So there I was, just dropped out of College, got married and was jumping job to job. While in my Junior year at Northeastern, I, along with 34 of my Physical Education Major peers, was brought into a room and told that there was only one male gym teacher for boys and one female teacher for girls at every school and that they normally stayed for 30 years. The result, no jobs for P.E. Majors." Change your major".
When I politely asked about courses like Karate, Tennis and Psychology of Sport and if those credits would count in different programs, they abruptly said "No". I went on "So all the money we paid for those courses was a waste and you just found out about the lack of future jobs today?" They did not give a credible answer. I left Northeastern unhappy with my college experience.
After going job to job, all I really knew was that there were plenty of jobs I did not want to do for the rest of my life. After part time stints at UPS I ended up driving a Canteen Truck, better known as a "Roach Coach", for a woman who owned a company her deceased husband had started. I had a route and I made no fewer than 20 stops a day, selling coffee, sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs steamed in beer, candy, juice, soda pop and cigarettes. It was a new and different experience and I had fun doing it, but it was not a good career choice and I knew that...
My first stop was at 8:00 a.m. at Mass Hospital in Canton, MA, a hospital for handicapped children. There were several such kids in wheelchairs who waited with Nurses for my arrival. I had patience for them and a lot of respect for the Nurses who worked there. In addition to these people there was a group of construction workers that were involved in a project that was within an eye-shot of where I parked my food truck.
It was during this time frame that my Father in-law, a career Plumber, and my wife, arranged for me to go with him for a day to experience a day in the life of a Plumber.
On that day I went to my in-law's house and met with Irv. At the time my Father in-law was in his early sixties, much like I am today. He was fit. He had spent his entire adult life after serving in the military, working in the mechanical trades, plumbing, steam fitting, and you could tell. His forearms were heavily muscled and his hands were much larger than what you'd expect on a 5'7" frame. They looked like cartoon character hands that had been hit with a sledge hammer and were incredibly swollen. In Irv's case, they were a result of many years of hard work.
We jumped into his Chevrolet van. It was gold colored and a newer model than the green snub-nosed Econoline vans I had seen in family photos. The first thing I noticed was that the rear quarter was damaged on the passenger side, the side view mirror was bent and the glass missing. I found out later that it was during the first week of ownership that Irv backed into something and he was so upset he decided not to get it fixed. Inside, the van was a mess, tools and parts mounded in the middle to a point of looking like junk. I found out later on that it was Irv's mess and he knew exactly where everything was and it was not to be organized by anyone else under any circumstances...
On the way to the first job I listened carefully to Irv, whose voice was difficult to hear because of all the junk rattling around in the back. We were going to an older house owned by a young Doctor who lived near the center of town in Sharon. Irv smiled as he told me. He was clearly happy to be in his van and on the way to fix a toilet at a customer's home.
When we arrived there Irv told me to grab the blue plastic tool tote in the back of the van. Irv never locked his van nor did he lock the front door of his house. He was a very trustworthy guy and he was trusting of others. He always saw the good in people despite knowing the bad...
We were welcomed into the house by the Doctor's wife. There were young children running around behind her in the kitchen. We walked up to the second floor by way of an incredible stairway. It had a large dark mahogany hand rail and matching spindles that swirled up to the second floor. It really was a magnificent stairwell, the kind only found in older homes and probably one of the reasons the Doctor and his wife bought this house.
We entered the hallway and stopped when we got to the bathroom, which had a similarly stained wood door. There it was, the toilet. Call it a "John" or a "Hopper", but our first job of the day was to fix it. This particular toilet was vintage 1940's. Originally tanks were mounted high up on the wall where a long pipe connected it to the floor-mounted bowl. There was a chain that extended down that was pulled to activate the flush. They were designed to flush using 5 gallons of water. This one was an updated version of the original. The tank was hung on the wall 8-13" above the bowl where a shorter chromed pipe connected the two pieces of white Vitreous China. The 90 degree pipe came with the toilet and was long on both ends. The Plumber cut both ends for a custom fit. Toilets being sold at that time (late 70's early 80's) were close coupled, meaning that they were directly connected, used 3.5 gallons to flush, and it was only in older homes that you would still see this type.
Although it looked old and dated, it was obvious Irv was determined to fix it and not replace it. He took off his navy blue Dickie work jacket and rolled up the sleeves of his matching navy blue Dickie long sleeve shirt. Irv wore navy blue Dickie work uniforms, complete with a matching brimmed cap, and low Knapp work shoes. His work clothing was all function and no style. Style wasn't important to him.
With his sleeves rolled up, Irv quickly dropped to his knees in front of the white porcelain bowl and called to me to hand him the "long skinny, yellow handled screwdriver". I moved things around in the blue tool tote and found it. I handed it to him over his shoulder, handle first...
Without hesitation and much to my surprise, Irv plunged his bare hand into the water in the bowl and began digging at something. I peered over his shoulder and watched as he made circles with the screwdriver. It would have made a nice "Norman Rockwell" picture, a 23 year old helper peering over the shoulder of a 63 year old Plumber. The memory has remained with me in that art form.
After considerable effort, Irv had something. He pulled it out of the toilet and it looked like a metal ring to me and so I asked "What is it Irv, a ring?" He flipped it to me and I caught it in mid air. I looked at it briefly and then put it on my ring finger on my right hand and began admiring it... That's when Irv turned his head, and still kneeling in front of the bowl, he said "No Vin, that's solidified urine!"
I immediately removed it from my finger and staring at Irv's crooked grin, I knew this trade was not for me. I made it through the rest of the day, careful what I touched. When I got home to my wife she asked "How was your day with my Father?" And although she loved and admired him for being a great father and a respected Plumber, I had to be honest "Your Father's crazy and I'm never eating his homemade coleslaw ever again!"
Every Fourth of July Irv had a cookout at his house that featured his homemade coleslaw. On this day Irv wore shorts and his favorite shirt, a white tee with medium horizontal blue stripes, a large red sailboat on the chest area and red trim on the sleeves and neck. Irv cleaned up well and looked great in his casual clothes. He always had the stone fountain he built running in the back yard on the fourth. It was always a great day.
My day with Irv helped me eliminate "Plumbing" as a career choice. I went back to my "Roach Coach" where in addition to the food and beverage, I began selling designer jeans, leather jackets, cheap wrist watches and costume jewelry. I even took bets on football games with cards I got from a local bookie. I had some winners and the bookie always paid.
Back behind the wheel of my "Roach Coach" I had plenty of time to think about my future, which at the time was going nowhere. While at my first stop, the Mass Hospital, I began some dialogue with the three Plumbers working on the hospital renovations. When they heard that my Father in-law was a self-employed Plumber they questioned my decision to drive the "Roach Coach". One of them asked me "Are you afraid of the little brown trout?" I knew that was Plumber-speak for shit, and I laughed and nodded yes. They went on to explain how much they enjoyed being Plumbers and that I didn't have to work the drain end if I didn't want to. They explained how they were focused on the mechanical end. I left with much to think about...
After a couple more months of making coffee and taking bets, I mentioned to my wife wanting to give Plumbing another go. She mentioned it to her mother. The women arranged for a Sunday football day for Irv and I.
Irv's house was a small cape with a narrow circular driveway that facilitated his frequent stops at home between plumbing jobs. It was located less than a half mile from the beach at Lake Massapoag in Sharon. He had built it himself. He opened his Plumbing Company shortly after my wife was born in 1958. He worked out of his garage, which was under what was my wife's bedroom. It was where he stored pipe, fittings, and kept his pipe threading machine. In the unfinished basement he had a desk he rarely used and a extra refrigerator where he kept wax rings for setting toilets.
Upstairs he had a small kitchen, and a breakfast nook that he surprised his wife with after a lengthy vacation, a small dining room, a comfortable formal living room, a screened porch built by a contractor who owed him money and a little den where he watched T.V. with his wife. Their favorite show was "Candlepins for Cash" which was on every Saturday at noon. They rarely missed watching it together.
The den was small, 8' wide x 10 'long. There was a leather recliner and a fabric covered loveseat along the side outside wall, a four foot wide leather wrapped bar angled in the corner partially blocking the double-hung window at the rear of the house, and a console T.V. across from the loveseat. Throw in the bookshelf on the inside wall between the den and the bathroom, and it was a tight fit, but very cozy. That's where we watched football. Irv had been a player and so had I, so we had a similar appreciation for the game. We liked big hits! Irv let me have the recliner and he sat on the love seat, cushion closest to me. The T.V. screen couldn't have been more than four feet in front of the loveseat.
I was there to watch football, but also approach Irv with idea of me going to work for him. Everybody knew that and that made it a difficult start-up conversation for me. Although I had rehearsed several ways to begin, after the first quarter of the first game I wasn't finding it... At half time my wife brought in some snacks from the kitchen where she and her mother were enjoying their time together. Because the recliner was nearest the door and the loveseat in front of the T.V., my wife could motion to me from outside the room without Irv seeing. She mouthed to me "Ask him!" I nodded okay...
The first game ended and the second one was starting when my wife made her way in again, bringing snacks and refilling our glasses. She motioned to me again "Ask him". I nodded okay.
The second game was nearly over and I had yet to ask him... Suddenly Irv turned to me and said "I heard you want to work for me" I responded "Yes". He said "Be here tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock-" I said "Okay." And there it was. I got my first job in the Plumbing Industry and I was working for my Father in-law in the town I grew up in.
With a career in Plumbing that has extended through 37 years, although it didn't appear to be at first, in the end, it was the right decision for me.