The lives and jobs of everyday working men and women are seldom portrayed in books, movies or TV, and those who clean up our messes – trash collectors, dishwashers, housekeepers and plumbers, especially plumbers – are totally ignored. So it was a treat to read The Poop Diaries by Abby Ross (Black Rose Writing, 2020).
Abby Ross, a former journalist currently doing public relations work, has gathered stories from plumbers that will make you smile, giggle, and laugh out loud – as well as marvel at the situations they encounter in their work. Yes, there’s a lot about poop and clogged toilets, but some of the other toilet cloggers challenge the imagination.
Todd comments: “I also have a strong stomach. During my more than forty years of plumbing I have only dry heaved once. A lady asked me to unclog her sink. I removed the cleanout plug and saw it was jammed with SpaghettiOs. When I stuck my finger in them, they exploded on my shirt. Those SpaghettiOs must have been in there for two years, at least. They smelled worse than shit. I dry heaved a few times. After finishing the job I ripped off my clothes and drove home in my underwear.
“Except for that day, whenever I go into people’s homes, no matter how horrible they smell, I sniff and say, ‘Ah, it smells like money.’”
But Dean makes it clear it’s not always about money: “I will never forget one elderly woman (who) called because her sewer was clogged with tree roots…She was a typical grandmother-type, wearing a pink robe, sipping her morning coffee, which she drank black. She liked sugar but could only use a small amount each week due to her limited budget and did not want to waste it on coffee.”
The job took 4-1/2 hours and Dean and his uncle took just $20 in payment, not really wanting to charge anything. They came back regularly for eight years, but on the second visit “when we came up from the basement, she had a whole plate of cookies waiting for us. She used her entire allotment of sugar for the month to make us cookies and continued making them every time we came to help.”
There are stories of customers not nearly as nice, or who are too nice, and a few who try to chisel on the bill. There is the party where the toilet clogged and, not wanting to end the night, guests used the bathtub instead. There was the toilet clog that may have wrecked a marriage. And both men and women displaying themselves to the working plumber. Encounters with drugs and guns.
Ross even came up with two women plumbers, rare in the trade. Jac comments, “Shortly after I took over the plumbing jobs for my building, the owner was so impressed with my skills, he asked me to work on his construction team…One of his managers, Jim, hated working alongside a woman. During one of our first jobs he stole all my parts. What a jerk!”
Carissa, in Canada, tells of squaring off with a terrified squirrel in a tight drainpipe, and of men coming on in unimaginable ways. She reflects, “Occasionally a man who unsuccessfully tried to fix a drain or pipe watches me fix it in fifteen minutes and gets slightly huffy…During my first week working as a plumber. The guy who was training me asked me to flush a toilet and a urinal. ‘Did they flush properly?’ he asked. ‘The toilet did,’ I replied. ‘What about the urinal? he asked. ‘I think it did, but I have never flushed a urinal before.’”
Matt, working in the Chicago area, reflects, “I like being a blue-collar worker. I rarely deal with a boss. I drive around in my truck, doing my own thing, and taking care of customers. It makes me feel good to know I helped get someone’s sewer line back on track, preventing sewage from flooding their home, or fixed their water heater so they could take a hot shower. I fix basic services that families need.”
Kenny says, “No matter how people view what I do, or how unwelcomed some people may make me feel, the bottom line is, good plumbing is a privilege. Plumbers are on the front lines, protecting citizens. Because of plumbers people have clean drinking water. They can shower and wash dishes with hot water…Plumbing is honorable work.”
Craig quotes his plumber grandfather: “’If things get bad and your furnace breaks, you can always build a fire. If your electricity goes out you can always light a candle. But you always need clean water to drink and a place to go poop.’
“And that is why the world will always need plumbers.”
The Poop Diaries is available on Amazon, $18.95 (with free shipping) for the book, $6.99 for Kindle. For a preview, visit www.storyhouse.org and click on Search by Author or Title; “poop” will take you to it.