Friday, October 21, 2005

Mr. Long Island's humor column: Living The Sump Pump Life

BY MICHAEL WATT Ask Mr. Long Island

For 46 years I lived my life happily and purposely oblivious to what a sump pump is and how it works. Then came the rain. Eight-straight days of rain – nine if you live on the East End – and as a result the vast majority of Long Island homeowners either fired up their sump pumps or, like me, got a quick tutorial in how they work.

I tried like hell, quite frankly, to avoid having to do this. I saw the acquisition of a sump pump and the subsequent learning how to use same as the sole slice of maturation and adulthood I had managed to avoid. Let’s put it this way – when you were 23 and having fun did you know or care about sump pumps? Me neither. But now? Now when the other fellas on the block discuss the sump pumps in their homes I pretend to know what they are talking about. I may have even exaggerated my experiences with a sump pump on occasion, out of fear that the guys would think less of me if they knew of my sump pump innocence – that I couldn’t tell a sump pump from a water heater, much less ever used one. In fact, up until last week all I ever knew about sump pumps is that to need one is a bad thing.

That’s why I was particularly relieved when my wife, Sharon, called me on Friday afternoon to tell me there was water in the basement. “It’s not too bad,” she said, “but get a Wet Vac on your way home from work.” The breath I held when she mentioned the water in the basement turned into an exhale of relief when she mentioned the Wet Vac. Wet Vacs I can handle, and they make a lot of noise so there is an element of manliness involved when you use it. But I was petrified that she was going to suggest I get a sump pump because, as I mentioned, I had no idea what was involved in using such a thing.

My relief was short lived, unfortunately, once I got to Home Depot. First, the parking lot was flooded and it was still raining pretty heavily – not a good sign. Another bad sign – this one right in the entrance - said the store was out of sump pumps. Since so many other people had purchased sump pumps I knew this was no ordinary rain storm and my gut was telling me that this just might be the weekend when my life as I knew it – sump pump free – was over. Ironically, the store was out of Wet Vacs, too, so the chase was on. Sharon would call different hardware stores and Home Depots from the house and asked if they had a Wet Vac. Then she would call me on the cell and send me there like we were playing Pac-Man and she was the joy stick and I was the little chompy guy. (How did people deal with crises before cell phones?). After a few unsuccessful forays we found a hardware store in Deer Park that had one Wet Vac left, and while I was there the phone must have rung a dozen times, each time a desperate soul was on the other end, looking for a sump pump. Not a Wet Vac. I could feel the walls closing in.

When I got home with my Wet Vac the water was now up to about two inches and I knew then that my new toy was going to be as useless as a Lieutenant Governor. Since it was still raining Friday night I convinced Sharon to wait until Saturday morning to start the dehydration process, using the logic that there was no sense in getting rid of the water if it was still coming in but secretly hoping that something miraculous would happen overnight and the water would be gone by daybreak.

So much for wishful thinking. By Saturday morning the water was halfway up my shins, and very cold I might add. I kept telling myself it could have been worse, it could have been Katrina and Anderson Cooper could be at my door, looking to help. That worked the first few hundred times. Then we started to hear the horror stories from the neighbors. Six inches. A foot. Two feet. Four feet. Yikes! I’ll bet you all those folks know what a sump pump is.

Once I realized that the water in the basement was not going to disappear by magic I began to scratch my head as to what to do next, given that there was not a sump pump to be had in the Northern Hemisphere. Fortunately for me, as he has done on so many occasions my father in law, Jack, came to the rescue with a pump. Now, my father in law is a man’s man so not only does he know what a sump pump is, he knows how they actually work. He also knew not to expect me to know. We get along just fine in that regard.

So Jack came by on Sunday afternoon just to make sure that the water was done rising (“no point in pumping out the ocean” he said on more than occasion) and we got the thing going. Just plug it in here and stick the hose out there and voila! The water started gushing out. And gushing out. And gushing out. I have never see so much water inside a house like that. At any given moment I half-expected to come across The Incredible Mr. Limpet. The basement is still a mess, the washing machine conked out and the house is totally discombobulated, but all in all we fared rather well. And last night we bought a pump. Not a sump pump, mind you – you have to crawl before you can walk – but a pump nonetheless. Today I am a man.

Thank you for reading this column. [2005-10-21]

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