May 2, 2011

MALAYSIA: He’s a little old and slow, but he does a good job

PENANG / The Star / Lifestyle / Focus / May 2, 2011


But Then Again
By Mary Schneider

Replacing a toilet leads to further repairs in an old bathroom

LAST Monday, I bought myself a new toilet to replace the cantankerous one in my upstairs bathroom. As I paid for my purchase, the shop manager recommended a plumber to carry out the installation.

“He’s a little old and slow, but he does a good job,” he said.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” I said, expecting someone a little past retirement age.

On Tuesday morning, my toilet arrived at my house, along with the plumber. I’ve never seen a plumber that old. His droopy eyes were set in a worn face, which sat upon a wrinkled neck that disappeared into an equally wrinkled shirt.

He smiled the semi-toothless smile of someone who hadn’t seen the inside of a dental clinic in a long time. I returned his smile, somewhat nervously.

I live in a split-level house and the bathroom in question is atop three flights of stairs. I asked Mr Wong (not his real name) to follow me, which he did, but very slowly. Indeed, I’ve seen people walking faster with a Zimmer frame in a retirement home.

Halfway up the second flight of stairs, Mr Wong began to wheeze. As the air rattled through his old lungs, I wondered why he was still working. Surely, he couldn’t be plumbing toilets and unblocking sinks for the sheer joy it brought him. No one would put their body under so much physical stress unless they really needed the money.

After scaling my stairs, Mr Wong stood for a moment in the bathroom doorway to catch his breath.

“I’ll return this afternoon with a young friend to help me,” he said, as he surveyed the plumbing.

Immediately, I felt better. With his years of experience he would probably supervise the young man and get the job done in no time.

A few hours later, he returned with his “young” friend, a wiry-looking man of about 60. I had been expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger but I got Woody Allen instead. I tried to conceal my disappointment.

At this stage, it was too late to tell them that I didn’t think they were suitable for the job. Besides, how do you tell someone that they’re way too old?

As Mr Wong and Woody began to hack out my old toilet, I thought about my impending old age. I hope to continue writing well into my seventies, health permitting. Unlike Mr Wong though, all I need to carry out my work is a clear head, reasonably nimble fingers and a good pair of reading glasses. I could be doubled over with arthritis, have worn out joints and a dodgy heart, and I would still be able to find a comfortable chair to cradle my aching body as I tap on a feather-light notebook.

I would hate for someone to brand me incompetent just because I looked older than they had expected. If someone were to tell me that my writing style was dated, or that I was out of touch with my readership, or that it looked as if my mind was showing signs of wear and tear, I would stop; but not because of a few wrinkles.

But I digress.

After working for three hours in my bathroom, the two plumbers downed tools and announced that they would return the following day to finish the job. After they had left, I decided to check on their progress.

The bathroom looked as if it had been hit by a bomb. Pieces of cement were sticking to the floor and the walls and everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. I spent the next two hours cleaning up the debris.

The following afternoon, they returned and finished the job. But when I went to inspect my new toilet, I found a gap of about four inches between the cistern and the back wall. When I pointed it out to them, they both insisted it was normal.

“There’s one other thing,” said Woody, “Your water pipe is blocked. We’ve tried to unblock it, but we think you will need to replace the pipe.”

Suddenly, those four inches seemed insignificant.

“We can either hack the tiles out to replace the existing pipe or run another pipe down through the ceiling,” said Mr Wong, giving me a flash of his exposed gums.

It was late and I didn’t want to have an emotional conversation with two old people, so I asked them to return the next day to see if they could unblock the pipe from the ceiling.

Perhaps my old toilet wasn’t so bad, after all.

Check out Mary on Facebook at 7279.

Source: StarTwo

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