Plumbing the depths of cluelessness a full-time job for some

In the moment it took him to put one foot into the house, with the other foot still outside beyond the storm door, the plumber told me about the slave quarters he had seen in western Howard County.

"Oh yeah," he said, raising the right foot from the front step into the hallway, "me and my buddies, we used to go up there to those slave quarters and sit on top of the roof and hunt. It was sumthin'. And they got some of those slave quarters on a bunch of farms all over the county."

Bonding much? What on earth is possessing him to talk about the abodes of former unpaid servants who were set free a very long time ago. In his mind, he was connecting with me, attempting to show me that, yes, he is sensitive and he understands.

Oh, spare me.

"Hello," I said, "I'm Diane. And you are? ..."

Let me just call him Not the Smartest Fish in the Tree.

"Oh, yeah, Diane. My buddies and me, we would hunt, sittin' on top of those roofs, you know, of the slave quarters."

"Yah, I got that. Shall I show you the leaky faucet now?"

I've lived long enough to be amused by his more-than-necessary utterings about homes formerly lived in by unpaid workers a century and a half ago. But hey, some people feel they've got to become a kindred spirit, got to let you know them. No they don't.

"Well, lemme get my book out," he says, poring over a list showing how much to charge. "Hmmm. ..."

I sat on the edge of the tub, quietly pondering why there is a "b" in plumber.

"Hmmm. This is going to take about 2-1/2 hours, see, 'cause I gotta take off the old faucet, then get down under the sink and put in the new faucet. Kohler, huh?" Chin rub. "That's gonna be $318.63."

I barely recognize the sound that came out of me. "Really?" I ask in a squeaky 1930's-style female movie voice. "Well, I have to think about that."

"It's a very good price," says Not. Showing me the contract, "Just put your initials right here, and I can get started."

"Nope. I still want to think about it."

"Well, let me call my office manager and see if he can give you a better price. Sometimes he can do that."

Inside I am cracking up over what this man who keeps the water flowing is telling me. Snark. This transaction has become a game. He goes out to his truck to get his cell phone, while I head to the kitchen to give my coffee-drinking, newspaper-reading hubby a good laugh. Picking himself off the floor, Hubby asks if this is a "used car faucet."

Not calls my name. "Good news, Diane, my manager knocked off $100. Just initial here."

"Sweet," I tell him, but no initials. Instead, I offer him a check for the cost of the estimate.

"Can I see your driver's license, please?" he asks.

"You're kidding, right?" I shoot back. "You're in my house."

"Yeah, but if I bring in a check without your license on it, they'll be ticked off at me."

Days later, I realize how draining this encounter was, but I refuse to be plunged into the watery depths of despair. There's a moral in here somewhere, but I am not sure what it is. Was he attempting to take advantage of me because of my gender and because, well, I have a nice home? Was his "call" to his "manager" a ruse? After all, he'd be spending the same amount of time fixing the faucet whether he charges $381.63 or $281.63.

My tried and true plumber came two days later, and his price was right. Less than an hour later, he charged $175.

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