The Fulcrum


Tony didn’t say all that much over the phone, or all that much in person, either. At least, not at first. But he was at the house just after lunch, less than an hour after I called, and I’d muddled my way through the problem enough to at least tell him where to start.

Before he used a hoist to lower the three-hundred-pound plumbing snake machine from his truck, one lever pull at a time, he mentioned the parachute overhead, above us and his van. No, I didn’t skydive. This was more for keeping the heat above us from falling all the way to the ground. He’d gone once, from 18,000 feet, in Marina, for the long drop. Had a client who jumped all the way from 22, but you needed oxygen, at least for the way up.

“Plenty of oxygen coming at you on the way down.”

“Yea, at a hundred and twenty miles per hour.”

I had difficulty picturing this quiet plumber in free-fall. Was that gravity enough to open his quiet reserve? Did that even matter, how much or with how many words he used in going about his job?

I helped him with the three hundred pound machine on old rubber wheels navigate the concrete pathways down to the space between the two houses, where two hours earlier my sister and I had been pushing a garden hose as far down into the pipes as we could to clear the drain, unsuccessful but having eliminated the last of our domestic options.

The machine got right down into it, around the one bend, with all the leverage it needed, to let the free flow of water and gravity do the rest of the work.

Packed back up, I asked him if he was keeping busy. Here and there, he said. A lot of competition. “There are always new plumbers, every year. You ever notice that?”

I paid him in cash and took his business card, and wondered about all these kinds of leverage; from a sheet tearing against the sky, from force of equipment against steel bumper of the van, from the diameter of the pipes, from the number of other people, from the fulcrum of the fewest words.

Maybe I was confusing leverage with resistance, but they seemed related.

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