Mother and the Plumber

I’m sitting outside on the patio under a leafy tree at my favorite coffee shop, talking with Alan.

Alan is an architect who has been helping my brother Jim with his restaurant project. Alan has long gray/blonde hair that hangs in a messy horse’s tail down his back. He flicks the hot ash from his Camel cigarette and says, “When Jim was at my house one day, the water in the kitchen faucet turned on by itself and I said, ‘What the heck?’

“Then,” he continues, “awhile later another faucet downstairs turns on and starts a flood and again I said, ‘What the heck? Are there spirits around here trying to tell us something?'”

Alan pauses and sucks his white Camel like a doobie.

“I thought, ‘Does this mean this whole project with Jim’s new restaurant is big money down the drain?'”

“Hmmm,” I say.

Jim and Alan, after a year of trying to get a loan and borrowing money from friends and family to build a new restaurant, have been denied. The banks tease but they just won’t loan. Jim is caught up in the collapse of the economy. He’s now at home with the cotton blankets pulled over his head, in the musky dark and in despair.

Alan breathes some smoke and I breathe some smokey air.

We are both silent. Because of his illness and the economy, my brother Art may lose his jewelry shop which is right next door to the coffee shop and the coffee shop itself is teetering on the edge of extinction.

When I go home, I tell my ex, Bill, about Jim.

Bill says, “Sometimes I wake up in the night and I wonder who I am. I wonder where I am. Am I back in my childhood or am I forward in time somewhere? Am I on another planet? It takes me awhile to remember who I am and what part of my life I’m in. It’s hard to get re-oriented, but once I do, I’m OK.”

“Sometimes,” I say, “I think people feel that way in the daytime. Who are we? Where are we? What’s going on? Like with my brothers and lots of other people struggling in life right now.”

The next day, I’m checking on my Mother. Since she hurt her back in bed last week, she says she’s feeling too bad to water some of the plants in her yard.

“I’ll water your plants,” I say magnanimously.

“Oh, thank you Honey!” Mom says.

I turn on the outside water, yank out the long green garden hose, give it a good pull…and break two of Mother’s plastic water  pipes. With a clang, a geyser of water shoots straight up under her mobile home and hits her flooring. “Booom, boom, boom, booooom!”

Oh my gosh.

Mom knows where to shut the water off, but it’s at the front of the property next to The Big House where her tenants live. I grab hold of her arm and kind of drag her along the dirt driveway. I need her to show me where the water turnoff is and which handle to grab and turn.

It’s inside the neighbor’s fenced yard, which we manage to break into. The water box is in the ground and it’s made of concrete. I lose a few fingernails pulling the top off it and inside there’s a mess of sticky webs and fleeing spiders. There’s two handles in the box and I grab one of them with two hands, pull hard and fall heavily on my butt. Good job Venus, but it’s the wrong handle.

Eventually, we get the water turned off and Mom and I totter back to her place where the water has been banging hard against the thin floor of her rotty trailer and flooding under the house. It’s quiet,now.

With some crafty phone calling I finally manage to find a man who says he will come out and fix the pipes in about 5 hours or so.

When he arrives, I am there, again, to make sure that all goes well.

The man asks if Mom has a pair of pliers. This is not a good sign.

Later, he needs a screwdriver and some screws. Since Mother has a lot of stuff, she manages to find a screwdriver and some rusty screws. Do the screws fit? It doesn’t look like it to me, but what do I know about plumbing?

The man tells me he isn’t really a plumber. He grins and shows me the few yellow teeth he has left in his mouth.

He’s not a plumber? What is he?

“And the dang tape isn’t holding,” he says.

We look down at the pipes which are dripping. ‘Is it right to tape water pipes?’ I wonder.

My mother comes out on the porch and says, “Oh Honey, I am so glad you’re here to help me with this.”

I say, “Mom, I broke the pipes.”

“I know Honey, but I’m so glad you’re here to help me get them fixed.”

“Mom, if I hadn’t broken them, I wouldn’t be here to help you get them fixed.”

“I know Honey, but it’s really a help having you here to help me with this.”

I sigh.

“Mom…it’s my fault. I told you, if I hadn’t broken them…oh well. But, hey Mom, I like your logic.”

The Man Who Is Not A Plumber tells me he will get some more tape and come by another day and tape the pipes up. He asks for $25 which is certainly a steal, I think. A Real Plumber would have charged a lot more. Mother and I feel quite satisfied.

I walk back into Mom’s old mobile home and my feet sink deep into the carpet by the door. It feels like I have almost hit the ground underneath the trailer.

The whole house is like my 87 year old mother; falling apart and seeming ready to collapse. But, like my mother, we keep fixing what pops up. It may be screwed in wrong or the taping is bad, but somehow, the house and my mother just keep jogging along.

My mother and her house, have good days and bad.

Right now my mother says her back feels better and the pipes are holding water so all is suddenly good with our worlds. We brew a pot of green tea and sit down at Mom’s round table but we clear a cat off, first, and then I scoop up all the used napkins and old mail, magazines, split sugar and dried splotches of  Ketchup.

We talk about Jim and the bad banks and the loan that went bad and Art and his jewelry store and the favorite coffee shop that is hanging onto itself by a loose thread.

I tell Mom about Bill and how sometimes he wakes in the night and doesn’t know who he is or where he is or even what planet he’s on. I tell her he doesn’t know anything until he finally re-orients himself.

Mom and I think about this and then we agree that Bill’s confusion can be a good metaphor for Life that is sometimes likened to a Carnival…. We’re often confused about what’s going on but as much as we complain, isn’t it this very unknowing, this mystification…isn’t it this that keeps us interested? And don’t the bravest people shun the kiddie rides and choose the wild roller coaster at the Carnival?

Mom and I look at each other. We think everybody on earth is brave. That everyone here is riding one roller coaster or another.

We agree that while we’re here at this Carnival, we might as well ride a good ride and enjoy ourselves as much as possible. And that includes remembering to eat as much of the cotton candy as we can!


PS  I’m sorry about the lag in blog articles. It’s a combination of my intricate life and the fact that one blog got gotten eaten and discarded by WordPress and this one has kept disappearing.


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