The Psychologist Who Thought He Was a Plumber




“Godammit, son of a bitch!”

Crash!  (Louder this time.)

This is not good.  This is not my preferred method of waking up in the morning.  I would prefer to have hot coffee with thick cream brought to my bedside and suggestions gently whispered in my ear that I think about getting up, if I want to, but in the meantime, a cadre of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder is cleaning the entire house and maybe I should just roll over and sleep a little more until they’ve finished.  Oh, and was the coffee strong enough?

“Fuck it!”

But no.  Not today.

There’s only one other person in the house (that would be my husband) and the noises and screams are coming from the bathroom.  We are, I deduce, having plumbing problems he has decided to “fix.”

This is what you call really bad news.  It makes me think of our first house in Virginia decades ago, when my husband’s parents visited us.  My father-in-law, a lawyer, was bothered by the sound the toilet in the basement was making.  Every time I looked up, he was hovering around the toilet, jiggling the handle and trying to make the noise go away.  We told him the noise didn’t bother us.  But it didn’t matter.  He jiggled the handle over and over till it fell off and the low noise became a roar.  We needed a plumber — not a lawyer who thought he was a plumber.

Similarly, today.  My husband, the psychologist, has succumbed to the male urge to do something handy around the house.  Never mind the fact he isn’t handy.  He’s male, he has testosterone, get out of the way.

Yesterday, admittedly, the sink had been a little slow in emptying — which was evidently the problem he’d decided to address.  This morning, though, by the time my husband finished fixing the drain, brackish water had backed up several inches in the sink.

“I think we should call a plumber,” my husband said.

I do love the male use of the first-person plural.  It almost always means he’s talking about me.  He managed to call the plumber himself, but I was the designated on-call person who’d be there whenever the plumber showed up.  “I gave them your cell number,” my husband said before he slipped out of the house.

Two hours later, the plumber solved our problem.  After he left, I kept wondering about the whole idea of specialization — and whether only women truly believe in it.

I wouldn’t have asked the plumber legal or psychological advice.  So why do the psychologist and lawyer in my life insist on trying to fix the plumbing around me?  It reminds me of the same answer I usually come up with when I’m faced with crazy male behavior: It’s the difference between XX and XY and it isn’t mine to question Y.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

10 comments… add one
  • The title sucked me right in, Ruth. My house is filled with cob jobs created by my husband who is a talented editor and a less-than-talented


  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Have you ever noticed that men walk differently when they carry a tool chest?  There’s invariably more swagger at times like that.

  • We’re not cool enough to have a toolbox. Instead I get a shout, “Hey, do you know where the [fill in the blank] is?” while he’s standing on a ladder. But he does stand on that ladder with a great deal of confidence.

  • I think we are married to the same person. I get the “we” suggestions and “I gave them your cell” as well! What gives?! I think the world would stop if there was no estrogen to keep it going. Really nice blog.

  • I have the reverse problem. My husband once was an accountant, and he said “I won’t do the plumbing if the plumber doesn’t do his own taxes.”  He has no need to feel manly around tools. Actually, he feels LESS manly because of his ineptness.  All of this bewildered me when we got married because my father was an all around handyman who could fix, build, repair, grow ANYTHING. And I thought that was the way the world worked. I do get the “We should call the plumber” line, though. Telephones are female gender?

  • Steve Link

    Those of us tool guys who believe we can fix anything tend to spoil the women in our lives, who come to expect it.  A few years ago my teenage daughter passed through the garage toward the kitchen with her boyfriend in tow.  I was on floor of the garage with only my feet showing from beneath my car,  where I was rebuilding the clutch slave cylinder.  I overheard John tell Shelley, “You know, Shelley, your dad can fix anything.”  “Yes,” she replied without missing a beat, “and I need to marry someone who can fix anything.”  She didn’t marry John.

  • Winston Link

    It’s a tale so old, someone really should stage a musical about husbands and amateur plumbing.
    Hmmm… that wonderful musical, The Boyfriend, could be followed up with maybe The Plumber’s Friend.

    The story was the same when I was growing up.  My father, the traveling salesman— the same man who grew up in the ’20s, in the rural South with no plumbing, always thought he could conquer household plumbing.   Fortunately my mother was bright.  Whenever my father dragged out the wrenches, my mother would quietly station herself in the hallway at the telephone table— and wait. In a half-hour or so, the swearing and banging would suddenly cease and she’d hear the meek words, “Honey, you’d better call the plumber.” That nice Mr. Briggs would soon appear and restore order to the pipes, hearth and home.

  • For some reason my husband decided to fix the leaky faucet in the bathroom the day I came home from the hospital with our third child.  Several hours later, the SOLE bathroom in the house no longer had running hot water at the sink. Since “we” were busy taking care of a toddler, 7 year old, and breastfeeding, “we” didn’t get a chance to call a plumber for a while.  It was almost a month later before WE got him in the house.  $400 bucks later, and Dave knows that he is FORBIDDEN to EVER EVER attempt any plumbing work.  Hear a drip?  Put on your headphones.  See a slow draining sink?  Don’t put the water on full-blast when you brush your teeth.  Toilet clogging?  Eat more fiber.

    BTW, I love the way you dream of waking up each day.  I have similar visions…

  • Why do they do this? Why don’t they call the professionals? What is it about men that makes them want to own tools they shouldn’t be allowed to use without a license — and yes, they license plumbers. They have to apprentice! I feel your pain.

  • This story made me laugh. At least he realized when it was time to call the plumber… My husband has actually been getting handier lately. Maybe it’s not the chromosomes, maybe it’s the aging? (Or the fact that there’s no money in our bank account and plumbers charge an arm and a leg?!)

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