Joe never wanted to be a plumber. He wanted to dance. It all started in the summer of 1984. Joe was but a misunderstood lad. He didn’t understand why he didn’t want to play football and baseball like the other lads. He couldn’t quite figure out why he was so obsessed with Fame and why Leroy was such a hero to him. At first, he thought he might be gay. But that fateful summer it all started to make sense. That was the summer he saw Footloose.
Like Kevin Bacon, Joe was stuck in a town that had outlawed dancing. Like Kevin, Joe was misunderstood. Like Kevin, Joe wanted to “dance in the sheets.” Everything started making sense. He was holding out for a hero, and it wasn’t Brian Sipe or Ozzie Newsome or any of those other crappy Browns. It was Ren McCormack! And like Chris Penn, he worked hard to copy every one of Ren’s rebel moves.
No one understood Joe’s newfound love. They ridiculed him. Once, in the boy’s shower, Joe flashed “Jazz Hands” and was beaten ruthlessly within an inch of his life. All was lost. He almost gave up.
And then he saw the Mikhail Baryshnikov/Gregory Hines vehicle, White Nights. He came away from that Soviet-era movie knowing three things: he loved Isabella Rossellini (see, he wasn’t gay after all), he hated the Soviets, and loved dance. He wanted to study ballet like Mikhail and tap like Gregory.
But his parents were adamant. His father roared, “I didn’t raise no faggot!” Actually, his Dad did understand. He had a secret love of macramé that he could only exercise during “hunting trips.” Unfortunately, Youngstown Steel had just closed; he no longer had a good-paying union job, and was stuck as a line cook in the local diner; he just could not afford to indulge his son’s dreams.
Joe’s life became a covert campaign of dance. He videotaped every episode of Fame, bought White Nights, watched PBS, the Breakin’s, all the musicals—especially Bob Fosse flicks. He watched All That Jazz at least once a day. Once, he even sneaked all the way to Cleveland just to see the Dance Theater of Harlem. And he practiced, practiced, practiced.
In 1987, he got his chance. An audition to Juilliard. He worked overtime, closing the local McDonalds every night for three months to pay for his bus trip to New York. He came into the studio with his cut-off shorts, Van Halen T-shirt, and a boombox. They openly scoffed. But when he turned on Nu Shooz’ “I Can’t Wait” and busted his Hollywood hip-hop moves, he really moved the judges. “Well,” one of them started, “we usually only accept students who are more … well, um, classically-trained, but you had me once you danced on the table and flicked my tie. Welcome to Juilliard, son.”
The elation died as soon as he returned to Ohio. “No, son,” his father said, “it’s too risky. You’re gonna be a plumber. There ain’t no union no more, but there will always be shit.”
Joe’s life became shit. But he did what his father wanted (not realizing that it broke his father’s heart—he would never weave a pot holder again). He tried to find the poetry in polybutylene but just couldn’t. With a broken heart, he got married, had kids, worked his way up the ladder.
“I always got a feeling Joe hated plumbing,” a co-worker recently said, “but, boy, you should see him move across the construction site.”
“Joe always hated being called a plumber,” a former girlfriend confided. “He used to fly into such a rage. I remember he broke a bottle over one guy’s head when he called him that. And then, one night, he put two guys in the hospital when they joked, ‘You must lay plenty a pipe there, Joe.’”
It all apparently came to a head last night during the presidential debate. The constant references to his unchosen profession just unhinged him.
“I don’t know,” his wife said. “We were watching that boring debate, and I kept telling him I wish I could vote Sarah Palin in for president. And he just kept getting angrier and angrier. ‘Joe the Plumber, Joe the Plumber,’ all night long. I could see the rage boiling over. I’d never seen Joe like that before. And then, Senator McCain said, ‘You’re rich, Joe!’ I don’t know where he got that. We live in a double-wide. But then Joe told me to get his shotgun.”
Mrs. Joe did just that. Joe took it, left their trailer, climbed into his ’74 El Camino, and has not been seen since. The authorities are now looking for him.