Plumber's High on Martha's Vineyard

Plumber's High on Martha's Vineyard

There are a myriad ways to “get high” on Martha’s Vineyard, some of them perfectly legal. I know all of them because I have been sojourning there since the days of my ill-spent youth in the 1960s.

Today I am a semi-respectable taxpayer, owning half of a modest cottage, or “camp” in local parlance, in the town formerly known as Gay Head (they changed it to Aquinnah ten years ago, and I’m still learning to spell it).

Up island, as our Vineyard “hood” is known, there are sunsets to die for, BYOB restaurants oozing ambiance, fresh fish to buy right off the boat from crusty anglers, and minor celebrities milling about hoping to be recognized. Before my left knee gave out, I got my annual runner’s high at the Chilmark Road Race, a hybrid event that is two parts social soiree, one part athletic tiff.

But I can’t think of a single Vineyard “rush” that compares with the one I experienced this very August [2004]. A week later I’m still decidedly elevated. To appreciate my euphoria, you have to grasp one of the island’s legendary Catch 22s. If you don’t have a plumber, you can’t get a plumber. And if you have a plumber, try getting him to show up when he’s installing twelve bathrooms in the latest 10,000-square-foot atrocity being built smack dab on the ocean.

How the primordial island plumber and the antediluvian homeowner first got together is a conundrum on par with the “chicken or the egg” controversy.

We had a plumber, but he has waxed elusive of late. This time his phone just rang and rang and rang. So I screwed up my courage and began cold-calling tradesman willy-nilly. My hopes were not high, but the basement was getting moist. My message (no self-respecting Vineyard plumber picks up a ringing telephone) was shaky, to say the least: “Hi, this is David – actually, you can call me Dave. We’ve never met, but I’m so looking forward to making your acquaintance, I truly am. My partner and I – he’s my business partner and friend, but that’s all, we both have children, and wives – we’re up here in Aquinnah, or Gay Head if you prefer, not that there’s anything wrong with either name. I know, I know, way up island, end of the earth, so to speak. Look, we have this pinhole leak…actually it’s the mother of all pinhole leaks by now, you know, hissing like a snake you tripped over...and we were just wondering…”

I left at least a dozen such groveling appeals. I think it’s safe to conclude that if all of the recipients had replayed my messages at the exact same moment, the sound of their convulsive horselaughs would have caused a Homeland Security alert in New Bedford.

I uncorked a velvety merlot and put the whole business out of my mind, the way you clutch a fist full of raffle tickets but never expect to hear your number called. Chris called back within minutes. My initial thought was this has to be a hoax, or some perverse joke. Who else knew I was calling plumbers? Chris said he could come by in the morning. Now I was really suspicious. I began to grill him. You must be new here. Are you coming from off-island? What’s this going to cost me?

Well, he came, he plumbed and he charged us an eminently reasonable fee. For the sake of his professional standing in the island’s wrench-wielding fraternity, I won’t mention the amount or his last name. So far, none of his colleagues have returned my calls. But the basement is dry as a bone, and I’m still higher than our widow’s walk.