If he didn’t deserve the name, it wouldn’t be his name. This is how he got the name.
Setting: Earthquake-ravaged Pisco, Peru circa July 2008.
The mission: To build earthquake-resistant sanitation units which included a toilet, shower, and large sink for the less-fortunate residents of Pisco. The unit had been designed, and prototypes had been built. However, documentation containing information on how to construct such units was scarce. The deadline for completion was approaching and plumbing needed to occur on a fast and efficient basis.
Enter: one British and one American voluntario. Mike (aka Mixto) and I had been given the task of organizing a list of all of the materials needed to plumb a sanitation unit. We had a drawing of the unit with no parts labeled, a list in Spanish that may or may not be parts that were bought for previous units, and no experience plumbing.
Just in case anyone was wondering, the ECP plumbed for a volunteer organization. Yes, the sink, showers, toilets, and pipes we installed were ‘por los ninos’ or ‘for the children’ as we liked to say. This being the case, our first day of on-the-job training consisted mostly of bargaining with shop owners to see who could give us the best price on all of the supplies we would need for each of 10 sanitation units.
Prof Plumb had already laid the groundwork, and had narrowed it down to two or three shops. One of the shops was where we would buy the sink and toilet, and the second would be where we would buy the necessary pipes, glue, sandpaper, etc. Well, this second shop with the best prices ended up being run by a guy that Prof Plumb humorously referred to as “Grumpy.”
Naming Luis, the shop owner, Grumpy is about as fair as naming any droopy-faced bulldog Grumpy. It was no assault on his character, or even his common disposition as Grumpy did not act grumpy, but simply an honest description of the man’s most common facial expression. If he was happy to see you, you’d have to look deep into his eyes to know, because his face sure did not show his pleasure. However grumpy Grumpy looked, he had the best prices around and thus became our go-to plumbing supply shop in Pisco.
While heading to the store, Prof Plumb had explained what to expect from Grumpy – no smiles, no crap, and no inflated prices. As soon as we turned the corner into the store, Mixto and I looked at each other as Prof Plumb commented “told you.”
To Mixto though, Grumpy wasn’t simply a plumbing supplier. He wasn’t just another shop owner in Pisco. No, to Mixto, Grumpy was a challenge. No sooner than Mixto had met the man, he laid out the challenge. If we were going to be developing a relationship with this man, returning to his store on what would be a daily basis, then Mixto was determined to be on good relations with him right from the beginning.
“I’m going to make him smile before I leave today, and I’m hugging him before I leave Peru.”
I laughed at Mixto’s British humor: as dead pan as they come. See, this was the first day Mixto and I plumbed together. This was the beginning of ECP. I hadn’t yet spent half a day with the guy. How was I supposed to know he was serious? I’ll tell you how – because he was in a plumbing supply store buying supplies for a sanitation unit he didn’t know how to build with an Irishman soon to be knighted “Professor Plumb” and an American who would soon wear a piece of plumbing pipe around his neck for a period time much longer than any normal person. I should’ve known he was serious, because I should’ve known he was a plumber. No, when he said he was going to make Grumpy smile before we left his shop that first day, he wasn’t lying. I don’t think Mixto has ever told a lie in his life, and if he has, it wasn’t to me.
Having read that last line, and with the knowledge that the author is both a) writing this story in the past tense, and b) a plumber himself, you know what happened before we left that shop, and yes – you know what happened before Mixto left Peru. I don’t know how he did it, but somehow Mixto got Grumpy to smile that first day, and had Grumpy wrapping his arms around him within a week. Why did Mixto take it upon him to achieve these seemingly unlikely, and unimportant goals? Maybe for the fun of it. Maybe it was for the challenge. Or maybe, he did it for the same reason Mixto did anything. It was for the children.