Lost in the Flood—Finding a Wet Perspective

So this is how my Friday started.

I’m sleeping on the couch Thursday night because my older son woke up a 1am with a sore throat. I’m awakened Friday morning by my wife’s voice saying, “Brian! There’s two feet of water in the basement and I think all your baseball cards are gone!” I stumble off the couch and down the stairs. There’s water everywhere, and loose baseball cards are actually floating along the top of it, mocking symbols of my lost childhood. I make some kind of moaning noise, I think.

I didn’t have much time to mourn. Conor’s science fair is this morning, and I agreed to help him and his friend do dry ice experiments. Mary El was supposed to come with me because we had a meeting with Conor’s principal and teachers afterward due to his recent diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Now the flood needs to be taken care of, so she takes flood duty and I take school. Conor and I roll up at 7:45 with a big plastic carrier and set up the experiments, then spend two and a half hours making dry ice soap bubbles, asking kids if they want to taste a burp (dry ice is made out of carbon dioxide) and pouring the dry ice smoke on kids’ heads. I haven’t showered or shaved so I look like a homeless cancer patient. I drag all our stuff back to the car and spend fifteen minutes in my car trying not to collapse—I’m what the doctor called “pan-anemic,” which means I don’t have enough iron in my system to produce a quarter. Then it’s back in to face the teachers so Con can get some extra time for tests and be able to go to the nurse whenever he wants. I finally get home about 11:30.

The landlord’s crew is in the process of pumping out the water and trying to get the heat working again. I got my first real look at the damage. Conor’s art work from the time he was seven is drenched. All of my wife’s sheet music is gone. The soaked boxes of baseball cards were now on the basement steps, dripping. Christmas stuff, CDs, photographs, writing notebooks, clothes, tax papers—everything we dumped there when we moved in just a few months ago. This whole process seems eerily familiar because we lost everything we owned about five years ago when our house in Newburgh, which had never had a drop of water in its basement in the previous four years, flooded after a three day Nor’easter. It took a twenty-foot dumpster to get rid of all that mess. So what survived from the previous mess now comprised the current mess. I’m beginning to believe that Mary Ellen and I aren’t fated to have worldly possessions. We’re meant to be Buddhist monks or something.

Another crew was supposed to come with blowers and vacs on Saturday, so we tried to move some clothes upstairs to the wash so we could get a leg up. You ever try to pick up clothes soaked with freezing water? After one trip with forty-pound hunks of sopping clothing in our hands up and down the stairs, we knew we weren’t going to get much done until the crew dried everything first. We collected a few photographs, moved a few boxes around and went upstairs to get warm before frostbite set in. We could see our breath.

So Saturday comes and I have two fans in the livingroom blowing on the rows and rows of baseball cards I have spread out, trying to dry. I found that Score is the best brand for post-flood bounceback—Topps tend to curve as they dry and Upper Deck melds card-to-card, making them impossible to separate. Just in case anyone finds themselves in a similar circumstance. One of the guys on the crew says to me that if he had baseball cards he would have kept them in a plastic bag in the attic, which is akin to telling someone who just had their house burn down, “You know, what you should have done is paint this whole place with fire retardant.” It don’t help much now. The other two guys kept coming up the stairs to hand me piles of wet baseball cards as if they were at a wake. Everyone has had something irreplaceable thrown out by their mother at one point or another, and men are collectors at heart, so I guess they could relate.

Mary El went out early to bring my stepson (who decided that now that we had a flooded basement it would be a perfect time to visit his girlfriend) to the bus stop. While turning the car around to get out of our long, unpaved driveway, she got our Toyota stuck in the mud, so she had to take the Ford. We have no food in the house, so we decide we’re going to order a pizza and some sandwiches from an Italian place about ten minutes from where we live. I volunteer to pick up. So the Ford is behind the Toyota, which is sideways across our driveway with its front tires in brown goop. I back the Ford up to sneak around the Toyota and my left tire hits a three foot snowbank. Yes, if you guessed I grounded the Ford you’d be correct. After I try to turn every which way without success, and then dig up most of our front lawn tring to get the Toyota out to boot, I finally give up and got Mary El. Together we dig and pull and push and pray until we looked like two boxers who had just gone the distance. Neither one of the cars would budge.

So. We go inside completely and utterly defeated and Mary El calls our insurance company to tow not one, but two cars out of our front yard. She also calls the Italian place as a courtesy to tell them our predicament. They call back two minutes later and ask if we plan to come in and pay for the order since it was sizable. Mary El says maybe you didn’t understand correctly, but we have two cars stuck and we’re minutes away from a nervous breakdown. OK, the girl says, we’ll just keep the bill up here on our wall and you come pay for it when you can. That’s exactly what we plan to do when the cars are dug out is drive to your restaurant and pay for food we never ate. Why don’t you hold your breath?

So after the tow-truck guy stops laughing at us, we call a new place that just opened up down the road to see if they serve food. They do, so now we’re taking the two boys out to eat. Always a terrifying proposition. The place is about a three minute drive from where we live. Mary El drives because between the lifting, the bending and the digging I’m barely able to keep my head off my chest. About two minutes and 45 seconds into the three minute drive a state trooper pulls us over. We can actually see the restaurant from where we are on the side of the road. Mary El left without her magic backpack that has every paper for every circumstance imaginable, so she is without her license and the brand new up-to-date insurance papers. Plus the car is a month out of inspection. We really should just never leave the house for any reason.

The trooper feels sorry for Mary El and let’s us go with a warning. The food is edible, which is a rarity for Greene County. Sure there’s a dripping pile of garbage on our front porch waiting to be dragged away, but the folks in Japan with the tsunami definitely had it worse. It’s just stuff, right?

I think perspective is what people with bad luck develop to be able to make it to the next morning.

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    • Kae
    • March 14th, 2011

    Oh, Brian, how awful. The whole wrenching experience. You and your family are due for a run of really good luck, and I hope it comes soon. Much love from down here, Kae, Robert, Laura, Alex, & Lily

  1. We’re beginning to think that run won’t be in this life…

    • Kae
    • March 14th, 2011

    Oh, Brian, I pray it will be, and not only soon, but extended. Your family and your health are first and foremost right now. God bless you! K xoxox

    • Joe Gayton
    • March 14th, 2011

    God, if you don’t laugh you cry. And I thought my life right now is crummy… Tell Mary El that whatever song she needs, if I have it, she can get a copy of it.
    My heart goes out to you guys…

  2. Thanks Joe. It’s mostly replaceable. Besides if we’re ever stuck for sheet music, we always call you anyway!

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