Happy New Year! I know, I know. The world’s in a mess; you’ve got aches and pains, and Christmas has wasted your bank account. What you need is a reality check, so I’m letting Claud-the-plumber write this one:

It’s coming on to quitting time, and I’m down under at the corner of Sixth and Vine. I started out plumbing on my own, but then this here job come along and right off the department teams me up with Amos. The man ain’t never jolly, but lately he’s got plumb dreary.

“You happy, Claud?” he asks kinda pitiful.

I’m about fed up, bein’s it’s him who made the mess I’m cleaning up, but, “Yeah, I’m happy,” I say. “Hand me down that wrench.” He does but he ain’t through.

“You got a wife and kids,” he goes on. “That make you happy?”

“Not so much right now as if you’d get down here and hold this blamed pipe,” I say. “Water’s spurting from here to yonder and you want to know am I happy!”

He sloshes in beside me. Amos ain’t so young as he once was, but he ain’t never been no more pleasant. Always looking for something he ain’t never found. He grabs hold the pipe where I show him.

“You got it,” I tell him, “thank you kindly,” but I say it ugly and now I’m real sorry.

There’s maybe a minute of blessed silence and then he starts up again. “I mean happy, Claud, like ‘in the face of adversity’ and all, like Brother Sweetwood says.”

“Brother Sweetwood ain’t never been in no sewer with a gabby fool’s got no more sense than blowtorch a main line,” I say. That shuts him up close to a minute but then he commences again.

“Used to, Aunt Agatha’d say, “That Amos is the cheerfulest little tyke I ever seen.”

I done licked them pesky pipes, so I hunker down on the tool box to rest a spell. “So what’s she say now?” I ask.

“Who?”

“Your aunt what’s-er-name.”

“Aunt Agatha? Didn’t think you knowed her.”

“I don’t, Amos. So what’s she say now?”

“Nothing. She’s dead.” That figures. I gather up my things and head on out of there. “You going now, Claud?” he says.

“No, Amos. I’m climbing up this here ladder for exercise.”

I been rude again, and like I say, I’m awful sorry now. Amos ain’t a bad sort. Just he ain’t never seen the trees for the forest. “Come on,” I say, “I’ll buy you a coffee.”

“Ain’t Frieda expecting you?”

It’s the wife’s night with her mama. She takes the kids and don’t come home till nine. Leaves supper in the oven, but the place is mighty empty come Tuesday nights.

“Naw,” I tell him, “we got time.” I throw the tool box in the back and Amos and me head out for Jennie’s Grill.

“About being happy,” he starts out again, and ain’t nothing going to satisfy him but I tell him right out.

“This here’s how it is, Amos,” I say. “I got a mortgage on the house, and that house ain’t much to start with. Sissy’s dyed her hair pink and Buddy’s flunking math. Most days I’m up to my rear in sewage, I got skinned knuckles and sometimes — like now — my back is killing me. Truth is, Amos, happy ain’t a thing I think about.”

We’re pulling up to Jennies and he ain’t said nothing since I run down. I reach for the handle and swing on out before I see he ain’t stirring. “We’re here,” I says, “and you ain’t heard a word I said.”

I start on in, but then I see old Amos is slumped over unnatural like and his jaw’s gone slack. He ain’t wheezing like normal and I know right off he’s dead.

Ever since, I been thinking about am I happy, and I am. I got overtime and tax refunds to beat the mortgage; Sissy’s hair will grow out; and as for Buddy, shucks, I wasn’t no good at math neither.

Yeah, I’m happy. Long as I got Frieda and the kids and there’s a little something waiting in the oven Tuesday nights and we’re all home by nine, I got all I could want. Beats what Amos had his whole life.

Maybe he’s got it now. I about made up my mind, though, there ain’t no way to be glad if you can’t see what’s good when you’re in its midst.

Recommended for you