Wednesday, August 04, 2004

So Where Have I Been?

I am a busy person, you know. Lots of important stuff going on: travel to far-off and exotic locales, intellectually stimulating projects at work, natural disasters wreaking havoc in my basement.

Oh no, you groan. Could it be the dreaded Flooding of the Basement that every homeowner with a basement fears? Well, yes, indeed it could be.

I have to preface this by saying that the 10 inches of rain we received in one day caused us inconvenience and stress and will necessitate costly repairs, but compared to the overwhelming loss that people a few towns away from us experienced, I consider us almost lucky. Yes, our basement flooded, but no, we did not have to evacuate our home to elude a rushing river that used to be a street.

That said, it was not a fun experience. After almost an entire day of downpours, Jeff checks the basement to see if there is any water down there. We've lived in our house for almost 5 years, and we've never had so much as a damp spot. Bad news: water is seeping in from the perimeter of the finished part of the basement and the utility room. At this point we are calm homeowners. We can handle this by judicious use of our wet-dry vac. Reverting to comfortable gender stereotypes, Jeff steels himself for the task and I take care of the kids.

Jeff soon realizes that the water is coming in too fast for the wet-dry vac to possibly keep up. While he is growing increasingly frantic, I am bathing the kids and getting them ready for bed. I am certain that they picked up on the stress mounting in the house: Sean crumples into a crying, thrashing heap when I tell him that Daddy cannot not lie down next to him while he goes to sleep. Meanwhile, Allie needs her bottle and Jeff is beseeching me to find someone to help us.

Okay, think, focus. I give Allie her bottle, put her down in the crib before she is asleep, and pray that she will go to sleep on her own for the first time. Sean continues to scream at the top of his lungs: "Daddy! Where are you?" "Daddy! Mommy! Come here!" Approximately one minute after I put her down, Allie realizes that she is alone, that she is not asleep, and that she is NOT HAPPY. So she begins wailing as well.

Things in the basement are deteriorating rapidly. The carpet is like a soft sponge, there is an inch of water in the utility room, and we need to begin salvaging things. Most important: Jeff's drum set.

Meanwhile, the kids are still freaking out. I rescue Allison from her crib because I can't bear the agony in her cry. I feel like a complete monster for leaving Sean, but I know that he will calm down eventually.

While holding Allie, I call my mom, I call Gail, I call Mary Kay. Kathie and Gary are on vacation, so our usual pillars of support aren't available. Gail, bless her very generous heart, agrees to trek out in the pouring rain to Home Depot to buy us another wet-dry vac and then drive all the way from Cheltenham to our house. My mom thinks to call a friend of hers, and he says he will come over with his wet-dry vac. Mary Kay's phone is busy, and there's no answer on her cell phone.

Still holding Allie, I help Jeff carry the most valuable items up the stairs. Now there is about an inch of water in the carpeted part of the basement as well. My big fear is the deadly mixture of water and power cords running everywhere, so we try to prop up all the cords so that they are not submerged in water. We've both abandoned any pretense of calm. One good thing: Allie falls asleep in my arms despite the chaos, and Sean, having given up on the possibility that anyone will come to rescue him, has gone to sleep, too. (I wish I had another set of arms so that I can hold them both; even now, writing this almost a month later, I feel so sad for Sean, that he is too little to have understood all my explanations to him that night.)

Finally, finally, help arrives. Joe, my mom's friend and a veteran of many a flooded basement, has his wet-dry vac and offers to go rent us a small pump. This is the best advice of the entire night.

My mom calls, Gail calls---they are both caught in flooding en route to our house. My mom eventually gives up and drives back home because the roads were getting exceptionally dangerous. Gail manages to make it through, as does Mary Kay.

With all this help, we finally feel a little more in control, though not much. We all take turns running the wet-dry vacs, which keep overloading the circuit in the basement that controls the lights. What's a sure-fire way to make a stressful situation even more stressful? Right! Cut out the lights!

From here on, the night proceeds in an almost orderly fashion: run the vacs, empty the vacs, shift the pump around, repeat. Around 12:00, Gail heads on home. She has a job interview the next day; I feel a combination of overwhelming gratitude and guilt. Jerry arrives not long after Gail leaves; still in his work clothes, he helps us vacuum. At 2:00 a.m., Mary Kay leaves and I go to bed; Jeff joins me around 4:00. At that point, no more water is coming in, and the rain has finally stopped.

The fallout: The carpet is toast; drums and all valuable items are saved. There's some water damage to the drywall, but the heater/air conditioner seems okay. We had someone come in to remove the carpet, apply some no-doubt-cancer-causing anti-mold solution, and provide a heavy-duty dehumidifier. Those steps helped eliminate the pervasive, almost suffocating musty odor that filtered throughout the house.

Our psyches are a little scarred, too, but again I am trying to keep everything in perspective. I am so, so grateful to everyone who helped us that night. At one point, before reinforcements arrived, Jeff was feeling pretty despondent about not having anyone who could help us.

Now we have to decide what to do: Nothing and keep the basement unfinished? Nothing and reinstall carpeting? Install a french drain/sump-pump and reinstall carpeting? We opted for option C. We're trying to select a contractor as we speak.

Our encounter with one particular hard-sell, doomsday-scenario-spouting salesman was memorable. The pitch went something like this: Your foundation is about to buckle under the extreme PRESSURE of water! The house could crumble! Black mold could form, inducing a 7-day hospitalization like it did to me! Excavation [costing $40,000] may be necessary if you let this perilous situation continue! What, a French drain? Bah! They're garbage---what you need is our patented system, the one we charge $13,000 for. (The patented system? Basically a fancy french drain.)

And then came the slimy sales tactic. Note that this is at MIDNIGHT, and the guy has been at our house for 2 hours. Throughout the visit, the guy has commented on this big commercial job that's been canceled. Uh oh, I thought, I smell duplicity ahead! Sure enough, after he has attempted to scare us to death, he calls the office to see if a commercial crew will be available in 2 days for a small residential job. Why, of course there is. And we can get a several-thousand-dollar discount, but only if we sign up right now. Jeff and I exchange a look and say together, "No." If this guy had moved with the same alacrity during the preceding 2 hours as he did after we turned down his offer, well, we'd all have been done a lot sooner. He literally flew out the door.

A few days later, a rep from the same company calls to say that they reviewed our estimate, discovered that it was too high, and could offer us yet another substantial discount. With admirable restraint, Jeff politely told the woman that we were not interested and that we considered the sales tactics used by the company to be unethical. Honestly, how stupid do they think people are?

Next post: Exotic travel.