I admit it, it all started with me being snippy. I was in the upstairs bathroom brushing my teeth, and getting annoyed at the state of cleanliness in the tooth-brushing area. I’m kind of neurotic about the level of sterility I require around my dental implements, and there was just way too much hair on the sink and on the cabinet where the Sonicare lives.
I shouted something passive-aggressive to Râ€” about how “we” need to get better about wiping up after “we” brush “our” hair, and could she please bring me up a roll of paper towels from the basement?
Because my wife is a saint, she did get up to get a roll of paper towels instead of a sharp knife. A few seconds later, I heard her shout, “Fuck!” Râ€” doesn’t use strong language like that often, so I pelted down the stairs, through the kitchen, over at least one cat, and through the basement door. I found her standing on the bottom step of the basement stairs and overlooking a shallow but wide lake where once there was concrete floor.
I think we both just stared in shock — “It was dry last night!” — for a minute or two before (gingerly) leaping into action. We rescued the leaves for the dining room table (a very nice wedding gift), four wooden kitchen chairs, my guitar and recording equipment, the cat litter box, and the vacuum cleaner and then surveyed the damage. Two rugs were total losses as was a ludicrously large pile of empty cardboard boxes. A few other boxes were damp, but their contents were undamaged. Everything else was in plastic bins or on shelves, which just goes to show that my manic affection for shelving and storage paraphernalia is not without benefit.
We called everyone in the Yellow Pages under “flood” and got pretty much the same answer from each. “Hello? Yes, our basement is flooded.”
“Yeeeah. No kidding.” (Apparently we were not alone.)
It had been the day’s plan to drive up to New Hampshire to visit with Râ€”’s mother, and we dithered for a while about whether or not to go. It seemed somehow irresponsible to leave our house while the basement was flooded, but at the same time, what were we going to do about it? Was it going to get any worse? Could we do anything about it if it did? We decided that staring intently at the water level wasn’t going to accomplish anything, so, into the car we went. We’d been driving for about fifteen minutes when we got a call on Râ€”’s cell phone from her step-father, inquiring about the state of our water heater and, more specifically, of its pilot light. The phrase “house filling with gas” was bandied about. I’m pretty sure I overheard him say something about “exploding.” We turned around, turned off the water heater (“Wait, do you know how to light the pilot again?” “Um… let’s go with ‘yes’?”) and set out again.
By the time we returned home that night, the rain had stopped and the streets were eerily dry. I took a peek at the basement (still wet) and spent the next morning running from Home Depot to Home Depot, trying to find a wet/dry vacuum or a pump. (Sample exchange with the Home Depot guy at the tool rental counter: “Do you have a wet/dry shop vac available?” “Ha! No.”) We did purchase a fancy dehumidifier and a shiny new bucket. I admit I was expecting something more dramatic from the dehumidifier. I plugged it in, pushed the “on” button, and listened with satisfaction to its powerful hum. I went upstairs, ate some leftover Thai food, and came back downstairs to find maybe a quarter cup of water in the bucket. I’m not sure what I was hoping would happen, but I think something Moses-like, with the parting of the waters, would have impressed me more.
Sunday afternoon was spent lugging disgustingly wet bits of rug and cardboard out to the curb, opening every available window, and turning on a fan. And now? Now we pretty much just wait for it to dry.
The whole experience was essentially an initial burst of horror followed by a mounting sense of relief. Yes, the basement was flooded, but it was only a few inches. People elsewhere in the state were dealing with feet of water, sometimes up onto the first floor. Nothing that we cared about was damaged. The cleanup took only an hour and a half, and we expect it to dry out in a week. And, oh, yeah, I think things were a little worse down New Orleans-way.
There’s really been far too much water in the news in the past year, and while watching footage from the Katrina/Rita cleanup effort I’d been saying that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to deal with the mess. Well, now I can begin to imagine. Our completely minor flooding problem was a pain in the ass, and it was kind of gross, and it took a fair amount of effort to deal with what was ruined, and yet we’re just talking about cardboard. Cardboard! We weren’t dragging out ruined clothes, furniture, and photographs. We don’t have to worry about where we’ll sleep. Our house is livable. It isn’t even all that musty.
We already knew how lucky we were, but the reminder didn’t hurt.