Dancing With the Plumber

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cast your minds back, people, to the season finale of "Dancing With the Stars." It was a big night for the nation. Just how many undecided voters were still out there? Surely I was not the only one. I loved Emmitt, but I also loved Mario. How would I decide? Oh, I didn't know what to do.

"I can't believe you're watching this," said my downer of a husband.

I ignored him. In fact, I turned the volume up on the TV.

"I'm going downstairs to check on the sump pumps," he said. Fine, I thought. Be that way. Run to your sump pumps instead of supporting me in my hour of need. I wasn't angry, exactly. Just . . . alone. We have been polarizing, lately, in our TV-viewing habits. The trashier I go, the more cop-show he goes. Did I start this? Did he start this? I wonder what this silent battle means and where we're headed.

When he came back upstairs, he was carrying a hacksaw. "Have you seen my blowtorch?" he asked.

I turned, as if for comfort, to the image of Mario in his sexed-up samba outfit, then back to Mr. Hacksaw. "No." I told him I was sure I had no idea as to the whereabouts of his blowtorch, and neither did I find this the appropriate time to engage in this conversation.

"Got a problem downstairs," he said. "You won't believe this."

And then he threw me the look. A downward cast of the eyes. A slumping. A subtle shaking of the head. It was that look that says, I'm in agony here, Sweetie, and I need you. I sighed. I hit the "pause" button on the digital video recorder, thus freezing the image of Mario and his partner, Karina Smirnoff. The machine holds one hour of programming before returning to live mode.

He led me downstairs where, as it turned out, all three of our sump pumps appeared to be on the brink, none of them sumping or pumping. "Well, that's weird," I said. "Something clogging the drainage line," he said, having already traveled far on his troubleshooting journey. "At first I thought maybe it was something electrical, but no. Has to be a clog."

I stood there and did what any reasonable person would do: I looked around at all the stuff that might get damaged by a wet basement, and I thought about calling the plumber in the morning.

He wasn't thinking tomorrow. He was thinking now. He stood there with a hacksaw, ready to slice and de-clog. "Has to be over here somewhere," he said.

"You're a brave man," I said. Because, plumbing-wise, he is. (How many people brazenly saw through their basement pipes?) And because I knew that if I threw out the compliments quick and early, I'd get to go upstairs and return to my show. Any woman married to a handyman knows this: Your man needs an audience, and you're it. He needs you to witness his heroism. He needs you to recognize that he is doing this for you, that he is rescuing you and your precious basement belongings from rising floodwater -- even though, really, underneath it all, his motivation is far more primitive: Grrr. Man-love-to-saw-through-stuff. Grrr. Man-love-to-fire-him-up-a-blowtorch.

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