(from my diary)
My friend VT called. She said her basement was flooding. From the panic in her voice, I was sure the house was going to sink, its roof disappearing like the deck of ship under the ocean waves.
When I got there she was wading around in six inches of water, trying to salvage boxes packed with her belongings. I wrestled everything moveable onto tables and shelves but there was a lot of loose debris. Sort of like after an ocean liner goes down. Cushions and small wooden items and clothes. Anything that would float. I kept wanting to yell “Man the pumps. Women and children first.”
It was after that she got new drain tile put in. A first class job. Except the first class job was about as valuable as being in first class on the Titanic.
The drain tile man had dug a hole and put in a sump pump. That was to lift the water to the storm sewer. The cord wasn’t protected from the rain and shorted out. Flood number two. This time VT’s brother joined me and we got everything moved in record time. The days following were filled with the sound of vacuum cleaners sucking up water and the whir of fans drying out the wall to wall carpet. The plumber, confronted with the fact that he’d connected the pump outside the house instead of inside dismissed the fact with a shrug and showed VT two poems he had written. She’d told him she was a writer. He was, he said, in his heart a poet and plumbing was what he did to pay the rent.
The third time VT called to say that water was seeping through the wall, I was beginning to think of how trouble free life would be in Arizona or the Sahara desert. This time she didn’t want me to lift boxes but to dig into the clay behind the camellia bush that sits in the corner by the porch. She said she could hear water running. I put my ear to the wall. It sounded like an underground stream just somewhat smaller than Niagara Falls. Her son-in-law was supposed to be on his way. He’s younger and more muscular than I am and a much better candidate for digging in clay.
“The camellia’s got to go,” I said. VT went inside so she didn’t have to watch me chop her prize camellia down to a stub.
Have you ever dug clay? God, her or him, pagan or Christian, invented clay to make life hell for people who have to dig. Sort of their penance on earth so they don’t have to hang around in Purgatory and clog up the system. It stuck to the shovel. It stuck to me. It stuck to itself. Gradually, though, I managed to uncover some copper tubing and then a blue plastic coupling. VT had turned off the water but I could tell this was the place. The ground was saturated. That’s when her son-in-law turned up.
He’s a drywaller, not a plumber, but he’s got a sense of how things operate. He got some water, washed off the coupling and recognized that the plumber had put the inside rings on the outside of the coupling. Just to be sure, he turned on the water. At that moment, I was leaning over the hole and got sprayed with wet mud from my crotch to my chin.
Her son-in-law took off the coupling, reorganized it and screwed it back on. He tried the water again, made a few adjustments and everything worked fine. I admire people like that. Because of them things like heat and water and electricity and telephones work. I wish I could be like that. It would be great to be this writer who could also fix plumbing and trucks and, if necessary, roofs, with nothing but a bent paper clip, some tape and a rubber band.
Instead, I help people write stories, teaching them the intricacies of plot and point of view, showing them to scan lines. Sometimes, I help them I help them sort through conflicts and unhappiness, putting them on paper so they can t hen throw their grief into the garbage and get on with their lives. There’s a good feeling in that but it’s not the same as fixing a door so it closes properly or shingling a roof. The problem with helping people fix themselves is that you’re never sure they’re fixed. Sometimes, they claim they were never broken. You never get a window saying that after you’ve taken out the shards and cleaned off the old putty, then set the new pane in place and puttied it, “You’ve ruined my life. I’ll never be a proper window again. I was better off with loose, dried out putty. I’m worse off than I was before.” When people say something like that about their lives, they don’t usually whisper that, they stand in the office doorway and shout it before raging away to show their story/poem/play to their mother/father/lover/best friend who reassures them the story is perfect and doesn’t need a single word changed. And that they’re perfect, too, and have absolutely nothing to learn and no need to grow.
Having been screamed and yelled at, mostly by parents when I taught high school for a few years, I’m not much on screaming and yelling, but I must admit if I could have found him ,I’d have yelled and screamed at the plumber who put the connection on inside out.
l did try to find him. I thought that I and VTs son-in-law might persuade him to return VT’s money. No luck. He’s moved on, leaving houses all over Victoria with basements that flood, water tanks that burst, taps that give cold water from the hot faucet and hot water from the cold faucet. Maybe he’s in Castlegar or Calgary. The next time you phone a plumber check to see how long he’s been in your city or town, ask him if he’s ever worked in Victoria, ask him if he’s been writing any poems lately.