Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Springtime Floods

The other night, we were watching a classic movie upstairs, "The Manchurian Candidate". About halfway through, one of the boys went down to the basement to get a pop, and came upstairs with a long face and damp socks - "my feet are all wet!" "Oh yeah", said another, "there's water in the basement, I saw it hours ago." Huh? Why didn't you tell us? "Uh, I forgot". Eh, kids. We all tromped downstairs, and found pools of water all over the place, leaking from the foundation walls in a continuous stream.

What Candidate? Emergency! That sure changed our evening plans...

As a kid I helped bail out my share of flooded basements. My hometown was called "the Venice of New Jersey" because of the pretty little river that flowed through the valley. And every third or fourth springtime, heavy rains would back that river up into lots of my friends' basements. My family's home was atop a hill, so normally we didn't get hit, but one year even our house had standing water. My parents were stressed...

Now I'm one of the parents, and our house is on the side of a hill in north Mpls. All those scenic piles of snow and ice in our backyard started melting away with that rain a couple weeks back, and since the ground was still frozen, there was no available unfrozen ground for water to soak into, except along the limestone foundation of our 105 year old house. Of course that water ran right down the side, and wherever it found a crack to flow through it went on through. I don't know how much water pooled up outside our foundation, but it all seemed to empty out by way of our basement drain. Which, as is common with old houses, is not the lowest point of the basement.

We started by moving anything we could pick up out of the pool that was rapidly expanding across the floor. We didn't lose much, as most boxes were up on shelves, but there was enough soaked cardboard to matter. We all pushed brooms around, coaxing cold water toward the basement drain. But the flood was winning, after about an hour of work we realized it was coming in faster than we could get it out with these puny brooms.

Home Depot at ten minutes before closing is very quiet. I rushed in, thanking my lucky stars that we hadn't waited any longer and missed our chance, and plopped down the charge card for a shiny orange wet-dry vac, a serious wet mop and bucket, plus whatever sundries were going to get us through the night. A couple hundred bucks lighter, and with hardware in tow, I sloshed back down to the basement, instructing the kids to unbox & assemble the heavy artillery we'd just brought in. They were tired; we were tired, and our night was going to be a long one...

Back in the day, my parents' basement flooded. Cleaning it was cold, dirty, stinky, moldy, wet, backbreaking work. But I experienced one of those "rite of passage" events while doing my duty with the mop and garbage sack. Drudgery became much more interesting when I opened up a damp cardboard box and found, smiling up at me, a Playboy Bunny!

Copyright 1958 Playboy Magazine
It was the adolescent boy's fantasy mother load! Two whole boxes of my dad's old girlie magazines, oh, yeah! They were musty, but what's a little mildew in the grand scheme of things, when you've got Jayne Mansfield or Linda Vargas in all her glory? So that's what a centerfold is all about, hmmm...

Such were the daydreams floating past at 1AM the other night, as I dumped yet another 16 gallon bucket down the drain. That water was heavy! At its worst, the leakage was beating me, coming in faster than I could suck it up or mop it away, maybe 100 gallons an hour. At 2AM, I was too beat to go on, and woke the Miz up to take over so I could rest my weary bones and frayed nerves.

Next morning, same thing. More mopping, draining, cussing. All day, and into the next, and the next. Would this leakage never stop? We were all sore, muscles tight and strained, the palms of our wet hands blistered from squeezing out and pushing mops around. Then a cold snap came through and halted the snow melt for a few days. The puddles receded, the floor began to dry out. We had a one week respite, long enough to recover. Now it's warm outside again - we had another round of leakage for 3-4 days last week, but by now the ground has thawed and can absorb the water it was sloughing off before.

It's done leaking, for now at least. We're going to need to work the drainage issue from outside the house, that is clear. Maybe we'll dig a trench and fill it with gravel and piping to shunt any underground water off to the alley. While we're at it, we'd get a chance to do long overdue patching on that foundation to stop the leaks. So what are you doing this summer?

By the way, "Venice" is flooding again this year - and, to wind up that story from way back when, my mom found the Playboys two days after I did, and - poof - they were gone, just like that! Dang, I should have grabbed a few while I had the chance. If they weren't so moldy, they'd be worth a mint now, just like my uncle's old Superman Comics (including Action #1), that also met the dumpster before their time. But I have my memories - and a brand new wet dry vac. That'll have to do for now...

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