Kendrick Perkins, who plays center and dispenses attitude for the Oklahoma City Thunder, had nothing on this man for pure, unfiltered scowl. I mean, he was polite as the day is long as is Perk, provided you're not an official or wearing the enemy uniform and the days do seem to be getting a little longer of late, but in fairness, I'd given him reason to scowl: if someone had called me at one minute before closing with an emergency job to do, I'd probably scowl too.

Still, he had work to do, and that was his top priority for the moment. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary old water line through the garage, behind the washing machine, had sprung a leak and if anything, it ought to be more of a breeze than usual, since he wouldn't have to cut a hole in the wall: just take down the shelf, unscrew a large piece of plywood, and there it was.

"Breeze," however, was not in this man's vocabulary, at least that evening. The leak refused to be subdued: to his amazement and mine, obvious hole wasn't as obvious at it had originally appeared, and you'd almost think the darn thing had brought its own water supply with it, just for taunting purposes. "This is gonna take all night," he said resignedly as he went back to his truck for another piece of gear. "All night."

I told him that I wished I knew a little more about this sort of thing, that at some point in the future that knowledge might serve me well. He looked at me as though I'd said that I'd wanted to become a lion tamer, and that I already had my own hat. "Don't ever get into plumbing," he said. "It will kill you."

I knew what he meant. My own job can be exasperating at times, and more than once I've thought about chucking it and going into something less likely to cause me apoplexy. Still, they pay me to light the candle, not to curse the darkness, so I keep after it, grumbling now and then just to remind the world that I am not happy with its performance.

In fact, I suspect most people, including the ones who proclaim in public that they love their work, routinely encounter moments they not only don't love, but actively despise. Sometimes those moments aren't intrinsic to the job, but are imposed by outsiders who don't know any better. Whatever the source, though, everyone knows someone who couldn't take it anymore and went full Johnny Paycheck even though that in an economy like this one, you never go full Johnny Paycheck.

I did learn one plumbing technique, sort of: when in doubt, bring out a bigger wrench. And after wielding one of the biggest wrenches I'd seen in years, he pronounced the situation properly repaired. Years of involuntary service as a software tester led me to ask if maybe I should run an empty load through the washer, just to be sure. "No problem," he said flatly. And of course there wasn't.

Came the time to settle up. We'd agreed on a price at the beginning; I duly wrote a check for that amount, and as he was transferring the details to the invoice, I popped a $20 bill out of my pocket. "Go buy dinner," I said.

For the briefest of moments, the scowl disappeared. Now maybe it was just the fact that the garage is illuminated by compact fluorescent bulbs, which create odd lighting effects; but I could have sworn I saw an actual twinkle in his eye.

And as the truck disappeared into the cold March night, I marveled at the power of gratitude, and at how little it costs in the long run.

The Vent

  8 March 2014

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 Copyright © 2014 by Charles G. Hill