A.C. Snow: Plumbers enjoy elite status

May 11, 2013 

The plumber came to our house recently. I should have hired a band or at least sent up flares.

One of the commodes had become temperamentally dysfunctional. It rattled pipes in the basement when flushed as though it had a mind of its own. It’s no wonder that guests sometimes emerged from the bathroom with puzzled expressions on their faces.

Earlier this year, our great university at Chapel Hill came under criticism for over-emphasizing the arts rather than stressing practical studies that lead to jobs after graduation.

No, we don’t need frivolous courses in the sex life of the Monarch butterfly or the lifestyle of pygmies.

We do need more people who know how to fix a leak in the kitchen sink or how to replace a light switch without being electrocuted.

Plumbers have come into their own in recent years. They may not write Ph.D., M.D. or D.D.S. after their signatures. Nor do they normally recite lines from John Keats “On a Grecian Urn” or “To His Coy Mistress,” the Andrew Marvell poem that the late Sen. Jesse Helms sought to strip from the UNC English department’s syllabus.

But when a plumber cures a dripping faucet or quiets a self-flushing commode, it’s soul music to my ears.

A favorite anecdote describes the plumber’s new status in today’s culture.

When a homeowner called his longtime plumber, the receptionist asked, “And what’s the problem?”

“It’s the commode. It’s stopped up.”

“Well, really, Mr. Ponder is quite busy. Let me see. He could get to you maybe a week from Tuesday.”

“This is ridiculous!” the caller exclaimed. “Let me speak to him.”

“He’s with a patient – er, I mean client,” replied the receptionist. “Actually we aren’t taking on new clients. I’ll be glad to recommend ...”

“But he’s been my plumber for 20 years, ever since my wife dropped her wristwatch down the commode!”

“Well, I’ll speak to him,” said the receptionist reluctantly.

In a moment she was back. “You’re in luck. Mr. Ponder has had a cancellation. You can bring the commode in tomorrow afternoon at 3:30.”

When our plumber, a congenial fellow by the name of Alex arrived, I escorted him to the bathroom and flushed the commode, eager for him to hear the staccato of rattling pipes from below.

Silence, except for the water gently making its exit from the commode.

I flushed again, again and again. No rattling. Alex looked at me as if I needed psychiatric attention.

Finally, on the sixth flush, the pipes did their thing. I felt better.

It wasn’t long before he had taken care of the problem and was on his way to his next appointment.

As many of you know, plumbers don’t come cheap.

Recently, in the comic strip Frazz, it was “Career Week,” and the kid was saying, “I want to be a plumber, because they get to go to Disney World all the time.”

When his buddy says, “Where do you get that?” he replies, “Every time one leaves our house my Dad says, ‘There goes our Disney trip.’ ”

When one of my daughters enrolled at UNC, she called home to say, “Daddy, I’ve just completed an aptitude test to determine what I’m best suited for. Guess what! It seems that I’m best suited to be a priest!”

“Honey,” I replied firmly, “You go right back in and keep retaking that test until it says you’re best suited to be a doctor or lawyer.”

Were I advising a young freshman today, I would suggest that he or she, for financial security, consider adding plumbing to the preferred professions list.

Cabin boy

Do you not sometimes wonder why anyone would want to be president – of anything?

Consider President Barack Obama, beset by frustrations – a stonewalling Congress, a struggling economy, foreign policy crises on every side: Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

As my grandmother would say, “First a wasp and then a bee!”

What inspired this rumination was a short poem I stumbled across recently, written by American poet Keith Preston (1884-1927):

I am the captain of my soul;

I rule it with stern joy;

And yet I think I had more fun

When I was a cabin boy.

Snow: 919-836-5636 or

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