In the last 72 hours, I’ve called nearly 50 plumbers all across the country, and almost half have outright hung up on me.
Let’s go back a little. Last week, it was revealed that Nintendo recently updated their Japanese website to say that Mario is no longer a plumber. He “seems to have worked as a plumber a long time ago,” it now reads.
As someone who grew up with that little 8-bit, pipe-jumping plumber as a staple of my childhood, I found the news troubling. Sure, Mario didn’t seem to have too much time for plumbing — he spent more time bouncing on turtles and saving princesses than anything else — but being a plumber was Mario’s job, and something about knowing this fantastic, mythical hero had a regular blue-collar job he had to go back to after each adventure made him, somehow, relatable.
Now, I always resist charges that somebody “ruined my childhood” whenever something is updated that I have nostalgia for. George Lucas didn’t ruin my childhood with the Star Wars prequels. The Ghostbusters remake didn’t somehow go back in time and erase my experiences of the original. Likewise, Nintendo doesn’t own my childhood, and their changing Mario now in no way takes away from my memories of those happy, mushroom-chomping times. Hell, if the Super Mario Bros. movie didn’t ruin him for me, nothing will.
But even if it didn’t affect me in any real way, it still bothered me. And then it occurred to me: How do plumbers feel about this news? Surely they would be offended by having this icon — perhaps the only recognizable practitioner of their trade in all of pop culture — ripped away from them?
So I set to work, calling plumbers in more than a dozen cities to find out.
As it turns out, very few care at all.
“Yeah, I have no idea who Mario even is, and I have more important things to worry about,” says Jim DiNucci of DiNucci Plumbing in Pittsburgh.
That was one of the more polite responses I got.
“We don’t want any,” was something I heard more than once. Despite the fact that I introduced myself as a writer for a publication, dozens of plumbers thought I was trying to sell them something. I also heard, “I don’t care,” “I don’t have time for this,” and simply “No,” from plumbers from Los Angeles to Staten Island. It was a troubling experience: Clearly, an animated sprite in plumbers’ overalls being dropped unceremoniously from their union wasn’t high on plumbers’ list of priorities.
But how could no one care about one of the most iconic plumbing figures of all time?
Perhaps, I thought, it’s generational. Maybe I’m calling too many older guys who owned their own businesses before Mario was even a twinkle in a game developer’s eye. Clearly, I’m not catching any of the Gen X or millennial plumbers who grew up with Mario and may have considered him something to aspire to.
Thus, I casted a wider net. One receptionist from a large plumbing company in Phoenix was super polite and offered to announce my search at her staff meeting the next morning. Success! The next day I called back, and true to her word, she’d announced it.
The response? “Yeah, nobody wanted to talk to you, sorry.”
I tried a plumber’s union in New Jersey, where the gentleman who answered (a plumber!) said to call back tomorrow. I did, but the same guy then gave a flat “no” to my polite request to talk to literally anyone for less than five minutes.
I even emailed and reached out to Joe the Plumber on Twitter.
I was rapidly reaching the conclusion that plumbers don’t care too much about Mario, and also that they’re very skeptical of cold calls from people wanting to talk to them about him. In fact, my entire quest for Mario would have been a complete waste of my time, had it not been for finally uncovering three passionate stories from plumbers who, in fact, did care about Mario.
And they really cared.
“It’s bad for business,” says one plumber from L.A., who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of “controversy.” He found the change disappointing, in large part because, he says, Mario was the only positive plumber character in popular culture.
He has a point: The image of an overweight man with his pants falling down to display the classic “plumber’s crack,” the anonymous plumber adds, was a “bad stereotype.” The plumber character in pornos who just happen to be seduced by the lonely housewife was hardly something to latch onto, either: “That never happened to me,” he says. Mario, however, was a purely positive figure. “I know my son will be disappointed,” he continues, explaining that his son, a Mario fan, thought it was cool that his dad and his favorite video game character shared a profession.
Meanwhile, a female plumber from Atlanta, who also preferred to remain anonymous, expressed herself even more directly. “That’s crap!” she proclaims with some vigor when told the news. “He travels down pipes; he’s a plumber.”
For Dino Bocci of Half Price Plumbing in San Francisco, however, the news was nothing less than a personal outrage. “I say he’s still a plumber. He always has been a plumber, and he always will be a plumber!” Bocci says.
Bocci — who proudly displays an image of Mario and Luigi on his truck — says he identified with Mario because, “He’s a plumber, I’m a plumber, and I bounce around a lot just like he does in the video game.”
“To me, the image of Mario Bros. was always fun and easy-going, so that’s why they ended up on my truck,” Dino continues. “Which I feel is why people would call me, because they related to the image on my truck.” The kids in the homes he visits love his truck, he says, and many have even taken to calling him “Mario,” getting excited to have their favorite video game character come over to help them fix their pipes.
And as an Italian-American (and despite Mario’s questionable accent), Bocci felt even more connected to the character. “I named my son Mario,” he says. I ask if Mario is an old family name — it is not. “No,” Dino responds. “I named him after the video game, and he’s a plumber now, too.”
So while it’s true that the majority of plumbers out there couldn’t care less, for Bocci, his son Mario and a handful of others out there, those blue overalls are a symbol of plumberly pride — the uniform of an ordinary man who can do extraordinary things.