My plumber has a crush on me. He told me so. I told him it’s mutual. But that’s not where the story starts. It started long ago, perhaps a few years ago, when he came to clear out some blocked pipes. I like to talk to servicemen about the work they’re doing, whether it’s on my car or my house or appliances. Usually I like to fix things myself, because it’s empowering to fix things ourselves and a lot cheaper, but in reality, I don’t have time to learn everything, or practice it when I do learn. Furthermore, I don’t have the tools they do and I don’t even really want to get my hands that dirty. So to quench my curiousity, I like to hang around and ask them stuff about how this works and that works. Sometimes they find it annoying.
But Chris, let’s call him Chris, was quite open to explaining plumbing issues, and from there we talked about politics and food and heat exchangers and many other things. It was good, or so I thought. We shared some jokes, and among other things, found out we were both from Montreal. That was great. What was also great was that he got stuff I said right away, and to his relief, I got things he said right away. This may not seem that remarkable to you, but to me, it’s a huge relief when I can use big words and not dumb down my conversation or the speed I use, so others can catch up. You can build up a conversational momentum that’s fast and intense. It’s a bit like playing ping pong, but in this case, not as opponents, but rather players who want to keep the ball on table.
Next time, many months later, I needed a plumber for one of my rental units to install a several low flow toilets, I was lucky enough to have him again, and though I didn’t hang around to watch all the work we did get to talk. Installing five toilets takes time and has financial implications if the plumber is distracted so I tempered our chats We discussed plumbing mostly. By this time we had a rapport and were used to quick, concise exchanges, weaving in and out of plumbing issues, Montreal, local gossip, personal opinions on this and that. We developed a mutual and healthy respect for each others’ intelligence and even acknowledged that it was so. Our exchanges were many, dwelling only briefly on each topic, moving along at a clipping pace while multitasking and happy when neither of us lost the various threads in our chat and were able to pick up fragments, unfinished chats, much later on. There was wry humour, wise cracks and bits of wisdom from the school of hard knocks.
The next time again, possibly a year later, my neighbour needed something done, and since he was at work, I supervised the fixing of a leaky toilet. Chris was assigned by his company and we had a great talk about the Middle East, where we were squarely on opposite side of the Israeli/Palestine conflict, and we managed anyway to carry on a a super civilized conversation and the get the job done too. So you see, we knew each other.
So this week when I needed a new water heater installed in my own house, I called his company and specifically asked for him. It had been a few months, and since I liked him in a healthy verbal jousting kinda way, I thought why not ask for him? It would be fun. Besides, who wants to see a different plumber every time? There’s something comforting about seeing the same doctor, or same auto mechanic every time. Also the same plumber. Then you can say “my plumber”.
We were glad to see each other. Chris said as soon as he got out of the truck: “We really get along. It’s good to see you”. I said yes, and if he wasn’t busy in the next life, perhaps we could get together since we were so compatible. He laughed.
I asked if I could sit and watch him work, and Chris said that was fine by him. As usual we talked about many things, interspersed with explanations about hot water heaters, welding joints, copper vs plastic piping. We talked about picking up hitchhikers, about how trauma affects people’s lives, sexual abuse, some local gossip and then I told him about my rape since it was relevant at the time. I explained how it happened, and he listened while working. Half way through I explained to him that I was not telling him this because I needed to talk. He said “I know that, Anita.”. He asked if my husband knew, and I said of course and that he had helped me a lot. I told him it was about sharing stories. Stories are good.
I got up from time to time to make some tea, or sweep the floor where he was working, and once to water the garden with the water he was draining from old water tank. In fact, instead of draining and wasting the hot water, I took a shower while he prepared some other stuff. Why waste hot water? Chris said he figured that I would do something like that with the water since I was such an environmentalist. At some point, I invited him to come over and listen to stories with my husband over a glass of wine. He said he’d like that and that he had many stories to share.
When I told him about my encounter with a local mechanic working for a chain store who had called me “difficult” when I questioned what he was doing with my car Chris told me he used to find me irritating. I was a bit taken aback because I thought we had these great conversations in previous plumbing sessions. I asked him what irritated him about me and he said “nothing you did. It was just that you have a very strong presence and it’s intimidating. It’s fine now. I really like you just the way you are. I get you. You know I trust you. I really do”.
I also told him I was fasting. He asked why, and I said for fun. He laughed. You have to understand that we were rarely actually looking at each other while talking, because he was indeed installing a new hot water tank all this time. But we were able to pace ourselves accordingly, and in my case, with a great deal of sensitivity to when my talk would actually be interfering with his work. We complimented each other on intelligence and knowledge. We acknowledged how cool it was to talk to someone who was so smart. I explained to him that fasting was like doing drugs. The way you get high in half an hour or so, I said, imagine that space between being not high till you are high. Imagine that stretching out to 48 hours, so you get high very s l o w l y ?
Chris laughed and asked me if I had done drugs. I said yes. But you see, fasting has changed my way of being at this moment. I am high, even as I write this, on the fifth day of my mostly tea and a little fruit fast. We were just vibing so well on each other that we speculated that the high was making it so good. The mutual admiration, the acknowledgement of trauma, of life’s imperfections, appreciation for the way hot water tanks work, the choreography of our choppy conversation; it all built up. I walked away to do something in the kitchen and Chris called out “I am getting a crush on you Anita”. I said “I know. It’s mutual” from the kitchen.
Chris kept working and when I came back, I leaned a bit closer to where he was working and said “Be careful you’re not getting a crush on me because I told you about the rape. It’s normal to feel protective and caring for a victim”. He assured me that was not it, but he got that it could be that way. I like that he could learn. I really liked his smarts along with his humility.
It was time to sign the bill and pay. I did so and we were perhaps two feet apart, standing side by side. I signed my name and said “you know, you’re making me blush”. Chris said “you’re making me blush”. It was all quite matter of factly.
When he was loading his truck, he said “So you think we could do something in the next life?”. I said sure, absolutely, it would be lovely. Then I said to him “but there is a problem. You see, when we die, we go into a place where there is no next or last, all time is one thing. So that other life, where we are together, it’s actually right now, in a parallel universe.”
Chris said “I could spend time with you, Anita”.
love this story, reread it today after coming across it yesterday. elements of it resonate with my plumber situation!