The Plumber


I have no issues doing handyman work on a place where I’m living. Witness the number of times that my cousins and mother con me into doing faucet repair and electrical work for them. But I do draw the line when it comes to gas. I’d prefer to enter paradise in my sleep. At old age. In bed. I’ll leave my flying experiences to Air Inter or the like, thank you.

That’s precisely why that when there obviously was a clogged line going to my water heater, I called for Pierrot, our local plombier, who routinely worked on gas problems, not to mention that he had a few of his own (gas problems) from what seemed to be the result of a obviously rich diet. Nevertheless, he was reputed to do a great job at a reasonable rate, and the various denizens of the building all spoke highly of him. From the constant smell of cooking lamb, I had to assume that THEIR gas lines where functioning…

At precisely 3pm (I had made the appointment for 11), there was Pierrot at the door, tool belt on, tool bag slung around his shoulder, face looking like it’d never seen a razor it liked, complete with the dangling Gaulois in his mouth, ready to perform his miracles on my poor water heater’s gas line.

Never ask a French workman for a quote. You’ll never get an honest answer. How do I know this? It’s common knowledge, for one, and body language, for two. The French speak with their hands, a well-known fact, and when they’re quoting a price, you can tell how badly you’re being taken based on just where the hand is located. Below the belt: bring in someone else; at waist-height: break out the checkbook, but be prepared to pay about 20% more than the job should really cost; around chest level: you’re getting screwed, but you’ll enjoy it, honest. Pierrot’s quote was around chest level, so I had him get straight to work. “Two hours, and you’ll have the hottest water in the building” Pierrot promised. Right.

At six PM, Pierrot announced that he was done for the day. “Good” I proclaimed “How much do I owe you”. “Oh, we’ll settle up when I finish in the morning” Pierrot announced. “MORNING?” I asked, my chest getting tight. “There were complications and it’s taking me longer. Don’t worry though..we have agreed on a price” said the erstewhile plumber.

With that, Pierrot went off into the evening, to cocktail hour, followed by a late dinner, and a good night’s sleep in his flat, where steaming hot water was gushing everywhere, I imagined. Me, I went out for dinner, and came back to my cold water flat late and fell into bed.

The next morning, around 10am, the phone rang. “It’s me, Pierrot” said the cheery voice on the other end “I have some important affairs to take care of, but will be there by 1” he announced. What could be more important than my hot water situation, thought I.

4pm: the front door buzzer rings and I answer it. Looking even more haggard, if possible, than yesterday, there stands Pierrot, with toolbelt, toolkit, and this time, an assistant, who couldn’t be a day over 100, I think. They get to work. I have this gnawing fear that 6pm will roll around and I still won’t have hot water, and they’ll again desert me for an evening of decadance and libation. At six, however, Pierrot announces they they’re just going to take a little break, and might I have some wine in the house. Reluctantly, I furnish them with two glasses and a bottle of table wine that I keep around.

After consuming the whole bottle of wine, they return to work, finishing up at 8pm. My apartment now smells like the omnipresent lamb stewing, stale Gauloise smoke, wine, body odor, and gas. Lots of gas. But I now have hot water, and despite the six hours all told that it took them to repair the issue, I actually came out 20 euro ahead on the deal..just enough to buy two bottles of wine….

Jacques Legume
French-born Jacques Legume spent several decades living between the Northeastern US and various places in France. He enjoys (or is tormented by) a unique understanding of The French from an American point of view, and of Americans from a French point of view, the result of which has been a serpentine work history littered with creative exploits, including wallpaper embosser (ever wonder where they get this little ridges?) and forklift driver for touring rock bands.

Recently released from the Bercy Institute for the Sexually Insane, Legume currently lives in an illegally sublet slum welfare apartment in the Paris suburb of Antony.

Like all Frenchmen and most Tea Party members, considers himself to be an expert. About what is uncertain, but, well, he IS French, after all....

He is a member of Mons Pubis, a society dedicated to correcting the wrong committed by l'Academie Francaise for mis-genderization of the word for female genitalia, and founding member of DENSA, the largest, oldest and most unknown society in the world dedicated to intellectual mediocrity (members must fail by 98% or more the written entrance exam). He is single and has no known offspring.
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