Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Tile Man

Wake Forest, North Carolina

The tile man is pivotal. You can't finish the plumbing until the tile man is done. I can't finish painting. The carpenters can't finish the trim. The 3-day floor tile project turned into four weeks. The shower looks like it might extend out indefinitely. The tile man keeps changing due dates and how long things like the final floor sealant should dry.


Meanwhile, the baby is due Monday. I have the rooms I can access painted with multiple finish coats on everything, but we can't move in the furniture because there are no carpets and the tile man is contracted to install them (after the tile).

The tile man spends a day installing tile and then rips it all out because he sees an imperfection. He spends hours sorting and examining tile pieces so that he can be satisfied that adjacent tiles are esthetically satisfying. I begin to suspect that he doesn't like to go home and is trying to extend this job indefinitely.

It all reminds me of a 1979 underground movie called "The Plumber:

''The Plumber,'' is both comedy and nightmare. It watches the title
character arrive insolently at the household of two thin-skinned academic types
who haven't summoned him, and follows the process by which he dismantles their
bathroom and drives them half-mad.

The story begins innocently enough - despite such ominous shots as that
of the plumber's black-gloved hand pressing an elevator button - when this
bedraggled longhair arrives at the door and persuades the young wife (Judy
Morris) that her bathroom needs fixing. Soon, though, she suspects there may be
something amiss. Strange noises are coming from the bathroom, the sound of
someone singing. She begins to suspect the plumber may be taking a shower.

''It's what you can't see that counts in plumbing,'' he cautions her,
in one of the many intimate conversations that he initiates and she would just
as soon not have. At another point, he confides that ''the drains in this
building are clogged with hair.'' Soon he is no longer content to annoy her in
conversation, and has begun to hack the bathroom to smithereens.

All this culminates in a dinner party the ambitious husband gives for
several visiting dignitaries from the World Health Organization, one of whom has
the bad luck to need to visit the lavatory. The dignitary is so badly injured by
falling debris that the husband plies him with brandy, thus turning a dull
evening into an unexpected social triumph.

The point here is that the line dividing civilized behavior from more primitive kinds is so thin as to be nonexistent. To emphasize that, the apartment walls are decorated with artifacts from New Guinea. One of the characters an anthropologist and the soundtrack is filled with the noise of tribal drums. There is also an evident social caste dividing the plumber from the academic couple.

The surprise ending is that the academic woman studied cannibalism and contracted a rare brain disease, similar to Mad Cow, that comes only from eating human brains. She got the disease in New Guinea by becoming too closely involved in her work. In the end, she consumes "the plumber", brains and all, with a mad self-satisfied leer.

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