MILWAUKEE – When taken to extremes, hoarding can become dangerous. It impairs use and function of space, it can cause fires and even creates the possibility of suffocation.
Even though Micah MacArthur calls himself a hoarder, to an outside observer he is more of a collector, a do-it-yourselfer and a designer.
Walk into MacArthur’s home in the 3100 block of Booth St. in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, and the tell-tale signs of hoarding are not evident. There are no paths leading through stacks of junk – in fact, his house is clean.
“I have a house full of vintage junk … but I have intentions of making things out of all of it. It is just a matter of getting around to it,” the 37-year-old MacArthur said. “I am a bit of a hoarder.”
Before even entering MacArthur’s house, his newest creation, made from reused, old – if not vintage – material, stands next to his front steps.
It has come to be known as the Booth Street Bubbler: a public use drinking fountain outside his house. MacArthur salvaged the bubbler’s basin and mount from a box factory seven years ago, and they had been sitting, collecting dust in his house since then.
MacArthur finally found a good use for them.
It all started last summer when he was walking in the city’s Bay View neighborhood and a friend took him to the public well on Pryor Street. He didn’t like the taste of the well water, and he knew he could make something better.
“So, in the spirit of one-upmanship and neighborhood rivalry, I kind of toyed with the idea of making a drinking fountain,” he said.
And so he did.
MacArthur is a licensed plumber and welder, so turning the cast-iron basin and mount into a fully operational bubbler was not a difficult task. Being a licensed plumber, he wanted to follow all city codes. He applied and paid $80 for a permit and even had plumbing inspectors out to his house.
“The city had a couple concerns – the main concern was drainage. Where was it going to drain?” he said. “So I dug a hole, filled it with stone, and put a drainage tile over the drainpipe. Now it is sitting on its own little landscaped pile of stone.”
The bubbler offers the fountain on top for humans, but also has a doggy dish below for the four-legged community. It has been fully operational since the beginning of the summer.
According to the Department of Neighborhood Services, the way plumbing permits are coded, there is no way to find out how many public-use, residential bubblers are installed around the city, but the officials remember MacArthur.
“It is the first situation that I have seen like that in the 18 years I have been here,” plumbing inspector Brian Vincent said. “It is unusual.”
Jordan Denny, 23, lives on the end of MacArthur’s block. Even though he doesn’t know the creator personally, Denny enjoys the bubbler. He and his terrier Shepherd have both used the bubbler on multiple occasions.
“I think it’s pretty sweet,” he said on a recent morning on his way to work. “It is pretty nice that he is giving free water to people – you know, making sure they are hydrated through the summer.”
MacArthur said he has not received any negative feedback about the bubbler, but he said people often ask him how much extra he has to pay.
“I don’t know; I’ll have to look,” he tells them. “I haven’t got a water bill yet.”
MacArthur grew up in Milwaukee and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2000 with a history degree.
He said he realized quickly his degree was not going to make him a lot of money. Dabbling in a lot of jobs, he decided to go to welding school in 2004.
“Contrary to popular belief, (history) is not a very lucrative degree,” he joked. “It took me a little while to find my way.”
He dropped out of welding school after six months when he got a job welding at a factory, but that lasted only a few months before he received the call to become an apprentice in the plumbers union.
“It is one of those funny things,” he said. “The union gives you a call, tomorrow you get a drug test, and you are working the next day.”
He’s been a licensed plumber ever since.
In 2010 MacArthur built himself a dining room table out of rough two-by-fours and pipes left over from a Whole Foods supermarket project after it was built in 2006.
Three years ago, he also installed his own solar panels to heat water – a sort of preheating system for his water heater. He also has a 1960s vintage refrigerator and a 1920s vintage stove he got as a trade for some work he did – both are installed and fully operational.
He said he intends on piping his water heater through his vintage refrigerator, using the waste heat to supply hot water to his home.
For now, he has to be content with his latest contribution to his neighborhood and to what he calls his personal commentary on the death of public spaces and public amenities in the city.
“It is an act of defiance to those in power,” he said. “We live in a world where the little guy is on his own and the people who run things don’t give a [expletive] about us and won’t do anything to benefit our communities, so we have to do it for ourselves.”
The bubbler will be up through the summer and fall, but MacArthur will have to take it down before the first freeze of the winter, as per city permit regulations.
But, not to worry. He plans to put the bubbler back out every spring. It is designed to be easy to disassemble and reassemble.
“This isn’t some rinky-dink operation; this is a highly sophisticated kind of deal,” he said with a laugh.