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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
J. Wilborn
Posts: 49
(2/15/01 4:39:23 pm)
It had started as most service calls do---the customer
needed you an hour before, even though the problem they
you to solve, might have been with them for weeks, maybe
even months.
A stifling August afternoon in Phoenix---the
temperature, the traffic, the tempers, and always the chance
of a
temper-tantrum being thrown by some gun-packing citizen
---the new word being used was ‘road rage’. Those were
just some of the things that did not lend themselves well to
getting to the customers home without a lot of major
The call for service had come from Mr. Harry
Rosenzweig’s nurse-housekeeper, Ms. Hayes. I think Mr. R.
was a
widower because I had always been called by Ms. Hayes. I had
been to the home many times before---an older home
with a lot of old home plumbing ailments. It was one of
the original homes in Central Phoenix and was located
Mr. Rosenzweig’s jewelry store---that particular business
being a landmark in the downtown area for more than five
When I arrived at the residence, I pulled up onto the
driveway and parked. The windows were down on the truck
and when I turned off the engine I could hear the sounds of
water being swept with a broom---that and the sounds of
mumbling---mumbles mixed in with curses. The screen door
was propped back and Ms. Hayes was sweeping water
from the washer machine room---great swooshes of water and
yes, I could distinctly see her lips moving, though I
could’nt determine the words being uttered. She stopped
sweeping when she spotted me and brushed the straggles of
greying hair back out her face. Her face was flushed and
the hospital looking ‘scrubbs’ she was wearing appeared
darkened with perspiration. Ms. Hayes had always reminded
me of how I remembered Ma Kettles (Marjorie Main)
from the movies. I remember also she had a way of saying
those catchy phrases---Texas humor. As I approached the
Grand Lady with the broom, she smiled most graciously and
exclaimed ‘sweeping this cotton-picking soapy water is
like trying to herd cats’! I guffawed like a fool for I’d
never heard that expression before. She looked at me
for a moment and then turned on her heel and went back to
‘herding cats’.
It was abundantly clear that the washer machine had
overflowed---Ms. Hayes was still mumbling to herself as I
her stoop over and pick up a dirty mop rag off the floor.
She wrung it out with strong and dripping hands and
commenced to swab the perspiration off her face and
neck---nothing delicate about this Texas Marm. Now that I
here to solve the flood problem, it was done ‘raining on her
parade’ as far as she was concerned.
I set about doing the work I had come to do. It
involved both working
inside the laundry room as well as the roof top over that
area. When I worked inside I could hear voices from the
living room. One voice I identified immediately as Mr.
Rosenzweig’s but the other voice, though sounding vaguely
familiar, I could not discern who it was. The voices
sounded as if the two were arguing because their talking
like shouting but there was laughter mixed in also. I
thought that maybe the other voice I was hearing was some
customer of mine who’s voice I’d soon recall---like the
I continued to labor ---sweating and fussing---up and
down the ladder---cycling the washer machine, rodding the
drain. I must have suddenly declared out loud, ‘that’s
Senator Barry Goldwater in there talking with Old Harry
R.’! I
had been so deep in concentration that I did’nt realize Ms.
Hayes was standing close enough to me that she had heard
my ‘thinking out loud’ statement for she exclaimed in an
exasperated sounding voice as she rolled her eyes ‘who
Harry and Barry, the vaudville twins, Old Frick and
Frack--- I tell you those two just drive me nuts when they
She had made those remarks so matter-of-factly that it
took me by surprise---I must have chuckled or giggled at
the honest lady’s outburst for I got that vacant looking
‘not amused’ stare from Ms. Hayes once again. Well I’ll be
damned I thought, this Lady is really humorous and does’nt
even know it. Strange stuff, this Texas humor!
‘Well, is it fixed now’, Ms. Hayes asked in a calm,
expectant sounding voice, ‘I got more cotton-pickin’ dirty
clothes to do than Hop Sing’s Hand-Wash Laundry and I
just know the tooth fairy ain’t goin’ help me do it’, she
stated with a completely straight face. ‘I just hope you
don’t have any more bad news for me’ she quipped, ‘like you

want to meet the Senator and talk a lot of political
nonsense so I can’t get my work done’!
I just knew the lady was joshing me for a tell-tale
smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she was waited
my reply---that reply being a vigorous nodding of my head in
the affirmative, as I had already concurred that this labor
would be almost free just for the chance to meet Barry
I had already put all my tools and equipment away so I
was ready to meet Mr. Republician, and I must have
appeared anxious for Ms. Hayes quiried in an almost serious
sounding voice ‘well, are you ready to be thrown into the
lions den?’ I followed close onto her heels into the living
room where the lively and noisy conversation had been
coming from.
Mr. Rosenzweig was sitting in his big old ‘Archie
Bunker’ looking wing back chair and Senator Goldwater
straddled a wooden straighback kitchen chair, his arms
resting across the back of the chair top. They both looked
toward us as we entered their ‘lions den’---waiting.
Ms. Hayes made the introductions quickly---I was
simply, John the Plumber but she added in a gratuitous
voice that I sure had saved her bacon as she turned and left
the room. Sounded like a compliment to me----kinda------.
Mr. R. extended his thin and liver-spotted hand and
croaked in a wavering sounding voice that he was sure glad I

could come because he was running out of clean socks. I
could’nt tell for sure but I think the noise he made then
was a
chuckle---the running out of socks must have been a shared
joke because there was no doubt about Mr.
Goldwater---he guffawed loudly from down deep in his wiry
looking body.
He was clad in faded and thread bare Levi’s and wore a
Levi looking denim shirt. His boots were worn and scuffed
so completely that their color was only bare leather. His
sweat stained cowboy hat lay on the floor near his
could tell he had been wearing the hat for there was the
tell-tale dimpling made by the hat brim on the skin on his
colored forehead.
‘Excuse me for not getting up John, but I’m so damn
lame it’s like I got run over with a Mack truck’ he declared
a true Barry Goldwater sounding voice, as he thrust out his
hand---my own work-hardened had met all the strength
and firmness of a much younger man.
‘I’m pleased to meet you John’ he remarked, ‘pull over
a chair John the Plumber and tell me and Harry how good
the plumbers are these days---that is if you’re off the
clock,’ he added emphatically, grinning that Barry Goldwater

grin. I assured him that I was off the clock and would’nt
be charging for the conversation, as they both continued to
grin at me. I seated myself on the straightback chair I
had been offered and waited. Did’nt seem appropriate for me

to start talking first for they both were much older than I
was. Maybe I was even feeling overwhelmed too---.
I was taken aback at how frail Mr. Rosenzweig had
become. He slouched, stoop-shouldered and fragile looking
the old wing back chair but his eyes were still bright
and alert and they seldom ever left his old friends face.
I was to
learn they had been life long friends--- sons of Jewish
immigrants, born and raised in the wild west town of
Barry in the retail clothing sales and Harry a jeweler. As
I look back now on the two men, I would bet one was of a
rowdy nature while the other was much more restrained---I’ll
bet you can guess the one of a rowdy nature----did’nt
have to be Nick the Greek to win that kind of bet.
The Senator was a gifted conversationlist, after all he
had been a politician all those years. A ‘mover and shaker’
much renoun and it did’nt take long for history and facts
and stories to begin. Damn, he was a good storyteller too.
Ms. Hayes had been right--- we were going to talk a lot of
nonsense and waste a lot of time but it was’nt the least bit

political. Sometime later, after I had seen her depart the
living room, she had returned and closed the door ---Harry
and Barry and John the Plumber talked into the fading
When I told Mr. Goldwater I was a retired militaryman
having spent 20 years in the NAVY SEABEES, it was all
uphill from there as we exchanged military stories. He
jokingly remarked to his friend Harry R. , ‘damn Seabees,
trust ‘em, steal anything not nailed down’! Harry cackled
heartily and Barry guffawed from down deep in his gut at his

own joke. I knew Senator Goldwater was Air Force, in fact
I think he was a Brig. General. The Senator motioned
with his hands a lot and I noticed his fingers being blunt
and strong looking---that and the ever so square jaw the
cartoonists always depicted so well. Mr. Rosenzweig sat
huddled in his chair, his mottled and liver-spotted hands
together in his lap---I think back and recall the old fellow
was wearing bedroom slippers with no socks---his bony
ankles as pale as alabaster stone.
If I smelled like a sewer rat or appeared dirty and
unkempt that afternoon those two fine old gentleman never
a hint. Their language was earthy---not foul or nasty, but
two old friends and a visitor parrying, thrusting, and
conversing in a manner one would expect in a gentlemans
smoking room over brandy.
I told them of my extensive military experiences---my
specility of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC)
warfare---of my two tours of duty in Viet Nam---of military
construction projects around the world that I had worked
on such as the Cubi Point Philippine Island airfield the
Seabees built during the Korean War---I boasted quite
but so did he----!
The Senator spoke of his Army Air Corps days in World
War Two and I still recall a heartwrenching story he told
of a test pilot named Joe. After the war the BELL X-Series
of rocket-jet airplanes were being developed and tested
over in the deserts of California. His friend Joe had flown
many missions with the Senator during the war and it must
have been one of those ‘like a brother to me’ things. Joe
was killed testing the X-1 and as the ‘old warhorse’ related

those events for me, massive sobs and the flailing of his
arms drove home the fact that there had never been closure.
When he could continue the story no longer, he laid his head
across his arms on the back of the old kitchen chair and
breathed deeply, trying to gain composure. So very tenderly
his old friend Harry reached across and gently patted the
back of Mr. Goldwater’s head---his thin and spidery hand now
appearing that it had the strength of Samson. So very
touching----I shall never forget----.
Yes, we talked into the failing light of the early
evening---I never felt that day like I imposed---I never
felt any caste
system develope from either age or station in life. The
bantering conversation as well as the serious remarks fit
comfortable old slippers.
Mr. Rosenzweig has since passed away and I pray Mr.
Goldwater is well and content. I have retired from the
cleaning business and my grandson Travis is now operating
the service. I work in my woodshop these days ---my days
are spent making John’s Angels’ named in memory of our son
John Jr. who passed away in July 1996. Hospice of the
Valley in Phoenix has the original John’s Angel on perpetual
display ---they took such good care of Johnny until he
succumed to the terrible ravages of AIDS. Mr. Goldwater’s
wife Susan is Hospice of the Valley’s Executive Director.
How can we ever know how lives touch in the scheme of
A final remembrance of that day long ago at Mr.
Rosenzweig’s home--as I got up to leave, the Senator and I
insisted that Harry stay seated, and as I reached over to
clasp the old fellows hand, I noticed his eyes---they were
humorous eyes, just like I had noticed about the Senator.
Sure could’nt describe them any other way than ‘laughing
eyes’---I turned and had the Barry Goldwater paw thrust out
toward me in the best political stance of the day. ‘Damn
John the Plumber, sure good to visit with you---don’t take
offense at my Seabee remarks---but you know, us
politicians gotta tell the truth’, he declared caustically.
Thank goodness, he still had that smile in his eyes and
the broad grin on his face I glanced down toward Old Harry
R. and he was grinning just as broadly at his friends
I felt there had to be a closing this day on something
frivolous so I told them the drain cleaners motto.
The timing could’nt have been more perfect. Those two
old men with the laughing eyes exploded in gales of
glee---Harry clapped his frail and wrinkled hands loudly
together and Barry stomped his scuffed and worn cowboy
boots on the carpeted floor. The rucus was still going on in
the living room when Ms. Hayes let me out of the washer
room door.

John H. Wilborn Sr.

27 March 1998
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