How I Became the ‘Plumbing Lady’

Guest post from Eli Rodes, our plumbing supplier extraordinaire.

DSCF0282.JPGCustomers often ask me how I learned my trade. Sometimes they ask (very) odd questions about why I sell toilets for a living.

I’m not a designer, I couldn’t tell you what color to paint your living room to save my soul. All I know is plumbing. Pssst… electricity scares me, keep it to yourself. Don’t give me a hammer and a nail (give it to Amy).

I am a first generation American on my father’s side. His family was displaced (to put it gently) in the 1930s as Hitler came to power. He was a History Professor at a small liberal arts college for 43 years.

My mother was the first person in her family to get a college degree (and post-doc at Radcliffe, couldn’t resist bragging). She was a private girls’ high school teacher complete with sweater sets, pearls, Manhattans and Kent cigarettes.

She blossomed in the late 60s: she separated from my father, abandoning the sweater sets, and enrolled at UCLA in a PhD program. Suddenly she wore jeans, rode a bicycle and made her own yogurt (man, that was embarrassing). She was my role model, although she nor I ever fully realized it.

I went off to college (no college tour or help with moving into dorms back then) with “I’ll come visit soon, Bye” from my mother. Of course, I would get my BA, an advanced degree. Be a lawyer, a teacher.

Then a butterfly somewhere in the Amazon flapped it’s wings.

I saw a UCB job board. A company specializing in salvaged Victoriana. I was hired. We started selling reproduction fixtures and faucets through a catalog distributed nationally (no Amazon, guys). I got to help design plumbing, fix things, polish brass with rosin on a wheel. I was hooked.

After I got my BA on the ‘seven year’ plan, I sought a job in the plumbing industry. I ended up running a small wholesale plumbing supply company when I was 26 — to say I was an anomaly doesn’t begin… The crap I got from plumbers was comparable to the sewage backing up after a King tide in San Francisco.

Again, my mother, “Eli, what is wrong with you? Toilets? How will you meet doctors and lawyers?” All of a sudden my mother had turned back into the woman who wore sweater sets in the early 60’s. My father was equally baffled.

But she came around as quickly as she had abandoned those pearls years ago. She asked me to come to ‘Career Day’ at —— School (oh, okay, I’ll say, Westlake School for Girls) when I was in my early 30s. I stood up in front of a class of 17 yr. old girls, some whose parents were movie producers and Pulitzers prize winners, most who were already accepted to Ivy League Colleges. I extorted the values and wonders and just plain awesomeness of selling toilets for a living! I actually got questions. I’m surprised she wasn’t fired.

(I was scary enthusiastic)

I really miss my Mom.


Eli Rodes has been doing plumbing therapy and supply since 1979. Her mother passed away from the complications of Alzheimer’s in Nov. 2015.

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