Sunday, November 30, 2008

In Deep Doo-Doo, One More TIme

Sometimes, it pays to be an airhead.

This morning I dropped my husband at the airport in Columbus and planned to do some shopping with my kids. We proceeded to Old Navy and found a couple of hoodies (or as the Tiger calls them, "hoodie-hoods). I reached for my credit card - and found none. I'd left it in some undisclosed location.

I'm not a passionate shopper, but my little town is shopping purgatory, and just getting to Columbus requires close to an hour-and-a-half drive. So I was chagrined. No cheesy bread sticks and Sangiovese wine from Trader Joe's. No chance to drop the kids at the Macy's playplace while I shopped for pants. Not even a browse through Crate and Barrel.

And so we turned around in the drizzle and headed home, me fighting sleep at the wheel, the kids in the backseat playing out some wonderfully weird game involving a rapacious giant slug.

Any dreams I'd had of a little nap at home vaporized - all too literally - when we walked in the door of our house and were hit by a wall of sewer gas. Longtime Kittywampus readers might recall a similar incident from last May. (Go here for a picture, if you dare).

This wasn't quite as bad as last May's adventure in nostalgia plumbing. It was just our semi-annual encounter with the city's antiquated sewage system. And there I stood, alone, in deep doo-doo once again, and my husband on a plane heading for Vancouver.

From Adult Engrish, which - like my city's sewer system - is the gift that truly keeps on giving.

Time for Feminist True Confessions: I talk a brave game, but when it comes to all things mechanical, I defer shamelessly to my husband. So, even though we own a sump pump, I didn't know how to operate the dang thing. Luckily, I have the best neighbors in the world. Their dad/father-in-law (he who originally picked up that pump for us) happened to be in town. They all swooped in and saved me before the water rose high enough to damage anything.

And here's where my earlier brain fart proved a gift. If I hadn't left my credit card in the pocket of an old jacket, I'd have arrived home several hours later. I'd have found not a ten-foot puddle, four inches deep at its center, but a foot-deep flood throughout the basement.

The pump did the trick until the rain resumed. Then the water started to rise again as backwash from the city's drains overwhelmed our pump, no matter how hard it worked. I was waiting for the city crew to appear like choirs of crapalicious angels and clear the clog in the sewer main. To calm myself, I decided to play a tune on the piano. This sheet music happened to be propped open on it. No shit.

So I played it, with feeling ...

... and soon thereafter a crew of city wastewater workers who'd been rousted out of their cozy post-Thanksgiving homes appeared in the cold drizzle outside my door. They localized the clog, which was, indeed, on the city's side. In my basement, the crud first spurted like a geyser, then receded. The workers said they'd try to return tomorrow with a camera that can run down the sewer main and do a sort of endoscopic exam on it.

My dear neighbors kept the kids while I applied about a gallon of bleach to the floor. Then they fed me dinner. They plied me with homemade egg nog. The kids performed a magic show. When we finally ventured home at bedtime, the house - according to my little Bear - smelled like pumpkin pie again. With a slight note of bleach.

Far more dramatically than on Thanksgiving, I'm reminded of a whole bunch of ways that I'm blessed.


John Pine said...

Yes, if I could just sit down and sight-read something in E Flat I wouldn't care about the floods.

J.B. Kochanie said...


Oh, what a day you had! However, "airhead" is not the word I would use to describe you.

We sold our home a few years ago, but before we did, our sump pump gurgled it's last gurgle and our basement began filling up with murky water fit for Grendel and his mom. We tried cleaning the pump (yuck!), but ended up installing a new one ourselves, complete with the PVC pipe. Not an easy job, so I'm glad you had helpful neighbors.

The community where we lived had installed a special water runoff system, which controls the amount of rain water that can enter the underground drainage system at a given time. So it was not unusual to see water pooling in the street after a heavy rain. The puddles and pools disappear a few hours later, when the drainage system can handle the flow. [Maybe there is a Drain Czar who operates the valves ;-) ] The village also installed valves which prevent the accumulated rain water from flowing back into the home drainage systems. The net effect is that if your sump pump dies, the only water coming up the basement drain should be the rain water around your home's foundation, not smelly sewage water. Maybe your town needs to install something like that. However, it was costly and took several years to complete.

What was so strange was that before the sump pump gave up its ghost, I had vivid dreams about the basement flooding. There was no flooding before the pump died, but I wonder if there were some clues that I failed to notice while we going through all the angst of selling and looking for a new place to live.

As for the forgotten credit cards, maybe the Domovoi, your resident household spirit (Grey Kitty?), sensed trouble in the nether regions of your home and decided to pick your pocket before you left on your shopping journey. ;-)

Hope all is well now.

Sungold said...

John, I wasn't sightreading; that book has been around since I was a kid. It was my dad's and I swiped it from him. I actually *am* a pretty good sightreader, but my problem is that I'm too undisciplined to ever really get it right. So my practiced playing rarely is much better than my sightreading.

Kochanie, thanks so much for the encouraging words. All is well today. The house smells good and the basement floor almost sparkles after the cleaning I gave it.

This pump of ours is just a temporary affair, for use in emergencies, and not permanent feature. The basement is actually pretty dry otherwise - nothing much for Grendel here. :-) My husband's first major home improvement project was routing the downspouts away from the foundation. It's amazing to me how many houses have water just pouring onto their foundations when it rains.

In an ideal world, yes, the city would make some improvements. Starting with replacing the 80-year-old, crumbling mains! The model you describe for controlling runoff sounds like it would make sense, too.

However, the repairmen yesterday told me that they're on such a tight budget, they have to save any spoiled photocopies and reuse the paper. I'm afraid they didn't get permission to come out with an underground camera today and investigate where the problem lies, because that costs about $200 ... and I didn't see any crew outside. I'm going to have to call the city about this and argue that eventually they'll pay *way* more in emergency calls than the cost of a camera checkup.

Are you now apartment dwellers? I love having a house, but yesterday I really didn't. :-)

And I really wouldn't put it past Grey Kitty to be hanging around here in spirit form. Trouble is, a feline domovoi is not going to be any more industrious than any other cat. I bet she's been asleep on the job when all of these sewage backups occurred.