Philosopher-Plumber

Marcus, the plumber for the apartment complex where I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, arrived one day last week to fix a leak in my kitchen sink.

Marcus is tall for a Mexican man – maybe 6’1” or so – tall enough to make me feel small. (I used to be 5’7”, but I’ve shrunk two inches in recent years.) And he makes me feel a little helpless, too, because though I pride myself on self-sufficiency, I must admit I have zero plumbing skills, nor the equipment. I must rely on him for all that.

His work clothes, patched and raggedy, look like they haven’t seen the inside of a washing machine in many days. His once-blue (I think) backpack containing his plumbing tools is falling apart.

But his smile is meltingly sweet, the smile of an adorable little boy — though I know he’s nearing sixty. He once told me.

His English is far better than my Spanish, so we speak primarily in English.

“So good to see you again!” he greeted me, smiling, when I let him in. “You have a leak?”

It’s been a while since I’ve had visitors in my studio apartment on the azotea (rooftop, where the laundry is hung), especially the kind of visitor who has a deep voice and broad shoulders. My knees began to feel weak. Seeing Marcus reminds me that I’m not dead yet.

Maintaining a sana distancia (healthy distance) from him, I showed Marcus the problem. He went right to work, while I watched. We made small talk. Some women are said to have a soft spot for cowboys. For me, it’s men who can make things and fix things that I can’t. I watched Marcus the way I used to watch my big brother build model airplanes from balsa wood when I was a little girl: transfixed.

Small talk extinguished, I went for the bigger stuff:

“So what do you think about this coronavirus pandemic?” I asked him.

He turned from the sink, where he’d just tightened the new whatever-you-call-it at the base of the faucet.

My kitchen sink

“Oh,” he said, seeming to gather his thoughts. “Well. Look…” He pointed out of my west-facing windows. “See how clear the mountains are in the distance? Less cars means less pollution. That’s good! I think when this pandemic has passed, maybe things will be better than before! Maybe people will have learned good lessons!” He shrugged his broad shoulders and smiled his little-boy smile.

“Maybe,” he stressed.

Then I gave him one of the face masks I’ve made in baby-blue bazin fabric from Mali. He took it and held it close to his dirty shirt, near his heart.

“You’ve made my day,” he said, smiling.

And you, mine, I thought.

It seems to me that we anxious Americans can learn a lot from most Mexicans’ philosophy of rolling with the punches. Living closer to the ground, many of them have less far to fall. And the fabric of their familial ties tends to be stronger than ours, I think.  Admirable – and enviable.

COVID-19 has yet to pack a wallop here. As I write this – if the numbers can be trusted – there are only nine confirmed cases in San Miguel de Allende. (In all of the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, where San Miguel is located, there are 158 confirmed cases to date; whereas, in comparison, deaths from the coronavirus in New York State have already surpassed 15,000.) Nevertheless, the authorities here continue to take all precautions. And more and more, I observe, people are fully complying with these new rules.

Hope, I’d say, is higher than fear or anxiety.

This virus will pass in time. Hot air balloons will rise again over this city every morning, taking tourists up for the rides of their lifetimes. Colorful celebratory fireworks will light up the night sky again on weekends. Church bells will chime every Sunday. Fancy, open, horse-drawn carriages will once again carry a new bride and groom from their Saturday afternoon wedding ceremony in the Paroquia to their reception destination. My extroverted puppets, now scrunched together in a closet, will once again return to their schoolroom stage.

Well, maybe.

In the meantime, we all, everywhere, must hope.

And, like Marcus, try our best to smile.

26 thoughts on “Philosopher-Plumber”

  1. This is just delicious, Bonnie. So wonderful to meet your darling plumber, Marcus. Maybe the cases of COVID-19 are low in SMA because people are complying with sana distancia orders. We still only have 17, as of this morning, in all of Taos County—no deaths so far—because most everyone is taking it seriously here, too.

    I think you’re right that the Mexicans will bounce back more quickly than the Americans. Yes, they live closer to the ground so they don’t have far to fall, but also, they have a much less of a sense of entitlement than Americans do. I sometimes think the rights we are guaranteed have made us spoiled, entitled brats. But maybe I’m stereotyping in both directions.

    1. Love your comment, BeDear! Yes, Marcus is a darling — a big, sweet-hearted, hard-working, thoughtful and intelligent man. I think your fears of stereotyping are somewhat unfounded — because they’re so close to the truth. Most privileged, white, Americans have never had to learn how to roll with the punches. Maybe that’s one of the many lessons to be learned from this coronavirus.

      1. I think you may be right, Bonnie! I’ve only spoken to one person who’s complained about any of this. He was thoroughly pissed off about the orders to isolate in New Mexico, and he’s, no surprise, a Republican oil guy! He is learning to roll with the punches big time, considering that he’s been hit in all his sacred places—capitalism, freedom, and the price of oil.

  2. Bonnie I am writing you from a small country town in California where I am waiting out this pandemic. I fought coming back but my sisters won the fight.
    Your blog this time made me laugh and pray for all my friends to survive this scourge and reunite. SAN Miguel with friends is my “happy place”.
    Hugs

    1. So good to hear from you, dear Kate. I’m glad this post made you laugh a little. I’m no comedian, but I did want it to strike readers as a bit funny. Take good care — and come back asap!

  3. Bonnie…Of all your many fine essays, this is one of your finest. I love how you take an ordinary situation and turn it into a lovely exchange between two people. You always draw simple, sweet observations that resonate much wider than an issue with a leaky sink.

  4. Lovely obserrvations and description. Hanging on to hope for
    the future a sentiment both Americans and Mexicans have in common….looking for the similarities is also admirable….nice piece.

  5. Hi Bonnie,
    I love this one so much……your Marcus sounds like a lovely man.
    Take care and be well..
    Best wishes, Pam

  6. lovely commentary!!
    I too admire men who can fix things and find there
    is often good down to earth philosophy that accompanies
    those skills!

  7. Thank you for these consistently interesting and kind essays. I often share them, because your words reflect my own thoughts, but in lyrical language. This one about Marcus seems especially poignant. Thank you, from Phoenix.

  8. Dear Bon,
    What a nice story. I wish we had a few philosopher-politicians. I’d trust them a whole lot more than the crew we have, and they would certainly do a better job. From looking out my window, I see some masked (60%) and some unmasked people walking by. Though there is not a great amount of traffic.

    I’m glad you do not have many cases where you are, but I assume all these numbers are understated, as they definitely are here.

    Take care of yourself.

    Love,
    Paul

    1. Dearest Paul — Speaking of face masks, have you received yours? The USPS has been disappointing these days. Maybe they’re short-staffed…. Yes, you take care of yourself, too. This will pass. We must keep hoping. — LU2, xx

  9. My takeaway is the closer we live to the ground, we have less far to fall. I think this a perfect for Earth Day. Thank You. Laura

  10. Bonnie, this is off topic but I just read your book “Somewhere Child” and can’t imagine what you’ve gone thru.
    My sister-in-law recently reunited with her daughter given up for adoption about 50 years ago. It turned out great! It happened thru Ancestry dna and it wasn’t even her dna, it was another relative. Perhaps,you’ve already thought of this but I thought I would pass it along. Just maybe, there’s a chance.

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