A Customer Review

A lady needed a plumber and her daughter found my listing on Yelp.  She was so pleased with my work, she wrote up a rave review for me.  In fact, the review was so glowing, Yelp canned it!  They have algorithms to try to weed out phony reviews (good luck with that!)

Well, since I know it’s genuine, I’ll go ahead and publish it here 🙂

I was so impressed with the level of professionalism and conscientiousness of Mr. Kevan Barley of Barley Services.  I was desperate with a plumbing issue, and I had guests in town during the holidays.  I called Mr. Barley and he came promptly and worked diligently until the problem was solved.  He was also very friendly, personable and knowledgeable of plumbing situations, and he gave me a pretty accurate estimate of the cost of the work when I described my situation to him over the phone.  His price was very fair and reasonable, considering that he worked outdoors in the rain and after dark until the work was finished.  I didn’t skip a beat with entertaining my guests, and he turned a potentially awkward situation into an easy fix.  My guests were not inconvenienced in any way.  I appreciate his diligence and personal attention in solving my problem, and I will definitely call him again and refer him to ALL of my friends and neighbors.  If you have any plumbing issues, I recommend that you call Mr. Barley first.  He will be fair, reasonable and prompt.


Freeze & Burst: the Short Tutorial

The arctic temperatures continue marauding through Memphis and people’s pipes continue to freeze and burst.  And I continue to hear about it.

Some things cannot be helped.  If  a meteorite comes through your roof and smashes your toilet — well, we all have days like that.

On the other hand, there are things you can do to protect your pipes from freezing and bursting.

First: insulate them.  I got to one home and found the copper icemaker supply line running across the attic with no insulation until it descended into the ceiling over the refrigerator.  After I repaired it, I took a roll of insulation which obviously had lain up there for decades and I spread it over the length of copper tube from beginning to end.  Anybody could have done that before the freeze.  It would have saved thousands of dollars in flood damage.

Second: block the air vents, by which I mean the little windows around the foundation (if the house is on a crawl space) and the gable louvers.  Often I will see all of the pipes under a house doing just fine except for the ones near an open vent.  The ground has heat in it and it radiates under the house.  If the vents are closed up, it helps to keep that heat in.  Also, the moving air has greater ability to freeze a pipe.

Third: keep things warm when a pipe is near an outside wall.  I saw a home where the heating system was poor, so they closed off a bathroom, trying to heat the rest of the house.  Without the indoor heat to help, the pipes in the bathroom wall froze & burst.  This is a common problem in a laundry room because they’re often located in an out-of-the-way spot that, for the same reasons, isn’t heated.

Fourth: add some heat.  You have to be  careful with this step lest you burn something, but adding heat is the only way that some situations will stay thawed.  A halogen work light puts out a lot of heat.  In a somewhat closed-off space, a 60 watt light bulb can make all the difference in the world.  (Think of the space behind a washing machine with, perhaps, some cardboard lying atop it.)  If the attic vents are closed off completely, opening the door to the attic will allow heat in from the house.

Fifth: leave each faucet (except for the outside hose bibbs) running.  Everybody knows this trick; by continually replacing the cooling water with warmer water from underground, the pipe doesn’t freeze.  (If you read some expert talking about a “piston effect,” ignore him.)  A stream as big as a matchstick will do the trick.  For the outside faucets, just insulate them well.  Those styrofoam covers work well, but you can also wrap the faucet with heavy terrycloth or even newspaper, which is a great insulator, albeit short-lived.

Last of all, everybody needs to know how he will shut off his water if something goes wrong one day.  There are a lot of clueless people wandering through life, but you don’t have to be one of them.   Does your house have a shutoff in it?  They’re usually about a foot off the floor in a cabinet or closet.  Is yours in the basement?  The older homes in Memphis (pre-1980 or so) must be shut off at the meter by the street.  Such folks are doomed without a meter key.


When a self-governing people confer upon their government the power to take from some and give to others, the process will not stop until the last bone of the last taxpayer is picked bare.


The Market for Plumbers

The state of “the trades” in this generation, and probably the previous one as well, is abysmal. There’s still room for more decline, to be sure, but that’s a small consolation. Little education (albeit much indoctrination) takes place in grades K-12, so we’ve developed this idea that everybody should go to college. That system of mass re-education and its resultant lifetime of student loan debt scoops up most of the young people and convinces them that they should be able to sit at a computer and make $50k. Who fixes the plumbing?

Generally, the leftovers.

It is not my intention to denigrate any capable individual; I am one and I’ve met others. But bright and capable students these days seldom dream of leaving high school and working with their hands, learning a trade, and building a business from it. One of my bosses, who had been hiring plumbers for years, told me quite sincerely (with acknowledged hyperbole) “all plumbers are either drunks, dopeheads, or lazy.” Students who are otherwise will ordinarily avoid the trades.

Over time, this sorting process has produced a plumbing industry where plumbers mistreat customers (to put it mildly). Small wonder, then, if plumbing companies mistreat plumbers.

Every so often I look around and see what the plumbing companies are up to so that I can warn my customers. I got to looking at ads on Craigslist. Many companies are seeking plumbers to hire. Like lonesome singles in the “Personals” ads, they really try to sound adorable:

See what can be yours:
Top Pay & Bonus Plans
Paid Vacations
Flexible Schedules
Drug free work environment
Steady work throughout the year
Paid training on-site and off site
Best equipped/designed trucks in the country
Full Benefits: Medical, Dental, Vision, Prescription, & life insurance

I began comparing this luscious beauty with what I already have at home (being a sole proprietor) and I saw that all I lack is “paid training.” (When I read the manufacturer’s websites on new products, I have to do it on my own time.) I also happen to know that this company charges $1,500 for a job that I charge $700 for.

This one made me smile:

[XYZ Company] has grown to the point where we are adding 2 premier service plumbers! And we offer premier benefits like health insurance, vacation pay, sick pay, holiday pay, retirement plan and year round work! [XYZ Company] also offers GUARANTEED weekends off! Now who does that?

They’ve “grown to the point” that they’re hiring? Suuure they have. One of their former employees told me a few weeks ago “Nobody can work for that guy.” GUARANTEED weekends off? My friend told me, “Yeah, once a month!

I can’t fix these companies. Like cockroaches, no matter how many you kill, there’ll be more. All I can do is say “Go toward the light.” As a sole proprietor I have decentralized plumbing service with the use of computers and a mobile phone. Memphis could use a hundred more: individual guys building and living off their own reputations, teaming up with friends when a job requires it, providing personalized service to grateful and loyal customers. Maybe the idea will catch on some day.


Post Mortem on Memphis’s Frozen Pipes

Another wave of thawing and bursting swept over the city today.  I received a number of calls, nearly all of which I referred to a plumber friend.  I just spoke with him at about 10pm.  He was on his way to his last call of the day. He made over $1,000 today.  I made about $225, but I only worked nine hours and got home around 7:30pm.  I had some friends in trouble and some promises to keep — the kinds of stuff that don’t pay much money.

At the supply house today I learned that one plumbing company was booked three days out and had turned down forty calls.  My customers were lucky that they know me.  All of my callers were served.

I even missed a chance to be in the newspaper.  A reporter whom I know called to ask if he could do a story with pictures about plumbers and frozen pipes, but I had to decline since I was spending the day doing mundane stuff.  My fifteen minutes of fame — down the toilet.  Story of my life.


Finally, Our Nation Is Unified

Much bemoaning has been heard in the last decade about how divided America has become.  I think we’ve gotten past that this week.  Across all racial and religious lines, despite Marxist leftism and Americanist rightism, irrespective of age, college football team loyalty, or propensity toward cell phone moronism, America has come together to say with one common voice:

It’s too darned cold.

Yahoo Weather told me at 7:00am that it was five degrees out on the streets of Memphis. That’s just downright disrespectful. My phone began ringing at 7:30 as victims reported waking up to frozen pipes.  Those pipes have been just fine for twenty three years, but nooooooo, the weather had to dive down to South Dakota levels and wreak havoc across our beloved southland.  And I don’t even want to know what South Dakota is like today.

In fact, that last paragraph was written over a bowl of beef stew at Jason’s Deli on Highland.  This paragraph is being composed at home ten hours later.  What happened, you ask?  A housewife called me in the middle of lunch to complain that bucketfuls of water were pouring through her ceiling.  Some women have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, so I closed my laptop and headed for the truck.  En route to her house, another girl called with a similar problem.  Before I could finish that conversation, I received a third call: water pouring through the ceiling.  I got home at 9:20pm.  Mankind was not created to live like this.

It’s getting better.  The forecast for tonight shows a low of 23 degrees, which is a far sight better than five.  It’s supposed to climb into the 60s by the weekend.  But for tonight, I can’t bear the thought of opening a refrigerator door.


Some Dopes are Now Legal in Colorado

This week’s news stories would make you think that the sky had fallen or the Lord had returned to establish his kingdom or something. Marijuana was legalized.

This is hardly a big deal. You still can’t smoke it in public, so stoners will have to do it in private. How is this different, pray tell, from what they were doing before?

“But it’s legal now!” Again, I have to ask, “So what?” Everybody who wanted to smoke dope was already doing it, and practically nobody was getting caught (since cops have other things to worry about).

There are three distinct arguments among my libertarian friends for legalizing recreational drugs:

  1. People should be free to do as they please, except for fraud or the initiation of force.
  2. The effects of prohibition are worse than the effects of legalization.
  3. The benefits of legalization are too attractive to pass up.

The first argument is an assumption based on atheism. Since there is a God and he has given certain rights and responsibilities to the State (and others to individuals), the first argument is powerless, although it does provide a powerful tool for criticizing government actions.

The third argument is profoundly unsound. No amount of tax revenue could justify an otherwise evil action.

I have a lot of sympathy with the second argument. The “War on Drugs” has been the most colossal failure of anything government has ever done (and readers, that’s saying a lot!) It seems incontrovertible that nothing is going to stop people from doing dope. Why, then, sink hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into the effort?

This argument says nothing about the morality of using drugs. Instead, it says something about the purpose and responsibilities of the State.

There is a higher level on which the issue might be discussed, too, and that is the matter of personal responsibility. I favor a world where people can take their chances and take their losses. The old saying is that to protect people from the consequences of their folly will be to fill the world with fools.

There was a time when drugs were legal. You could buy heroin at the pharmacy. “Dope fiends” were scarce. That day could return.


Suicide Bomber Joke

Two Middle East mothers are sitting in a cafe
chatting over a plate of tabouli and a pint of
goat’s milk.

The older of the two pulls a small folder out of
her handbag and starts flipping through photos.
They start reminiscing.

“This is my oldest son, Mujibar. He would have
been 24 years old now.”

“Yes, I remember him as a baby,” says the other
mother cheerfully.

“He’s a martyr now, though,” the mother confides.

“Oh, so sad, dear…” says the other.

“And this is my second son, Khalid. He would have
been 21.”

“Oh, I remember him,” says the other happily.
“He had such curly hair when he was born.”

“He’s a martyr too…” says the mother quietly.

“Oh, gracious me…” says the other.

“And this is my third son, my baby. My beautiful
Ahmed. He would have been 18,” she whispers.

“Yes,” says the friend enthusiastically, “I
remember when he first started school…”

“He’s a martyr also,” says the mother, with tears
in her eyes.

After a pause and a deep sigh, the second Muslim
mother looks wistfully at the photographs and,
searching for the right words, says . . .

“They blow up so fast, don’t they?”


Marguerite Piazza, R.I.P.

Before Marguerite first called me for plumbing service in November of 2002, I had never heard of her. She identified herself as Marguerite Bergtholdt, which was her married name, and told me that she’d gotten my name from her daughter-in-law Veronica.

When I entered her home at 2813 Central Avenue, I just assumed that she was one more well-to-do lady like so many other customers I’ve served. She left me alone near the stairs while she finished tending to her bedridden husband, Harry. I began studying the trophies, plaques, posters, newspaper clippings, and photographs that covered the walls where I stood and slowly got an idea of who she was. When I acknowledged what I’d been looking at upon her return, she simply observed, “Well, I’ve lived a long life.”

The Marguerite I Knew

I became a regular visitor to Marguerite’s home, mostly for plumbing purposes. I was always amazed by the force of her personality and the liveliness of her mind. I spent many hours, all told, sitting at her table and talking, but mostly listening.

Harry died in ’03. The day of the funeral (March 18th), the kitchen sink stopped up. I was over there that morning to straighten it out. They all left for the funeral and I left a bill and locked up on the way out. I managed to get loose from my jobs long enough to attend the services at St. Louis Catholic Church.

Marguerite was gracious enough to come to my church a couple of times, and it was my privilege to chauffeur her and her daughter Shirley.

Many obituaries and testimonials will pour forth in the next few days to retell some part of the story of this amazing woman. My contribution is meager: she was kind to me and it was an honor to serve her for these ten years.


My Proposal for Election Reform

(1) All electioneering ads shall be banned from the airwaves. All of them. From president to dog catcher.

(2) All such ads shall be banned from cable or Internet locations where they interrupt other viewing, such as pop-ups or ads you have to watch before another video begins.

(3) All visual ads shall be limited to 8-1/2″ x 11″ in size. No billboards or yard signs or newspaper ads may be larger than that.

If a voter wants to learn about the candidates, he can pick up literature (8-1/2″ x 11″) anywhere the campaign makes it available: checkout counters, libraries, etc. There will be plenty of web sites he can visit. His friends can give him a list of phone numbers he can call to have info mailed to him. The permissible avenues of communication are abundant.

This reform accomplishes three things. First, it makes election time less repulsive. Second, it lowers the stupidity level of the process, since the voters have to read and inquire in order to form opinions. Third, it guts the power of money, since all candidates are limited to simple sheets of paper and web sites. Maybe there’s a way to ban direct mail; I haven’t got that one figured out yet.