The average age of a plumber in the United States is 55.  That fact alone seems to indicate that this is a moribund trade populated by persons who probably don’t fit under sinks as well as they once did.

A leak under my kitchen sink, escaping the confines of the little pail I had placed under it, necessitated a service call that was answered by someone half the age of the aforementioned fact.  He had an even younger helper with him.  He introduced himself as David and asked if he could see the basement.  “What does the basement have to do with the kitchen?” I asked, rather thoughtlessly.  “Everything – its where the service lines and drains are, most likely, and I’ll bet the original connections are all iron pipe,” he replied tactfully. 

The three of us made a pilgrimage to the plumbing, and David began trouble-shooting immediately, tracing incoming and outgoing directions with a finger in the air, pointing out where the Victorian plumbing was mated up with later repairs and remodeling.  He was very articulate and seemed to be visualizing everything in three dimensions.  Trooping back upstairs he started unrolling tools and then inserted almost all of his frame under the sink.  He was as nimble as a contortionist and watching him curl around his project made me feel absolutely ossified. 

How did someone so young get into an old man’s line of work?  “Well,” his disembodied voice replied through the drain, “I have a history degree from Texas Tech, but I like to pay my bills.”  But, why plumbing?  He repeated the 55-year-old statistic and added that a trade with aging participants, especially one that so many depend upon, looked like a pretty safe bet for a dependable income.  He added that his girlfriend’s dad owned the company.  He and the young lady had a falling out but daddy apparently thinks he’s an excellent plumber, so he still has his job.

“I volunteer for all the work in this neighborhood.  I grew up in a 100-year-old house and I think I understand them.  They are a lot more interesting and challenging than new construction; this is about problem-solving.” 

This was a long shot, but I asked the knees and boots, “Have you ever read any Eric Hoffer?” 

“The longshoreman philosopher?  Sure.”  Hoffer was very in vogue when I was in school, but the essence of his work had much to do with having the good sense to recognize self-esteem and self-satisfaction in good work. 

The point of an education used to be that it was supposed to transform the individual into a better, more contemplative person, not necessarily to divide between blue and white collars.  It’s a good thing some are choosing not to be snobs, but choose work they find fulfilling in that there is a measurable result in a day’s work.  In providing a vital service that is well executed, one can find a path to contentment. 

I hope David isn’t saving all the money he’s making from overtime; I hope some of it is going to the expansion of his library. 

- Michael Guarino