Shop Talk - An Interview with Dave Waterbury


Hot Flux and Galvanized Nipples: Interview with a Plumber

by Chuk Kittredge

In the entirety of my Carleton career, I have had one major issue with this college. In essence, it is that the working class, the people who clean up after us and fix our things and feed us and take care of us, often receive little or no respect from either students or faculty. It seems as if we here at Carleton do not even see these people; do not acknowledge them for their valuable contribution to our lives. Moreso, I have found some of the most intriguing people, both intellectually and personally, to be these same working folk. In an effort to rectify what I see as a problem of unknown proportions, I have decided to do an expose; a study, if you will, of the working class people on campus. My first study must of course focus upon the Shop Guys (and Gals), those heroic blue-shirted individuals who, more than any other group, keep this campus running smoothly. Probably the most friendly (some might even say garrulous!) individual is David Waterbury, C.M.P of Carleton College. Dave was good enough to share with me the inner workings of his mind. And what a mind it is, my comrades, what a mind it is.

Dave, on his way to fix the pipes. Dave, on his way to fix the pipes.

Chuk: Dave, when and where were you born?

Dave: On December 23, 1944 in Newton, Iowa. I moved to Faribault when I was less than a year old and have lived there since.

Chuk: When was the first time you knew you wanted to be a plumber?

Dave: When I started going hungry (chuckles). No, I always knew I wanted to work a trade, and plumbing seemed right to me.

Chuk: And where did you work before you came to Carleton?

Dave: I owned my own plumbing business.
Word is that Dave went out of business quickly, due to his generosity in working and the low rates he charged. -Ed.

Chuk: What made you come to Carleton?

Dave: An ex-coworker held my position, and when I started it was like one big family. The whole campus. It still is.

Chuk: Just for identification purposes, Dave, which Shop van is yours?

Dave: It's van number three, the grey one with a roof rack.

Chuk: Regale us with a story from Carleton.

Dave (shaking his head ruefully): Where to begin?

Well, this one time, musta been ten twelve years ago, there was a sewer gas leak in one of the walls of Leighton. There was no good way to get at it without tearing the wall down, but I figured I was just skinny enough to be lowered down the pipe-chase with a flashlight, and maybe I could see where it was coming from. So my partner, John Nadine, offered to lower me down on a rope, and off we went. The rope was wrapped around John's waist, and he lowered me by walking forwards and vice versa. So I'm danglin' on this skinny little rope, flashlight in my mouth 'cause there wasn't enough room to hold it in my hand, and John is slowly lowering me down this stinking pipe-chase. We had to go up to 5th Leighton to enter the chase, and the leak was on the first floor, so I had quite a ways to go. Well, at about the 2nd floor level, I got all caught up in the ductwork between two steam pipes, which scared the livin' [expletive deleted] outta me. Also, that chase was where the fume hoods were vented in, back when Leighton was a science building. So I'm tangled up in this ductwork, damn near on top of these hot pipes, my partner is pulling with all his might, and I'm getting' gassed by fume hoods, and it stinks like sewer gas all around me. And well, there ain't much that's good to say about sewer gas. I think I passed out at one point, 'cause the next thing I remember John's screamin' at me tryin' to see if I'm dead, I'm so damn dizzy I can't think, and I can't get the flashlight outta my mouth 'cause my hands are stuck to the walls.

Somehow I ended up gettin' untangled, and John pulled me back up, but boy, I thought I was a goner for a minute there. To top it all off, turns out I put the harness on all wrong, so I was sick, dizzy, and damn sore in some important areas, if you know what I mean. Not to mention happier than a pig in [expletive deleted] from that sewer gas. I ended up takin' the rest of the day off, and Molly (that's my wife) took real good care of me (smiles mischievously).

Chuk: Wow (awed).

Dave: Yep. That's about the score of it (quiet now).

Chuk: Well, back to the script. What's your religion, Dave?

Dave: Catholic, middle of the road. I'll never change.
One of Dave's coworkers leans over and whispers conspiratorially: "Means he goes to church about 5 days a year. I believe the term is lapsed."

Chuk: No, screw the script. What's the nastiest thing you've ever pulled from a pipe?

D (laughing): Over in Goodsell, the Observatory, a bunch of years back, a raccoon fell through the ceiling and died, and plugged up an exhaust pipe. It started to stink, so they called the Plunkett's [Pest Extermination] guy to come clean it up. Well, he asked me to come along and I figured what the hell. So we get there and I swear to God this guy takes one whiff before he starts vomiting everywhere.

Chuk: Sorry to interrupt, but was it worse than a freshman during New Student Week?

Dave: Much worse. Much, much worse. Well, I had to get down in the hole and take that raccoon out, but as I grabbed its head, the skin just kinda sloughed right off and I was starin' at a pile of maggots 'bout the size of my head. I ended up havin' to use a 3" putty knife to scrape up that pile of ceiling tile, maggots and raccoon. While the Plunkett's guy had another round with the ol' regurgitation.

Chuk: Remind me never to be a plumber. So Dave, have you ever, shall we say, fixed more than just the washing machine, plugged up more than the pipes (winking)?

Dave: Well, there was this one time- Hey, wait a minute, is that thing on?!

-transcript lost-

Chuk: Dave, if you had to be locked in a room with only three items, what would they be?

Dave (straightforward): A light source, a good book, and my wife.

Chuk: My feeling exactly. Excluding the part about your wife, of course.

Dave (scowls): Back to the questions, kid.

Chuk: Sorry. Actually, I'd better wrap this up. Any words of advice for our students?

Dave: Yeah - Don't put floss in the sink, and only toilet paper in the toilet. Do what you enjoy for the rest of your life, and always smile (smiles).

Chuk: What's the best thing in life?

Dave: At this age, grandkids.

Chuk: And the worst?

Dave: A student who you have to watch out for to make sure he a) graduates and b) stays alive (looking meaningfully at our narrator).

Chuk (somewhat chagrined): Oh. Right. And finally, what's the saddest part about working here?

Dave: Watching students graduate who you know you'll never see again. Jay Harper.

Chuk: Well, thanks for your time, Dave.

Dave: Sure. Take care now.

Chuk (turning back): Oh, Dave, any final words about sex for our readers?

Dave (serious): If you ever get the urge, slam it in the door. Just slam the damn thing in the door.