December 11, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Duck angst

By |2018-03-21T18:22:47+01:00October 1st, 2006|Area 51|
The canister, I repeat, has exploded...

he Israeli plumber named Dan says I need a duck. Zona di guerra, he says of my bathroom, dabbing the fixtures with fat fingers.

He’s been here since 7 a.m.

Water has fled its coned retainer and is playing “Look, a crack!” a gravitational game in which it dips cunningly into orifices while making sucking sounds.

The Israeli plumber extracts a wrench and lays it on a wide cloth, which is my hand towel.

Scusi, he says.

My plumber of choice, a part-time Roman pastry chef named Romano, is vacationing with his German Shepard called Horatio. He does this every fall.

So I call “Tutto Tubo,” a company that advertises 24-hour service by “professionals of the highest national water competence, with bidets and drains also.”

“In case of emergency, emergency is our case,” says the ad. “We are your friends.”

Nowhere does it speak of ducks.

I wake on a Sunday morning after a dream about a girl in a cocktail dress who keeps valises in a storeroom by the port. The girl has a shaker full of perfect eyes, including blue. She mixes them until her lips fall off. “Come here,” she beckons, lipless. I wake.

In the bathroom I dab my lips for reassurance and notice that my ankles are under water.

The circular black band that holds its lower half of the hot water heated has snapped. Its metal jaw agape, the heater looks like Munch’s “The Scream.”

I consider the possibilities.


No. Not likely. My gel is elsewhere. So is my pope.

An omen?

No. They stopped calling months ago.

What, asks the man at Tutto Tubo, is the problem?

It’s early and I can’t think of the word for hot water heater. I say, literally: “The bottom of the radiator hoop has collapsed.”

Radiator hoop?

Yes, I say. “Il canestro del termosifone non c’e piú…”

What do you mean, “The radiator has… vanished?” the voice asks.

“Just the bottom part, that holds the water — la parte bassa.”

“The water,” I add, has escaped. “Scappato…”


“Yes,” I mewl, “and the escaped water has made the bathroom humid. I am standing in the humid.” I can’t think of the word for flooding. The canister, I repeat, has exploded.

The scaldabagno?” asks the man.


The voice is silent. Then, “We have only one man, a foreigner…”

OK, I say; please send him.

Cometh Dan (whose calls himself Beppe; “it’s easier for Italians that way,” he says.) Beppe-Dan got to Italy in 2001, he says, “after the New York bastards.” He does not elaborate. He is holding the wrench. Step by step, he coaxes the heater from the wall. Calcium peels and falls to the floor. “In Israel,” he says, or I think he says, “we’re extreme with calcium.”

He then mutters something that sounds ominously like, “My diphthongs are with the mule.”

I nod.

“In our part of the world,” he adds, “you always rebuild the cat.”

The cat?

He nods. The cat, he says, is a valve.

Dan is now examining the wounded heater, which he has placed in the tub. Would I like a cigarette? he asks. It is 6:45. I decline.

Next, Dan calls Tutto Tubo on his mobile.

“Oy,” he shouts, “Beppe here, I’m here with Doctor Viner, how much for a duck?”

“Winner,” I say.

He smiles.

Vabbé. Si. No. OK. 300…

A duck, Dan announces, costs 300 euro, plus his charges: 410.

A duck?

It’s the small one, temporary, not a cat; “anatra,” duck, the small one. He makes a puckered, whining sound, which I presume is the sound of the duck

Moment, he says, palming back the smoke. He goes downstairs to his truck and brings up the duck.

It looks like a condom with ears and has a small image of a duck on the side. The duck is grinning and says “Rheem” in a bubble. Rheem is the brand.

The duck will last until tomorrow, he says. “Good?”

Good, I say. Good for duck. Good for tomorrow.


As Dan mounts the duck he has a question. He’s now hugging the drooping duck and slipping it onto sprockets. “You bomb Iran?” he asks. I decline to answer.

Just then the duck slips into place. Mission accomplished. Soon, he says, I can turn on the water.

Do I want a cigarette?

“From where I come,” he says, replacing his tools, “do you know what they say?”

Rebuild the cat?

He wags two fingers. No, no…

“They say,” he whispers, “If Cupid’s groin goes missing, be cunning. Know what I mean?”

I nod. Of course.

Dan turns on the water, which looks like blood.

Good luck, he says.

And I pay.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.