(This is a continuation of a saga that took place over several months, ending in May of 1977. It begins with Part One followed by Part Two and Part Three.)
In April I began plumbing for Edgar. He'd "lost" his previous plumber, so I was picking up in the middle of somebody else's plan. It was a bad plan.
The drainpipes had been installed, but there were no vents except for one main stack, which was unfinished. The rules for plumbing vents are somewhat arcane. Cheap labor that I was, I was certainly no expert. I simply accepted the plan of the lost plumber and continued the main vent up through the roof. The assembly was easy: cast iron with no-hub joints.
The water pipes, again half-installed by the lost plumber, were galvanized steel. Again I was no expert, but I knew that nobody recommended steel pipes anymore. I asked Edgar why he wasn't using copper, and he replied, "Galvanized is cheaper."
It might be cheaper (at least in 1977) but it would corrode and eventually fail. Copper tubing would last forever - or at least for a human lifespan. Steel pipe would require more time - and more labor expense - to install. By providing cheap labor, I made it cost effective for Edgar to make a bad choice. And it was only cost effective in the short run. In the long run, 20 years later he - or more likely, some subsequent owner - would have to replace all those pipes which would mean tearing open ceilings and walls.
I'd been sweating copper pipes since high school. I don't even remember learning how - it just seemed like something I always knew. But I'd never cut threads into steel pipe.
Edgar had a threading tool - a cheap one, of course, hand-operated. He taught me the basics, and I set to work.
Threading pipe is muscle work, whole body work, shoulder and arm braced by your back and legs, a tight grip with the hand. I found it sensual: the musty scent of the cutting oil, the crackle of the blades as they gripped and gouged, the emerging grooves, the thin steel waste curling, dropping like silver hairs. I was set up outdoors, straining in the warm sunlight, strong, sweating, finding deep pleasure. I loved threading pipe. I tried to describe it once to a friend who was a psychology student. She said it sounded like the perfect sexual metaphor. I couldn't buy that, though, unless you find it erotic to cut grooves into the head of a penis.
So many of life's pleasures can be cheapened by a Freudian outlook. There's joy in the work of the body. There's also pain. There's defeat. Sport would be a better metaphor. I was a utility player - handy at any base, good field, no hit - in the minor leagues of cheap labor.
(Tomorrow, the final episode…)