Down and Dirty – A Voice for Men

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Author: Doug Mortimer

My regular light rail travels regularly take me past a mural that depicts a plumber standing tall above a crowd of people with planet earth in the background.  The picture is captioned “The plumber protects the health of the nation.”

Now I have heard any number of stories about what is or is not in our public water supply, so I can’t say with assurance that my precious bodily fluids are enhanced or degraded by tap water.  On the other hand, it is probably better than a lot of the alternatives.  Despite the blandishments of beer advertisements, even a “pristine” mountain stream may have moose dukey, grizzly whiz, bobcat hairballs, and who knows what else in it.

Tap water aside, there is no doubt that piping unclean water out of one’s house is important. Before indoor plumbing became the norm, the well-to-do built their homes on hilltops not just because of the view but because sewage flows downhill.  Hence the hoi-polloi on the flatlands were awash in the excretions of their betters.  And you thought “Take the high ground” was some sort of military maxim!

Well, thanks to indoor plumbing, the mountaineers and the plainsmen can now relieve themselves secure in the knowledge that dirty water (cue the Standells!) will be safely transported to a municipal waste treatment plant.  Unfortunately, because indoor plumbing has been around for generations, it is taken for granted by everyone in first-world countries…until the day it stops working.

That day came for me a few weeks ago.  Peeking into the crawl space under my house, I quickly realized that something was wrong.  The sewage pipes, only four years younger than Joe Biden, were cracked and water was seeping out of them.  Now if it was just a small amount of shower water or dishwater seeping into the ground under my house, it might not be a huge problem.  But the contents of the toilet…

So it was time to call the plumber.  The diagnosis was dire: complete replacement of all sewage pipes.  Patching up the leaks was not an option.  The pipes were shot.  The estimate to do the needed work in compliance with local codes ran into five figures!

To be sure, the financial hit was a downer; almost as bad was the weeklong disruption of plumbers in and under the house (it was necessary to dig holes on the east and west sides of the house).  Then there was the occasional shutoff of the water, prompting me to come up with a modern riff on the chamberpot.  If you are male, a No. 1 is not a big challenge.  As the saying goes, “the world is your urinal.”  No. 2, however, requires a more labor-intensive response.  I thought about digging a latrine but I don’t have a privacy fence and the neighbors surely would have noticed.  I won’t gag you by describing what I did, so I’m going to take the Filth – I mean, the Fifth – Amendment on that.  I’m not an expert on public health policy but I might have violated it.

Plumbing was probably the origin of the phrase, “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it.”  Now some dirty jobs are low-skill and do not pay well.  Plumbing, however, is skilled labor, and given the ubiquity of pipes, job security is pretty well assured.  I’m assuming that a large chunk of the money I paid to the plumbing company went to the plumbers themselves.   I do not begrudge them one penny.  The list of jobs I have no desire to do is very long and plumbing is writ large on that list.  I don’t have the skills, I don’t have the tools, I don’t have the DIY gene.  What I do have is advanced age, which hardly whets my appetite for such activity.

The plumber in charge was Hispanic; one helper was white, the other black.  Huzzah!  Diversity!  Inclusion!  Equity!  But no women, despite all those droll references to male and female plumbing in my Biology 101 class.  Sadly, the same paucity of females applies to repairmen (repairpersons hasn’t caught on – yet) for your local gas company, electric company, or telecommunications company.

Of course, I’m assuming none of the guys who worked on my house was a masculine-presenting trans woman.  Come to think of it, not one of the plumbers mentioned anything about preferred pronouns when he introduced himself to me!  Can you believe that?  In this day and age?

Old-timers may remember Comet cleanser commercials featuring a spokeswoman called Josephine the Plumber.  She was not stunning and amazing, she was just making a woman-to-woman sales pitch.  The character was played by Jane Withers, a longtime character actress in movies and TV who would have been a familiar face to viewers if not a household word.  Today Procter & Gamble has jumped on the neoliberal bandwagon (see but in those days they were just trying to make a buck.

According to, only 3% of plumbers are female.  Yet the same web site informs us that 17.3% of women have expressed interest in becoming plumbers.  So how to account for that 14.3% difference between desires and reality?  Must be sexism!  I’m sure it couldn’t be that women took a closer look at what the job involves and decided it’s not for them after all.

Frankly, I seriously doubt that 17.3% of all women have pondered becoming plumbers.  Actually, I’m surprised that 3% are plumbers.  I’m not surprised there are no harridans haranguing plumbers trade associations or pushing for equity.  Let me repeat the phrase, “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it”?  Aside from the changing of diapers, this phrase does not apply to women and they know it…but will not say so in public.

In my case, the initial dirty job was performed by the excavation crew digging holes and tunnels so the plumbers could have the pleasure of squirming and wriggling under my house on cold, damp mornings.  Granted, it was a walk in the park compared to The Great Escape, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if plumbing companies don’t have some sort of psychological screening tests for their employees, just as the U.S. Navy has for sailors who aspire to submarine duty.

So I guess this is a roundabout way of endorsing plumbing as a career.  The entry level pay appears decent and the demand for skilled practitioners is unrelenting.  Robots need not apply – not yet anyway.  Granted, upward mobility is limited, unless you open your own business.  But if you have just graduated from high school and want to be a working-class hero, plumbing provides you with the card-carrying cred you need.  On the other hand, you could go to college and pontificate about the plight of workers and never have to do any real work yourself – no, summer internships don’t count.

When Covid was big we heard a lot about “essential” jobs.  I never heard anybody actually define “essential,” but I’m going to give it a stab.  An “essential” job is one that has undesirable effects if it is not performed well and performed timely.  Unfortunately, essential is definition-fluid.  A number of people deemed essential during Covid discovered they were expendable if they were “vaccine-hesitant.”  But that is another topic entirely.

However you define it, “essential” is not a synonym for “prestigious.”  For that reason, most parents would prefer their sons borrow a shitload of money for college rather than learn a trade that might occasionally bring them into contact with a load of shit.

Consequently, you will find no plumbers among the 1%, the chattering classes, the elitists, the brahmins, or whatever you want to call our overlords.  Yet how “essential” are those who fancy themselves masters of the universe?

If the President – the leader of the free world (sic) – craps the bed, there is someone waiting in the wings to take over.  Discontinuity of government is not an option.  More importantly, the White House toilets would still work.

If a cuckoo Swiss nationalist added cyanide to the Swiss cheese at a wine and cheese social at the World Economic Forum, Davos would be otherwise unaffected and its toilets would still work.

If all the attendees at a faculty meeting at Harvard University were taken out by a suicide bomber from UMassBoston, the university’s $42 billion endowment would survive and the campus toilets would still work.

If all the legacy media go bankrupt, their headquarters buildings could easily be rehabbed and rented out for other purposes so long as the toilets still work.

If a major social media corporation is bought out by a rogue billionaire and adopts a free speech policy…oh, wait, that’s not speculative.  Well, so far Twitter is still functioning – and the toilets at their San Francisco headquarters still work.

Of course, when I say the toilets will still work, I’m assuming that the pipes aren’t clogged with tampons.

Not to belabor a point, life will go on so long as plumbers and other essential tradesmen go on.  There is an old adage that says, “The graveyards are filled with indispensable men.”  The same is true of essential men.  But rest assured life will go on so long as we continue to train essential men.

If plumbers went on strike worldwide you would soon notice the difference.  The stench would be overwhelming.  Given enough time, the old refrain “Bring out your dead” would make a comeback.

You don’t have to go out of your way to support your local plumber.  Sooner or later you will need to call upon him.

Because shit happens.

Original Story on AVFM
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