I have always prided myself on being a person who intently seeks to learn about life. And I have lived long enough to understand that there are so many ways to learn about life. I actually had an unexpected discussion with a brother that began with him advising me about what I considered a major plumbing issue; turns out that a liquid clog drainer fixed the problem.
Our conversation carried forward and eventually turned to what is a typical conversation regarding the problems of the African-American community; however, this brother was particularly frustrated by our people’s conscious decision to not support their own, a decision that invariably works against our entire community. This brother, who happened to be a plumber, shared a story that I hope we all can learn a thing or two from.
I laughed as this Christian Brother after finding out that I was a History Professor related that he could never do my job because he was easily bored with reading and books. Ironically, this recognition led him to decide, unlike his older siblings, that he would not pursue a collegiate degree; he related an internal gnawing to embark upon his own path, one that fit his particular interests and talents.
He was well aware that he needed to find a way to earn a living, even if it flowed from working with his hands. So with his parent’s aid he pursued an industrial education. I listened intently as he related the various options he found after making this decision, this brother related that he hated the vast majority of the options, however, all of that changed when he took a course on plumbing. He smiled uncontrollably as he related that he innately understood plumbing; this ‘life’s calling’ allowed him to fix the plumbing in his parents home; an issue that had been in existence for as long as he could remember. The brother related that he had even started his own plumbing company; unfortunately, a lack of consistent customers forced him to close his business and secure employment with a national chain plumbing company. However, he did service the Black community when called upon; of course that work was as we term it ‘off of the books.’
It was not unusual for him to receive requests via friends, family members, and even the local church to come and investigate a plumbing problem. This brother chose to share one such request with me. He stated that his pastor called him and related that one of the older church members, one of the ‘mothers of the church’, was in need of his services. Ever the cooperative brother, he promised to drop by that very night to look into the issue. It was during this home visit that so much of what he considers wrong with African-Americans, particularly their gross lack of economic collectivism became apparent.
He related that he arrived at the potential customer’s home around 7:30 PM and began his investigation of the problem. It became immediately clear that there were major plumbing issues within this older home that the lady had lived in for the past fifty-plus years. The brother immediately realized that very little, if anything, had ever been updated in regards to the plumbing works. After diagnosing the massive amount of work that needed to be done, he realized that the materials alone would cost over $1600.00, let alone the labor costs, which are always the bulk of the bill. The plumber related that he told the church mother of the various issues that were causing the problem that she was experiencing with her plumbing and offered to fix the problem without any additional labor costs. The combination of this lady being an elder of the community and a member of his church who apparently had no other options available spurred his generosity. He related that the moment he shared the problems and the cost of materials, God’s Saint laid her religion to the side and related that she would never pay some shade-tree plumber that type of money and he ‘had best to get his stuff and get out of her home.’ Although the ‘blessing out’ that he received from this ‘church mother’ would have shocked, if not appalled, many, he had come to understand that it was within the realm of responses he could anticipate when dealing with his people regarding monetary matters. He did not respond to her rants as he gathered his tools and materials.
As was his routine, he rose early the next morning and prepared to head off to work when his morning ritual was interrupted by a call from the dispatcher at his job who related that they had a service call in his area and that it would not make much sense for him to travel the hour to his job only to turn right around. He took down the address and simply shook his head when he realized that the service call that he was attending to first came from non-other than the church mother that had thrown him out of her house the previous night.
The brother related that he arrived at the front door dressed in his uniform and rang the door bell. The “mother of the church” arrived at the front door and immediately tore into him with a litany that was certainly not edifying to the Lord and reiterated her point from the prior night, “I ain’t paying you that kind of money to fix nothing in this house.” It was then that he related to her, “You are correct. Ma’am, I work for the plumbing service that you called and I have already filled out the work order since I was here last night and already know what your plumbing issues are. To the woman’s dismay, the price had quadrupled. The plumber mused that he then explained to her that the night before he was attempting to volunteer his labor our of genuine goodwill because she was an elder, fellow Christian, and in desperate need of help, however, since she called the company he had to abide by their rules, or risk losing his job, and she would now have to pay the full price. The brother laughed hysterically as he told me that he woman just stared at him and angrily related that she was going to call the pastor and tell on him prior to slamming the door in his face.
We then discussed for awhile what all of this actually meant. Unfortunately the subsequent conversation is one that I have far too frequently with my people. There is an old saying that explains much of the ridiculousness regarding the absence of Black economic collectivism; that saying is that black folk patronize white businesses because ‘the white man’s ice is colder.’ This statement reflects the dedication and determination of many African-Americans to patronize any business other than their own. And it is for that reason that they have remained mired in economic misery and political inefficiency. Although I wished that I could have shared some encouraging words with the brother, I was relegated to a simple quip of, “well, maybe we’ll get them next time.”
James Thomas Jones III
© Manhood, Race, and Culture 2015