Dancing With the Plumber
A happy marriage can take some fancy footwork

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.

The point is, you're stuck. And the season finale of "Dancing With the Stars" is up there frozen on your TV; in real time, Emmitt and Cheryl were probably already on to their freestyle, and the whole nation was applauding, and there I was, talking clog.

Naturally, I pulled out my secret weapon: the children. "Honey, I think I hear the girls," I half-lied. "If they're out of bed, they're probably looking for us." I told him I had to go up and tell the girls where we were.

"Oh, I don't need you down here," he whole-lied.

I told him I'd be right back. Upstairs, I found the girls sound asleep. I jostled the bunk beds just to make sure. Anybody here need a lullaby? No such luck. The phone rang. It was B.K., my best TV-watching friend. "Do not tell me what happened," I said. "I'm not on real time."

"I'm voting for Emmitt," she said. "I hope I'm doing the right thing."

We shared a few words about supporting each other in our hour of need, and I told her about my spousal duty to be saved from floodwater down in the basement.

"Tell him how amazing he is," she said.

"I'm already on it," I said.

The husband came up, all smiles. "You're not going to believe this!" He was holding the piece of pipe he had sawed off and the clog within. "It's some kind of plastic valve built into the joint," he said. "Can you believe that? It just disintegrated in here."

"Wow," I said. "I can't believe how fast you figured that out. You're so amazing. That was amazing." My compliments spilled forth, like water out of perfectly pumping sump. But then he wanted to talk about it: the valve, the disintegration. He wanted to rehash everything.

"Honey!" I said, motioning toward frozen Mario. "My show?"

"I can't believe you," he said.

"I can't believe you," I said.

I voted for Emmitt. He won. The basement's dry. Life is good.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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