SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 29, 2011

A Deluge Precedes the Quake

 

It was much later than usual for me, so when I hung up the phone I decided I’d get some sleep. It had been a week of short nights, and was looking like it was going to be another. On my way to the bedroom, I paused. The boiler was making an unhealthy sound. It might’ve been a perfectly normal sound for a boiler to make, but it sounded unhealthy to me. For some reason I decided to take a look.

              This made no sense on at least two levels. First, I wouldn’t be able to see the boiler, let alone what was wrong with it, and second, even if I could see it (or determine the source of the problem) what the hell was I going to do? Fix it?

              Ignoring these obvious logical problems, I opened the door to the side room. At the other end of the side room was another door that led to the boiler room. As I stepped into the side room, however, I heard a “plip.” Now, the floor in the side room is not supposed to go “plip.” That much I knew, and that much occurred to me even before I registered that my foot was wet. My foot isn’t supposed to get wet in that room, either. Nothing much happens in that room, so it should by all accounts remain dry. I took another step, and this time I heard a splash.

              It had been raining hard for four days, and a deep puddle had been growing just outside my back door. That back door led directly into the boiler room, and the door on the other side of the boiler room led into my side room. Apparently the puddle had grown into more of a small lake, had breached the shallow banks that contained it, flowed under the door and into the boiler room, then happily and inexorably onward into my apartment. There it paused and slowly began to fill the room.

              As I mentioned, not much happens in that side room. Unfortunately I’ve been using that room to store several dozen boxes of books until I can afford to pick up some bookcases.

              This was not a good situation. There was water rising around stacks of cardboard boxes full of books. My vinyl record collection was in that room, too, along with a few other things. It was mostly books, though. To top it all off, it was two in the morning, and I was a little drunk. I was in no mood to deal with a flood at two in the goddamn morning. The world was supposed to end in two days, and now I had to deal with this shit.

              Just a brief aside here about the recent bit of apocariffic hoopla—the End of the World hysterics surrounding May twenty-first.

              Why is it that some desperate, attention-starved religious radio fruitcake who predicted the End of the World based on some cockamamie numerological hoodoo received so much media coverage? And why did so many cow-eyed halfwits take him seriously? People—religious and otherwise—have been predicting and promising the End of the World year in, year out for well over two thousand years. They promise and they promise, and not a one of them has ever come through. Do you have any idea how many hours of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve I had to sit through waiting for Y2K to happen? And what did I get in return? Remember Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Plant Earth? He said the world was going to end in 1982. And this same guy—this radio huckster—published a book in the early nineties claiming the world was going to end in 1994. Nobody paid the slightest bit of attention back then, which of course made it easy for him to try again. So why are we all talking about him now? It’s not like it was exactly a slow news week.

              My god, apocalypse aside, how it is the species has survived this long while remaining this steadfastly stupid is well beyond my simple ken.

              So anyway I went to the bathroom, grabbed all my towels, and started mopping things up as best as I could.

              I checked by the door to the boiler room (I didn’t dare open it—I’d seen people make that mistake before in too many movies) and the flood seemed to have stopped for the time being.

              In comparison, it wasn’t as bad as anything faced by the people in Louisiana, but it was my first flood, and plenty bad enough for me.

              Figuring the damage that had been done was done, I left everything where it was and went to bed. I’d start cleaning when I got up.

              Outside, it started raining again.

              The next morning, grumbling and scratchy eyed, I mopped up again while trying to figure out where to begin. It was clear that all the boxes sitting directly on the floor were goners. Already the air in the room was heavy with the brown smell of wet and mildewing cardboard. The boxes above the flood line, however, seemed to be okay. One by one I moved those dry ones into another room, and sat down on the damp floor to see what I had lost. I had no idea what was in any of the boxes at this point, so I had no way of guessing.

              Fortunately it wasn’t anything terribly tragic. Some psychology books, including my Krafft-Ebing and Paul Ricouer’s biography of Freud. Finding those two reduced to soggy pulp was a bummer. A good handful of the books I’d nabbed from Erving Goffman’s library were gone too—a lot of oddball prison sociology, mostly. Plus there was a bunch of long-outdated reference books that weren’t of any real use to anyone. I did salvage the 1996 world atlas, though, and a 1988 travel guide to Berlin, so that’s something. And the old Situationist and anarchist pamphlets were a little musty, but not mulch.

              The rest, though, was a mess. I bagged everything up and dragged it outside. I wasn’t nearly as heartbroken by this as I thought I might be. Parting ways with a book under such circumstances used to tear me up inside. Not so much anymore, in part perhaps because I can’t actually read them anymore. Way I looked at it now, well, there were that many fewer bookcases to buy when the time came, right?

              Then there was my old vinyl. Hundreds of albums from classical to punk rock. A lot of things that had never and would never come out on CD (especially now with CDs being phased out). I didn’t own anything to play them on, but preparing for the day when I finally would pick up a turntable, I refused to part with them.

              At first I thought they might have made it, that even though the boxes were well soaked through, the way the albums themselves were crammed in there might have held off the, uhh . . . oh. Well, so much for that silly theory, and two-thirds of the record collection was a complete loss. I didn’t even want to know what records survived. Probably Pat Boone and Burl Ives. So I dragged the boxes of ruined discs outside and set them next to the ruined books.

              Over the next few hours I dragged some other random bits of flotsam and jetsam out to the trash, then set about cleaning up the floor and walls while trying to air the place out and fend off the Noah jokes.

              It could have been far, far worse. My computer might have been back there, or my slippers. I could’ve had plush shag carpeting of some unholy color instead of a stone floor. Hell, I could’ve drowned! (Well, probably not, but still.) This was just a pain in the ass is what this was. But I’ll tell you—if the world had ended two days after that, I would’ve been seriously pissed.

 

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