It was another cold morning in Portland. I sat with my third cup of joe reading the daily rag; it reminded me how much I lamented the loss of the Journal. The wife was across the table making a noise on her aging Apple that sounded like hail on a recycling bin. I could make it stop by reading to her from the articles on the page. I would get a kick out of it once or twice but about the third time I would get that look. I figured I’d take a pass on the look and kept still.
The coffee was black and rich and I wanted more but more would sour my stomach. 'What the hell,' I thought, the 'news would do that anyway.' I was going to heat it up when the phone made its money noise. The phone was like a salaried employee; it made the same noise for money going out as it did for money coming in. This call just happened to be income.
The female voice on the line gave me the same old song. A guy had come out to fix the old tub faucet and then said it couldn't be fixed.
“Yeah,” I said, “what's your name? Gimme an address and a number.”
Her name was Deloris. “Can you fix it?” Deloris asks me.
“Don't you want to look at it first?”
“Sure I do, before I fix it,” I says. “I can fix it though, I don't gotta look at it to say that. I can fix anything but a rainy day and last time I looked that wasn't broke.”
She gives me the dope and asks when I'll be over as it's dripping and running up the bill.
“Within the hour,” is all I'll say. I don't live in town and I never know about the traffic.
At the end of the conversation I'm rubbing my chin, thinking about a shave. I nix the thought and grab my Daytimer. It's dripping and running up the bill. The wife meets me at the door for a peck and a pat.
“What do you want for dinner?” she asks.
“What's on the menu?”
“We're off the menu.”
“Surprise me,” I say. I get another kiss and pat before we part because the interest is all paid off and we're only paying on the principle now.
Jumping into the heap I back out into the lane, the tick of the exhaust manifold leak telling me what my RPMs are. I get slowed down in the school zones on Oatfield and the speed trap in Milwaukie; other than that I make good time.
The address is in Ladd's Addition, a one story cottage. It shows its years but I've seen worse, much worse. I take it all in on my way up the walk. Combed ceder siding shakes but I know there is fir beneath them. The windows are original as is the porch. The front door is well recessed saving it from the worst of the weather so it looks good, only stained, not painted. The thumb latch is weakened with fatigue. I know a guy who can fix it if I can talk all parties concerned into doing it.
“Thanks for coming,” Deloris tells me at the door as she lets me in.
“Sure,” I say, “show me the tub.” I'm all business now, wondering what she's got in there. I have nothing in my hands, not till I see the valve. My plan is to treat the leak with authority but not scare the brass. By the time I'm standing in front of it I can see its got plenty to be afraid of. It's a ten inch wide standing waste and faucet combination, a real beauty, tall and proud and married to a big clawfoot tub. The six-sided wrench flats that were once beautifully buffed so as to have no sharp lines and then nickel plated, are torn and scarred with teeth marks from pliers and pipe wrenches. The scars are dark where the brass was cut into years ago.
'Poor bastard never stood a chance,' I think to myself.
“What do you think?” the owner asks.
“What you've got here is an early American Standard Renu, late twenties. Parts, packings, washers, no problem. Parts aren't in town as a rule, internet or UPS through a warehouse. Two weeks maybe three, three hundred, maybe four.”
“For the parts?”
“No, for everything. I'll stop the leak for now till the seats and stems are in and make a second trip when I have them. Two hours, two trips, plus parts.”
“So why did the other guy say it couldn't be fixed?” she asks.
“Uniform shirt?” I say. “New truck, nice paint, manufacturer's decals on it? He said you needed to remodel the bathroom, right?”
“That's what the man said,” she agrees.
“Lot more money in remodeling, lot easier to make guarantees when you are installing new. To tell you the truth lady,” I says, “I'm the one that's screwy. I just like to fix em, that's all. I guess I get a kick out of it. I got a guy as can fill and plate those scars too if you'll bear the strain, 'nother three hundred, I suppose.”
“Does it need it?” she says.
“No, could use it, don't need it.”
“I don't think so.”
“I didn't suppose, most don't.”
Twenty five minutes later I'm down the road with a good hold on the dripper. I go to see the Hippo on the off chance. Its no dice with the Hippo but that's jake with me. I eat time for a while; it's my time and the Hippo ain't goin' nowhere. Later I'll push the order through at Standard. They beat the net guys both ways nine times; they know it and I know it.
I beat it to get the jump on the rush. Its raining. The intermittent wiper burps on the glass every three and a half seconds all the way south.
The rig gets me home one more time, the phone isn't flashing so I grab lunch. Its a fist full of rye, trimmed with pastrami and swiss. The ice tinkles in my glass and gets quiet when I drop V8 onto it. It gets speared with the last straw, like the one my company commander was always threatening me with during the war. In the office there's a fly knocking himself out on the window. He's kidding himself but I let him, what's it to me.
“You'll drown,” I tell him and sit down to check the mail. The guy in Nigeria is still trying to get hold of me. I'd like to help him out but I can't see my way. To shut him up I send him my contact list, I'm in the plumbing racket and it keeps me plenty busy.