It started with what sounded like a soft gurgle just a few inches behind my neck, and when my bare toes started to soak with rain water, I relinquished all hope for this damned ugly day and the whole sullied week. There’s not much room for pause when your office starts flooding, and after the momentary buzz that switched on those red flags and the adrenaline, one or two swear words are about all you get before the action kicks off. The electronics come up off the floor first, everything unplugged with a long-cord tug, and stuff forms stuff piles all over more stuff, rapidly. I turned to face the flood coming from the poorly sealed basement well window behind my desk, brown water reaching around two feet to the mark, and the unintelligible string of nonsense that I spat out was enough to wake the dog. The dog, my dog, who had no predilection to warn his owner, no deep genetic instinct to bark and howl and dust up the room in an effort to save me considerable trouble, just watched the movie. Instead, as I said something like, “Water, water room for shit, the stuff, papers, pizza then the show,” the beast simply watched as I ran on my toes to the first material something I could find that was known to soak up water: the dirty laundry. I still have a couple of t-shirts that smell like potted plants and bandaids.
This is one of those parts of home ownership that you’re never really prepared for, those little middle class emergencies that eat up the few hundred dollars you had been planning for other things. When I turned to face the initial onslaught, time slowed down, just enough for a watery face to form in the well window behind me. It took a devilish form, glossed hateful eyes, and with a horrible grin it mouthed the words, “Your vacation savings means nothing to me. Also, I hate you.” With the last silent syllable, the face splashed into itself, and the water started flooding into my office with all the force of a tiny Poseidon, or maybe just an errant water hose. I felt like sitting down on the floor and letting the event unfold before me, like I’d given up and this is something I deserve for disobeying the cities building codes with such a cavalier attitude. Next, I’ll buy a black leather jacket and rent a cherry red convertible, only to slowly cruise by our homeowner’s association office and throw a milkshake at the building.
I attempted to lay several pairs of pants across the bottom of the window on the little wooden ledge, and then use a few of my button-up shirts to form a V shape, an engineering feat designed to pull water directly into the laundry basket positioned on the floor below. The thing filled up, fast. I heard the storm and saw the shade of the room change, but apparently I hadn’t looked over my shoulder for over an hour, the basement window well filling up to elbow depth with rain, hail, and old Burger King bags with tire marks on them. The floor had already been soaked to the nines, and I was out of laundry, so all I could do was watch the rain keep pouring into my basket and onto the floor, me standing there in bare feet and wondering what it would feel like if everything was yesterday. The basement is finished too, which means that it was all carpet that this angry rain was soaking into, so I couldn’t help feeling like I brought this whole scene on myself. Any way you slice it, this is apparently what I’m capable of in a crisis: Dirty laundry, a big bucket, and strange hillbilly engineering—our linens as brick and my useless adrenaline as mortar.
My wife and I made our way to the tool store, or whatever the term is these days for the places you can buy a Christmas tree thirty yards from a row of demonstrable poisons. We rented a carpet cleaner and purchased a wet/dry vacuum to help us try and reclaim my office, heading home with worn faces and impure thoughts toward our fellow humans. The hail storm had taken my wife’s tomato plants straight to hell, and with the way she nurtured and cared for the things, I fully expected her to wrap a bra around her knuckles, paint her face in cobalt war colors, then pick a fight with a cop. We pulled nine gallons from the carpet in a 10×10 room, and set every fan in the house on full blast and tried our best to get everything dry before the armies of mold arrived. With my wife and I exhausted from the afternoon, we went to bed, boldly assuming that I was going to sleep through the night.
At three in the morning I awoke to a righteous stink. I mean, the kind of stench that rattles your brain and kickstarts the PTSD. I thought me, the Mrs. or the dog had been beefing it, solid farts that cut right through the sleep and snatched me by the ankles. It wasn’t my brand, I made out that much, and after another moment or two of consciousness, I knew exactly what it was—the carpet was already molding. Giant sharp-nailed cartoon stink hands were reaching through our ducts from the basement and up into the bedroom to physically assault me in such a way that I couldn’t just ignore the horror and sleep a few more hours. It was intolerable, however like always, my wife was dead asleep, and not even my exaggerated huffing and rustling to get out of bed encouraged her to raise up and help me out. It was me and the dog on this one, and we were heading into a battle.
As we’re not a household with gas-masks on the ready, I tied the sweatpants I was wearing around my face to fashion a ninja-style breathing apparatus, as the closer I got to my office in the basement, the stink was simply overwhelming, and I’d rather smell my own body odor instead of this awful brew of rainwater, mold, carpet, and if I wasn’t careful, vomit. The first step was to remove every item from my office, starting with the books and ending with the furniture, some of which had to be dismantled as I was a solo act, and the last thing I needed while standing in my underwear with sweats tied around my face, was to smash a toe or two and let that be the thing that finally breaks my brain and puts my photo in the paper the next morning. I didn’t know how to properly remove carpet from a room, but the razor and hammer I’d snatched from our tiny tool kit—combined with my eye watering rage face—did the trick. I cut myself more than once on the tacked boards that held the carpet taught at the corners, and the more carpet I flung out of the room, I did my best to try and remember my last tetanus shot. Also, the more carpet I flung out of the room, the more pungent this vicious smell became. The dog left to sleep in another room an hour into the exercise, and I had to start taking breaks every fifteen minutes to head outside and breath deep the dark morning air.
It was all over by 5am, and I was tired, thirsty, sweaty, and some form of fast-growing rain-powered chaos mold had buried its stench into my pores. The dog and I slumped upstairs after tossing the carpet into our trash heap outdoors and not giving a damn if the neighborhood caught a toxic whiff of my tiny backyard. I gently opened the door as to not wake my still-unconscious wife—who slept through a considerable amount of noise—and tip-toed into the bed, gingerly pulling the covers back over. As I lay down my head and try to steal whatever sleep that remains in the morning hours, my wife jumps awake with a startle. “What happened? What’s going on?” she asks the back of my head. “Clearly you would sleep through a tornado, and I might let it take you,” I mumbled. There was no response, she was already back asleep.
Carpet costs are wildly variable, and I found this by comparing prices between the big carpet stores, the local supply stores, and one guy who had a basement office and told me “Carpet? Yeah, I guess I can order whatever you want,” while disappearing behind one of his display cabinets like a made-for-television rapist. The whole office flooding thing happened in a sluggish month for business too, which is usually when these events take place. It’s similar to our furnace committing suicide on Thanksgiving, and when we found a broken water pipe positioned right over an air vent, and had to remove part of our ceiling. They’re commonplace events for those of us who buy peanut butter in two-packs, and there’s always a special therapy knowing that it’s happening to someone else as well, right now—a way to relate to the frazzled couple in the car behind you in traffic, honking the horn and screaming at the sky with a savage look. Probably two people with a basement full of sewage, fate rolling the dice on their marriage.
Music in this episode:
Manuele Atzeni – Sleepwalkers Walk Alone
Image © Casas-Rodríguez Collection