Friday, April 05, 2019

COLUMN: Basement Leaks

Okay, winter. Enough's enough.

You've had your fun. You've assaulted us with snow. You've coated our sidewalks with ice. You've gifted us with hurricane force winds and -50 wind chills. You even broke my friend's wrist. It's been fun. But look at the calendar, buddy -- it's time to leave your vacation home and head back north.

I'm SO ready for this winter to be over -- and it's honestly not because of the wind chills or the ice or the snow or the tire-eating potholes.

I want winter to be done because I'm sick of the perpetual reminders that I am, by and large, an incredibly useless person.

I have neither the skills nor the fortitude nor the experience nor the common sense to deal with this kind of weather. You know those movies where people get stranded and have to fend for themselves using only their cunning and ingenuity? Yeah, I'd be dead within an HOUR, I promise you. Either my own ineptitude would do me in, or the other castaways would mercy-kill me for the benefit of all involved. Any way it plays out, I would NOT have the starring role in that flick.

I always assumed that as I grew older, my brain would fill with sagelike wisdom that I could offer as advice to a naive and younger generation in need of my guidance. Well, God help anyone who asks ME for advice on anything other than a mixtape or fast food recommendations, because that's pretty much where my expertise ends.

Last weekend, I woke to a text from my best friend -- the one, in fact, who recently broke his wrist thanks to a bad tumble on the ice. He had just discovered inches of standing water in his basement. That sucks.

A flooded basement is one of my worst fears. When I was having my home inspected prior to purchase, I asked about the possibility of unwanted water someday paying my subterranean level a visit.

"I'll be honest with you," he said. "It's not a question of IF your basement floods. It's a question of WHEN it'll flood. Everyone's at risk."

This season has been particular gnarly on basements, and the Great Melting has only just begun. When it hit my friend, all I wanted to do was help.

"Do you need a hand?" I asked him.

"Nah," he texted back. "Thanks though."

Unacceptable. This same friend has bent over backwards for me on any number of occasions, and "nah" just wasn't gonna cut it, especially when he's only got one good hand at the moment. Of course, I have absolutely no idea what to do when one's basement fills up with water other than phone over-priced people who can make it all better. Still, I wanted to help, so I grabbed a box fan and headed over to his place.

By the time I got there, he'd already managed to restart his sump pump and drain most of the water with a shop vac, but it was still pretty gross. I helped as much as I could, which mostly involved standing around, cracking bad jokes, and casting several disparaging looks at the floor. But there was something about the sound of the vacuum against concrete that was tantamount to a thousand fingernails on a thousand chalkboards, so I wanted to help but I also wanted to claw my ears out and run screaming. Eventually I headed home, useless as ever.

I've been helping another friend manning occasional shifts at his retail store, and that's where I found myself the next day. Winter hasn't been kind to his store either, and we've been battling some epic ceiling leaks. There's no fixing the roof of the strip mall until the metric ton of ice up there melts off, or in this case, melts DOWN. So we've been fighting the drips of doom with little more than patience and a few well-placed buckets. The problem, though, is that one of the leaks is collecting in a flourescent light fixture, which is less than ideal.

I'd already gotten a text asking me to check the light and drain it if necessary. Sure enough, there was some gross rusty water pooling inside. As I stood there trying to convince myself it wasn't that bad, I watched as a drip fell and rippled the water like a stone on a lake. It definitely needed draining.

Sadly, Youtube has no videos on "How to drain water from flourescent lighting" (I seriously checked.) So I had to wing it. Knowing it might all end in tears, I waited until the store was empty, then hauled out the trusty ladder, overcame my fear of heights, and shakily climbed up, bucket in hand. As I surveyed the task at hand, I realized how easy it would be. I just needed to position the bucket perfectly, carefully unclip the fixture, and gently let the water drain into the bucket.

So I positioned the bucket imperfectly, carefully unclipped the fixture, and then watched in horror as it, along with about a gallon of rusty water, fell squarely on my head. A half gallon of rusty water looks nasty, but I can assure you it tastes even worse. It ended up in my mouth, my eyes, and up my nose. And then I had to keep working for four more hours, which I'm sure was a treat for all the customers.

So go away, winter, and make me stop feeling inept at life. Of course, spring and summer will probably figure out a way to make me feel incompetent, too. Still, I guess it's not all bad. I'd rather feel useless beside my best friend than self-sufficient alone. And one way or another, I DID get that light drained. Maybe one day I'll learn some common sense. Maybe one day it'll stop snowing. I guess time will tell.

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