Like electricity, we took running water for granted until the day we didn’t have it. As usual, the problem began with an overabundance of water.
At 1 a.m. a pipe broke in the basement wall and water gushed in. A sailor below decks noticed the flood immediately. He rushed to the captain’s quarters.
I had just gone off duty, so I gallantly let my wife deal with it. I could hear the desperate struggle below decks and it reminded me of the Titanic. It’s bad enough to strike an iceberg but hitting one in the middle of the night just made it worse.
Like the Titanic sending out SOS signals, my wife frantically called every 24-hour plumber in the phone book. They were all taking this particular hour off.
As long as the house wasn’t bobbing up and down in the foundation, or listing to one side, I figured I could remain topside.
After an hour, though, I felt compelled to at least see the disaster. On the way down, I adopted the physician’s creed to “first do no harm.” When I reached bottom deck, I pointed helpfully to the main shut off valve. The crew had already spotted it but none of us could turn it.
If we could have found a wrench we would have shut off the water but the only tool I could locate was a sledgehammer. This had “plumbing malpractice” written all over it, so I put it down and went back to bed.
My wife then called the police non-emergency number. I thought they would send over a dive team but instead, a large vehicle pulled up at 3 a.m. Four doors slammed and four heavily equipped men climbed the front stairs. Even though we had the opposite of a fire, the fire department had ridden to the rescue.
I suddenly remembered the extensive electrical work I’d done in steerage. We had a light switch that shorted out the whole basement. So I carefully taped a note over it that said “Do Not Touch.” One of the firemen inadvertently hit the switch, plunging the basement into darkness. Now, it really felt like the Titanic.
The firemen shut off the water and left. When my wife returned to the bridge, she didn’t keelhaul me for desertion in the face of the enemy. In fact, no energy was wasted on anger or blame.
The next morning, we faced the prospect of getting ready for work without water. I felt like I was in the old west, filling a basin to splash my face. This level of hygiene is fine for cattle drives but would it work at the office.
Later that morning, a Forest Park friend came over, capped the broken pipe and restored hot and cold running water. I don’t know what we would have done without him and the firemen. But $1.97 for parts? Isn’t that a little steep?