SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
September 25, 2011

A Clean Floor the Hard Way

 

At five o’clock Sunday morning, I woke up in order to go out back and check on the outside drain. The drain had an unwholesome tendency to clog quickly whenever it rained, and with that hurricane business slopping it up out there, I figured it best to keep the trap clean. I wasn’t really all that worried about the hurricane itself—I was in one of the city’s designated dry zones after all—but just in case.

            When I put my feet on the floor, however, I suddenly found myself standing ankle deep in cool, refreshing water. That wasn’t right. That water hadn’t been there the night before, had it? Not that I could recall, anyway. This is no way to wake up, especially on a Sunday morning.

            For some reason I still went out back anyway to check the drain. As expected, it was perfectly clear – which I suddenly realized was exactly the problem. The issue wasn't the drain being clogged and the water pouring in through the back door. It was the drain being open and water backing up and into the bunker through the other end of the pipe.

            For a moment I considered clogging the drain myself, but instead I went back inside and sloshed about on a quick tour. Then I did what any reasonable person would do at such a time: I made breakfast, sat down, and ate it, figuring I’d decide what to do about the water when I was finished. When there’s water everywhere, where do you begin? After putting the dishes away, I went into the bathroom and gathered up a few towels. It was a start at least.

            Now, you know you’re dealing with a little more than just some puddle that needs mopping up when you grab a towel, throw it down on a puddle, and it floats away. This happened with several towels before I finally sent off emails to my landlord (who was in California at the time) and my upstairs neighbor, letting them know there was, well, a bit of an issue down in the Bunker. Then I grabbed a bucket and a large cooler, and began bailing water into the cooler. When it was full, I dragged it into the bathroom and dumped it down the shower drain.

            An hour or so later, my neighbor showed up with another armload of towels to send floating away. Well, he started mopping one room, while I kept bailing in another. For as many coolers as I filled, however, the water level never seemed to drop any. In fact, it just seemed to keep rising as I worked, which left me convinced that everything I dumped down the drain was simply circling back into some other part of the apartment. As the water rose around my legs, I also reluctantly toyed with the thought that I might need to abandon all hope soon. Either that or drown. I kept bailing, futile as it seemed.

            In time, the landlord’s uncle, a kind of Greek Jackie Mason, arrived, surveyed the situation, and offered his insights.

            “What you got here is a lotta water,” he said. “And what you wanna do is get rid of it.”

            He then grabbed a broom and began sweeping the water. It was a nice gesture, though it seemed to do little more than spread the water around more evenly.

            A little after noon, the landlord’s brother arrived with a wet vac and his wife, and in time the two of them had everything pretty well sucked up. The storm outside had stopped, the water was no longer seeping in through the walls and up through the floor, and I could finally have a smoke.

            The one thing that pissed me off about the whole business was the fact that, preoccupied as I was with bailing, I missed the whole fucking hurricane. I’d really been looking forward to it, too. At the same time, though, I was also wondering—with a hurricane ravaging the city this way, how is it that all these people were willing to come around and help out a grumpy old drunken hermit?

            Well, the answer was simple. Given that the hurricane didn't really bother New York at all, it seems mine was the only apartment in the whole goddamn town that flooded, making the choice of who to help first an easy one.

            In the days that followed I sorted through things to assess the damage. Thankfully after my first flood a few months back, I had fewer things that could be ruined in a flood. Now I have fewer still, which is good news for the future. The only real bummer was that the rising water pretty much wiped out two-thirds of my novelization collection. Hundreds of cheap mass market paperbacks collected over the last thirty years, now reduced to solid bricks of damp pulp. And me without renters insurance. But you know, considering the reports that started coming in from Jersey, and upstate, and Connecticut, and Vermont, I didn’t really have a whole hell of a lot to complain about. Just got a little water in here, is all. I didn’t have to flee to a Red Cross shelter, the place was drying out, and now my floors were really, really clean.

            A week later, I took a look around the apartment before going to bed. After the flood it had become a bit of an obsessive habit. I just wanted to make sure the place was still dry. But that night when I stepped into the side room I heard the all too familiar and unwelcome plip as I stepped once again into a room full of water, fast moving out into the hallway and the bathroom.

            Well, shit. So I got a mop and a bucket, and tried to slop it up as best as I could. Maybe I could keep it under control. Every time I filled the bucket, I again brought it into the bathroom and poured it down the shower drain. Only trouble this time was it wasn’t going down.

            Out came the new plunger and I started, well, plunging away. As I did, the toilet started to gurgle. More interesting still, large clumps of hair that didn’t belong to me came burping up the drain into the shower.

            I was up all night dealing with these things. Then I tried to flush the toilet, and that wasn’t flushing, either. Just filling up.

            It seemed I was in a bit of a pickle, especially considering that water was now coming up the shower drain, filling the shower, and spilling over the edge into the bathroom. And this water was a lovely shade of brown, and it smelled really bad. Yes, it was a film far too familiar from far too many cheap horror films.

            I was trying to keep the term “raw sewage” out of my head as I once again began bailing the watery shit into the cooler, dragging it outside and dumping it down the storm drain, hoping the neighbors wouldn’t mind too much that I was out there on a Monday morning pouring shit in the street.

            Another series of increasingly frantic emails to the landlord, and within an hour his cousin, who speaks no English but at least seems to own a few plumbing tools, arrived.

            He went into the bathroom, assessed the situation, and promptly turned around, ran from the apartment, hopped in his car and sped away.

            Yes, well. It was turning into that kind of day. Fortunately as he was fleeing he still had the presence of mind to call my landlord and tell him he was fleeing, so an hour or so later a real plumber arrived with a large machine of some kind, and cleared out both the sewer pipe and the drain out back.

            All was suddenly well again. I was left a little damp, perhaps a little smelly, but unbowed. The Bunker is still here. Went through a lot of bleach after that, a lot of laundry, too, but again, I don’t really have anything to whine about.

            Well, maybe just a little.

 

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