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Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Plumber Named "Block"

On Thursday morning, we were visited by an angel of the Lord.

He did not arrive, as angels are often rumored to do, on a pair of white wings, but rather in an anonymous-looking Ford Econoline panel van. Our angel came, at first glance, ill-equipped to do battle with the Lucifer that lay in wait, desperate to ambush him and violently steal his soul.

Our bathroom sink sat patiently upstairs, biding its time, confident-- nay-- cocky about its impending victory. After all, it had kicked the plumbers cracks of three prior alleged angels who had come to try and take it down. Of course it would take a plumber named "Block" to successfully unblock the sink that had been hopelessly clogged since the day we moved in, and who knows for how many years before we got there.

Of course.

We had originally summoned Mr. Block to our home because of a regrettable incident that had occured on Sunday evening. Mrs. Apron and I had just polished off a crescent of watermelon and, as I had done several weeks prior, I broke up the rind sections and shoved them into the disposal hole. Unlike the last time I tried this, however, a very loud, unfortunate noise occured, and the disposal unit became dislodged, and water and rindy-rind spilled out onto the floor below. I attempted to make the case that the fact that I had just rammed an inordinate amount of large substance into the disposal and the fact that it has just broken were unrelated.

"So you think I broke the disposal?"

"I'm not going to discuss it," my wife said, her arms crossed in front of her like a librarian (how I, the son of a librarian, knew well that stance) "you're just going to clean all that water up and call someone to get it fixed."

I called my parents, which is what grown-up men do when there's a problem, and they gave me the number for Mr. Block.

"He's wonderful, Mummy," my father assured me. I take my father's recommendations with a grain of salt. Because he's fucking crazy.

I called Mr. Block and explained to him that I had broken our disposal.

"How long are you planning on living in this house?" he asked me.

"Um, forever, I hope."

"Okay, because I can put a Band-Aid on this for $30.00 or I can just get you a brand new unit, with a lifetime warranty and free service calls for life-- I don't know how they do it-- for $240. What would you like me to do?"

"Let's do this for real," I said decisively, as if I were about to launch nuclear weapons at North Korea.

Mr. Block showed up at my door this morning at 9:45. He was supposed to be there at 9:00, but most people aren't as funny about time as I am, and I accept that. He is approximately sixty years old with thinning gray hair. He is pleasingly overweight, too, because, really-- would you trust a skinny plumber? I think the thing I liked the most about the way Mr. Block looked was his glasses. As a former optician, I notice glasses-- I just can't help it. Mr. Block had traditional men's eyeglasses, double-bar, gold-colored, the same my grandfather was buried in (because you need those in your coffin-- for realsies) but Mr. Block's glasses had flip-up bi-focals-- you know, the way people had flip-up sunglasses in the eighties. But flip-up bi-focals? I'd never seen those, and I thought they were hilarious, and honest. You've got to like a guy who wears flip-up bi-focals.

Mr. Block couldn't stop touching my dogs.

"I have two basset hounds at home, and boy are they gonna have a stroke when I get home and they smell what I've been with here!" He exclaimed, getting down on his knees to tussle and wrastle with my dogs. "Come here, you guys! You're good dogs! I know you are!"

He walked into the kitchen and he looked at the disposal, which I had shoved back into place with all the might I could muster in my brittle little body. He filled up the sink with water, he ran the disposal, he looked all around-- he even flipped down his bi-focals.

"I don't understand-- where is it broken?" he asked.

"Well," I said, pointing, "the whole seal came off and the thing fell out." Very fucking articulate, mate.

"There's nothing wrong with your disposal. And you don't need a new one either-- this one can't be more than four years old. Whoever installed it just didn't fit that seal tight enough and it came down-- but boy you really shoved that sucker up there-- it won't come down again, believe me," he assured me, patting me on the shoulder as he walked to the door.

"You mean I didn't break the disposal? My wife said I broke it."

"No she didn't. Your wife would never say that," he said to me, smiling.

"Um, yes, she did," I replied.

"How long have you been married?"

"Three-and-a-half years."

"God-- you're practically newlyweds. She would never say that," he said, turning to go.

"Wait!" I cried, "what about the brand new disposal you ordered for us? Don't I still owe you for that?"

"Please," he said, "I'll use it for somebody else. Don't even worry about it. See ya 'round!" he said, opening up my front door.

"No, no, no," I sputtered, now knowing I was in the presence of at least a halfway decent man, "can you please look at my upstairs bathroom sink while you're here? It's never drained since we bought the house."

"Sure," he said, plodding upstairs. He turned on the sink, which filled immediately with water.

"How long have you lived here?"

"Since last February."

"And this has been like this since then?" He asked. I nodded my head in shame. "No, no. That's not acceptable," he said. "Greg," he said to his assistant, "go get The Snake."

While Greg got The Snake, Mr. Block and I stood in my doorway. He ran his fingers against the mezuzzah that my wife and I affixed to the doorpost of our home, like good little Jews.

"This mezuzzah," he said, touching it gently, "it reminds me of a little story. This woman I do work for-- her father was one of the last Jews out of Germany-- maybe a day before they closed everything up. Before he fled he shoved a screwdriver in between his mezuzzah and the doorpost-- bent the thing-- and left with it in his pocket. That mezuzzah and the screwdriver were the only things he left Germany with-- the only things. When he got to America, he put it on his house here, and now his daughter lives in that house. Before he died he said to her, 'Now, if you ever sell this house to goyim, take the mezuzzah with you but, if you sell it to Jews, you must leave it,' because, you know-- that's what you're supposed to do. You're not supposed to remove it. And she moved away, and the house got sold to another Jewish family-- and she left it. Can you believe it? She left it-- this unbelievably important family heirloom, this relic from the war, and she left it-- because that's what you do."

I didn't know what to say. Feeling verbally inarticulate while having a sensitive discussion with a plumber isn't totally out-of-character for me, I'll admit.

"Reminds me of another story, too. I was putting in a faucet for this lady once, and, as I was finishing up I said to her, 'Gee, the Germans make really excellent quality stuff, you know?' and her face went completely pale and she said to me, 'Take out that faucet-- get rid of it and put something else in there, I don't care what it is. Just get rid of that one.' And I was shocked-- she was twenty years younger than me, you know-- but who knows-- her grandparents, or, I don't know, some people just never get over this stuff. It's like my father-- he was at Pearl Harbor, and his job was to scrape the remains of the dead servicemen off the deck and things-- I mean they were just blown everywhere-- skin and blood everywhere-- and if someone today gave him a Japanese car, he would turn right around and sell it or donate it to the Veterans Association. And I say to him, 'Pop-- are you going to blame the sons and grandsons for what happened that day?' and he says to me, 'You weren't there.' Can you believe that? 'You weren't there.' But he's right. I wasn't there."

Not five minutes later, the drain in our upstairs bathroom was completely cleared, and water flowed and flowed and flowed down the drain, and the sink was devoid of the lagoon that formed every time we washed our hands. I took a video of the water flowing freely with my cellphone and sent it to my wife via text. Watching that sink..... work almost took my breath away.

"It's experience. I'm not a genius. I've just been doing this for forty-six years. If I can't unclog your drain I'd better go do something else, right?" God, I hope he never decides to do that.

"What do I owe you?" I asked Mr. Block as he walked towards the door.

"Oh, I don't know-- I'll probably send you a bill," he said and, over his shoulder, he threw me a wink.


  1. Was he handsome?

    I wouldn't mind a man like that.

  2. What, you guys aren't composting your watermelon rinds, like the man of my house does? UNBELIEVABLE.


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