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Desperation and tipping the tradesman

My wife insisted I tip the plumber. “But he hasn’t done any work yet,” I argued.

I wasn’t sure what a proper tip for a plumber would be. The total bill will be many thousands of dollars, so to tip 20 percent – as I would to a food server – was out of the question.

Plus, as I said, he had just driven up to the job site. If I ran out of the house to throw cash at his feet, before he even lifted a pipe wrench, it might make him think we were desperate.



The truth was, we were desperate. We’ve been homeless since September, and I can’t find my underwear.

For any of you who will be moving from one house to another, here’s a suggestion – label the packing boxes. In mid-September, I set aside four pairs of undies to be used until we moved into our new home. The balance of my undergarments went into one of the many cardboard boxes pilfered from City Market.



Thinking we’d be displaced for only a couple of weeks, we put our stuff in storage and took off in the RV. Two weeks have turned into three months, and the underwear I had set aside has turned into antiques.

After a month and a half of traveling, work required we return home – our future abode resembled a job site. Once we found a house-sitting situation, I assumed I could locate my underwear in storage. I remembered they were packed in a fruit box, but I can’t recall the variety. Banana was my first choice but that contained pots and pans. I checked apples and oranges and a few nut boxes. I fear my briefs are gone for good.

Anyone who has had a house built knows the timeline for closing is a fluid thing. I’m not sure how it works in the rest of the world, but in my mountain community, subcontractors often have health problems on powder days. Though I’m delighted with the abundance of snow we’ve received this early winter, it seems to have limited my clothing options.

I’ve heard the building process described as, “A symphonic coalition of tradesmen working in harmony, some occasionally taking a solo lead, all to produce the music of a livable structure.”

Our home has been a battle of the bands that has degenerated into a gang-fight of bad tambourine playing. The painter can’t paint until the dry wallers wall; the wallers can’t wall until the heat is turned on; the heat can’t be turned on until the plumber stops skiing. The trim carpenter is waiting for the tile to be set; the tile cement won’t set if the house is cold. In the meantime I’m writing this column sitting in my truck with the engine running.

Despite the stress, we are looking forward to moving into our first new dwelling. It is particularly thrilling for me, since this will be the first place I’ve ever lived that has more than one toilet. Having a his and hers commode is exciting. Two johns will allow me to keep mine immaculate while my wife’s idea of toilet cleaning is flushing.

But before we can enjoy our two-seater dwelling, we have to get a CO. For the uninitiated, a CO is a certification of occupancy from the town, which states that the home is livable.

In order for the town to deem our love-nest livable, we need to get the toilets connected and the furnace cooking, which fall under terms of plumbing.

I’ve come to realize plumbers are the lead singers of the building trade. While painters, dry-wallers and trim carpenters are the Bill Wymans, Charlie Watts and Keith Richards – plumbers are the strutting Mick Jaggers.

Ellen and I walked our new best friend into the house. I carried his tools, and Ellen asked if she could get him a cup of coffee. Before she left for a cappuccino to-go, she reminded me of the plumber’s gratuity.

I returned to see him bending over the furnace and noticed the required chasm between shirt and pants.

For an instant I considered slipping a $100 bill in the skin-canyon. Instead I walked out, hoping for the best, humming an old Rolling Stones tune, “You can’t always get what you want S”

Biff America, also known locally as Jeffrey Bergeron, can be seen on RSN television, heard on KYSL radio, and read in this and other fine newspapers.


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