Here in the States we are getting a lot of highfalutin speeches about preparedness, being ready to deal with a disaster or even a bout of extreme weather, having lots of batteries and water on hand, that kind of crap. It always happens when there is a nasty hurricane or two.
So today there was no hurricane and no hype, just some heavy rain from Tropical Storm Lee (Lee? What kind of name is that for a storm? Lee was the name of the kid in my grade school class who looked like an immature Dick Van Dyke and always wore a white shirt, like a smug little cunt). No real wind. Just rain. And more rain. I felt edgy, though I couldn’t quite say why. I went to the gym. They’ve fixed the drainage and laid sandbags; no flooding. I got home way early for my first client, on account he was stuck on a bridge that was not running real well at the far end; there they had flooding. Suburbs to the north got a little damp.
But by God and by gum, out on the back lawn was Torvald, and I hopped down to the cellar door to bring him a treat and kerSPLASH went my walkout stairwell, the water rising from what is supposed to be the foundation drain junction with the conduit to the storm sewer.
I have been here before. During the fearful Furlough Blizzard of 1996 I bailed this stairwell for three hours — up over my shoulder and down the far side of a retaining wall, till the county could get here with heavy equipment. Today it was nothing that nasty, but it needed bailing, nonetheless.
So here’s what happens during something that has not been classified any kind of disaster: the first plumber you call is a family business, and the dispatcher is Mom, and she doesn’t want to send her son out into bad weather. The second lists on its website all the heroic feats of which its nationwide network is capable, and promises a plumber by nine pm; he shows up at quarter to nine, produces a very unimpressive motorized snake and asks you if you have a Shop-Vac. (If I had, wouldn’t I have been already using it?) Eventually — he can almost speak English — he tells you he can’t unclog the pipe, and you need to put plastic sheeting and sandbags up against the door, and will probably have to have someone break up the concrete floor of the stairwell and replace the pipe, which appears to be full of concretized silt, and possibly install a sump pump. Then he farts around trying to reach his manager to get a price for trying but failing (the workman is worthy of his hire, the guy had earned something by coming out in this, but not the proposed charge for solving the problem). Home Depot is open until ten. You send him off with a promise that you will pay him what is right and after all, he knows where you live.
Home Depot is deserted. No one in there speaks any English. You ask for sand bags, which are priced at 50 for 17.75 on the company website, and people look at you blankly. Finally someone directs you to some plastic bags of play sand. They can’t seem to think why you would want sand bags. This in a county where a hurricane blew through a week before, and every civic entity was exhorting people in low lying areas (which I am not) to lay in sand bags and water. I don’t mean they were sold out. I mean there was no sign that they had ever, at any time, in this location, stocked sand bags or known what their purpose might be. They do have this, explained one guy from some distant clime where they probably see rain once a year, and people buy it for sand boxes and…
My drain pipe is on me, but if the fucking Home Depot doesn’t know a sand bag from its ass in the middle of typhoon season, how is the glittering petticoat of the Nation’s fucking Capital supposed to weather a fucking disaster?
Props to my little engineer, who went with me. We bought four sixty-pound bags of all purpose sand (“I’m glad you talked me into joining your gym,” he said) and some sheeting, bailed the stairwell again, laid ’em down on both sides of the threshold and hoped for the best. If everything washes away I actually don’t care any more, as long as someone saves my cats. But then they always go for the highest perch. They should be fine.