and he tossed his tool box in the back of his white van. He then dropped into the driver’s seat and before departing the yellow house, dug a plug of dip tobacco out of its can, and seated it in the customary spot in his lower left lip. He felt the nicotine start to absorb into his gums after a few minutes and savored the resulting calm it brought him.

2

Since it was the plumber’s last job of the day, he made his way to the small cottage style house he owned, not more than a mile or two from the yellow house he had just departed. He unloaded a few items from the van, locked it, and made his way inside the modest but clean house. He grabbed a beer from the fridge, popped the top off the bottle, and drew a long icy sip. It went down easily, flowing past the tobacco still in his lip. The plumber let out an “ahhh” just as people did in soda commercials on the T.V. He chuckled at that thought.

The plumber shed his work clothes, which always accumulated distinct smells and stains on the job, and threw them into the washing machine. He even washed the baseball cap he wore on his head. He glanced at his naked form in the mirror, and thought to himself that he still looked pretty good, even at 34, which he attributed to his regular visits to the gym. The plumber had defined shoulder and chest muscles, the hint of veins showing on the balls of his biceps, and was still lean enough that abdominal muscles were visible through the thin layer of fat on his frame. It was not the body of a man who had given up on fitness, he thought, and he was proud of that.

The plumber then showered, dressed in what he thought were decently dapper jeans, boots, and a short sleeve button down shirt. He put some product in his longish hair, and with his two-day growth of beard, he thought he looked on the good side of handsome. He also sprayed exactly one pump of cologne onto his neck.

The plumber finished his beer, which sat sweating on the counter while he showered, locked up the house, and spit out his tobacco. He then made his way to the craft beer pub not a half mile off, just on the fringe of downtown, near the university.

3

The plumber found a seat at the small L-shaped bar and ordered a locally-brewed hoppy beer. He then took a look around the room to see who else was there. It was not crowded. A young couple whispered conspiratorially at a corner table, another man sat a few stools away from him nursing what looked like a light beer, and three college-aged boys ate burgers and fries at a table just inside the door.

About two-thirds of the way through his first beer, a young woman entered and sat down at the bar, with one stool separating her from the plumber. He noticed her out of the corner of his eye and the pattern of her dress caught his attention. He looked directly at her and realized it was the young woman from the yellow house. She turned her head, gave a perfunctory smile — the kind people give each other when they don’t know each other — and turned back to the menu.

The young woman stared at the menu for a few minutes before the bartender stood in front of her and asked if she was ready to order.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “A lot of choices.”

“Are you drinking beer?” the bartender asked, clearly accustomed to people coming in to the craft beer pub and ordering something other than craft beer.

“I think I will,” she said, still looking at the menu. “What’s a good one?”

The plumber then spoke up, to the young woman. “The local IPA is good,” he said. He raised his glass and finished his beer, setting it down.

“Another?” said the bartender.

“Yes, please,” the plumber said.

“I’ll try that one, too, I guess,” said the woman, smiling more warmly at the plumber this time.

“It’s on me,” said the plumber.

“Well, thank you,” the young woman said. The bartender raised an eyebrow and displayed a knowing smile while he stared down at the beer flowing out of the tap.

“No problem,” said the plumber. The woman pulled out her phone and looked at something. The bartender finished pouring the plumber’s beer first, and placed it in front of the plumber.

“Here you go, man,” the bartender said.

“Thanks, brother.”

After the bartender had placed the young woman’s beer in front of her, and she had taken her first sip, the plumber asked her, “How is it?”

“Good,” she said. “Not too hoppy. Thanks again.”

“Yeah, that’s what I like about that one. Crisp and moderately hoppy. Good flavor.”

“It is,” she said. “I’ve had IPAs before and sometimes they’re too hoppy for me. This one is just right.” The woman turned slightly to face the plumber and she put her phone down with a motion that conveyed some finality. “You always drink IPA?” she asked.

“No, not always,” He said. “I like a stout in the winter. In the summer, I’ll sometimes get something light, like a Michelob Ultra or whatever. Just depends on my mood. Sometimes I go with wine or a mixed drink. I’m adventurous that way.”

She smiled at him and said, “So adventurous.”

“You always drink beer?” he asked.

“No, I like to mix it up, too. It just felt like a beer day,” she said. “I had to spend a bunch of money on plumbing today, so I am drowning my sorrows.”

“Oh come on,” he said. “$268 isn’t so bad when it comes to plumbing work.” The young woman gave him a dumfounded look that showed she was briefly lost.

4

“Jesus, I thought you looked familiar!” she said, realizing who he was, while turning a light crimson color. “You’re my plumber.”

“Well, we’re not exclusive yet, but yeah, that was me today,” he said, flashing a wry smile. “Luke.” He extended a hand across the empty stool to her.

“Taylor,” she said, leaning in to shake his hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you. I was a bit flustered earlier. I guess I didn’t really notice you while you were there working.” He just looked at her and smiled at the comment, giving a slight raise of the eyebrows. “And that sounds terrible,” she said. “Lord, I am not doing well here.”

“You’re doing just fine,” he said. “I get it. We’re invisible sometimes. Do the job and stay out of the way. That’s our motto. Don’t beat yourself up. I’ve heard worse comments about my chosen vocation.”

“What? People actually bad mouth plumbers in front of you?” She asked, incredulous. “That’s terrible.”

“Well, they don’t always know I’m a plumber when they do the bad mouthing,” he said. “It’s generally the typical, ‘you better study hard Johnny, or you’re going to end up a plumber’ type of comment that I hear. Makes me laugh.”

“It’s not funny,” she said, displaying what she thought was the proper dose of outrage at the slights he had been forced to endure.

“Oh, it’s really not a big deal,” he said. “We happen to live in a time when the trades are looked down on. It’s like, God forbid you should choose to forgo college and learn a trade! It kind of comes with the territory for us. We don’t usually get too worked up about it. I know my role and don’t need public adulation to affirm the significance of my job.”

The young woman just stared at him for a second, debating internally the wisdom of the question that had entered her mind. She threw caution to the wind, and went ahead and asked it. “And what is the significance of your job, as you see it?”

5

Without pause, as if the question were completely and utterly banal, the plumber responded. “So, picture the world here, in America, as it currently exists. Clean, clear running water, flushing toilets, heated baths and showers, readily available and seemingly endless fresh water. Reliable electricity. Cool air in the summer, warm air in the winter. Houses that go up quickly and generally last for decades without falling down. Telephone and internet service, paved roads linking the country. Available fuel for vehicles, heating, cooling, and electricity. Those kinds of things.

“Now, imagine the worst happens, like in one of those zombie apocalypse movies or like when a meteor hits the planet. Or, even something more realistic and likely. Another world war, say, except this one with the use of nuclear weapons and electromagnetic pulse weapons. All of the sudden, mankind is thrown back violently into the dark ages. Everyone is on their own. Utilities shut down. Phone and internet service disappears. Toilets stop flushing because the water mains no longer flow fresh water from the reservoirs and lakes. Society crumbles. We return to the state of nature. Hunting, gathering, sleeping in the wild. Loin cloths and shit.

“Now, you think all these college kids with their liberal arts degrees and their masters in humanities are going to put things back together again? You think they are going to get the pumps running again, so the water returns? You think they are going to bring the power plants back on line? You think they are going to re-build their own homes and churches and shitty McDonalds’? Nah. That’ll be us, the tradesmen. We’ll rebuild it all. We’ll do it because it’s our job, and we know how to do it, and the rest of society will need us to. It’s our role. It’s our vocation. And we’re damn good at it. Society has no idea how much it needs us.

“That, Taylor, is the significance of my job, as I see it.”

With that, the plumber took another long pull of his beer, draining it to the last drop. He placed the empty glass on the table, peeled off enough bills to cover the beers, and thanked the bartender. As he started to get up, the young woman simply looked at him, mouth slightly ajar, an expression of surprise on her face. She watched him walk toward the door without a look back.

“Like any of that is ever going to happen,” she said to the bartender, a look of befuddled amusement on her face.

“People are going to need beer, too, when it does,” he said, under his breath.

The young woman either didn’t hear him or ignored him. She opened her shoulder bag and pulled out her second-year constitutional law book, and opened it to the chapter she had to learn for her test. The bartender took her empty glass and washed it in the sink without asking her if she wanted another.

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Mic-Mac
Mic-Mac
1 year ago

Loved this Fru. My husband was a master carpenter. He served a 4 year apprentishhip and took night classes to become licensed as a construction superintendent where he managed all the skilled trades on large institutional and commercial jobs he managed. He earned a fraction of what the white collar executives I worked with earned. I was forever hearing them complain about how much it cost them to get a dishwasher installed or a pipe fixed or a window installed. Today skilled tradesmen/women are in demand in many areas. 👍

Susan B
Susan B
1 year ago

Another hit from you, Fru. I could really connect with this one. Keep them coming, please. Short stories are great when they make you think over what you just read. And I did that. Thanks.

Luke Ryan
1 year ago
Reply to  Susan B

HIs stuff is really excellent

Miche
Miche
1 year ago

Hahaha…even without a zombie apocalypse, lawyers can be pretty worthless. I spent a few weeks trying to fix a couple of leaking faucets (what kind of adult can’t fix their own leaking faucets?!) but finally had to call in the cavalry in the form of a good friend who knew exactly which obscure tools I needed to buy reach inside the tight space through the wall, and he taught me how to check and replace the seal. In a huge blue-collar family, I’m the one without the survival skills….

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