I discovered this week, to my horror, that I have water in my basement. I thought this was impossible — after all, I’ve lived in this house for over 25 years and have never had this problem. I also recalled the summer when The Man In My Life had water streaming into his basement and it cost him thousands to fix it and replace damaged carpets and furniture. To be fair, since my basement is unfinished and is home to a large and unloved collection of Royal Doulton figurines, every note, letter, postcard, sticky note and fake ‘let me out of school’ excuse scribblings ever written by Gill, and several families of chipmunks/mice/squirrels seeking refuge, the financial loss wouldn’t amount to much.
When I informed Gill of the water issue, she made me promise to rescue her ‘valuable writings’. “Well, you know, Ma, when I’m a famous novelist, people will want my early notes. Why, I might even have archives in a library one day. Wouldn’t you feel badly if you let water destroy my treasures?” Do I have to answer that?
I immediately, as I always do, jumped to the absolute worse conclusion: that I have foundation issues. Hey, I’ve watched enough of those reality real estate shows — the ones where they start to redo an old house and find disaster after disaster. The seemingly small issue of a slanting floor or stain on a ceiling turns into replacing beams, tearing out and redoing all the plumbing, or having to rewire the entire house because there’s knob and tube masquerading as newly installed wires. As Dr. Phil says, the first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge and diagnose it.
Therein lies the problem. I couldn’t tell where the water was coming from. Was it the window frame? The floor? Was there a crack somewhere? I was taught by my dad to call for help and wave a checkbook at problems like this. He couldn’t fix anything and I’ve learned everything I know from him.
But this water presented a real conundrum. Who should I call? Is it a plumbing issue or a foundation problem? Should I gamble on calling a plumber and spend $100 for a service call only to find out it has nothing to do with plumbing? If I call a foundation guy, will he dig up around the perimeter of my house, destroying flower beds, uprooting trees, only to find a small plumbing problem?
When in doubt, I call on my neighbor for a diagnosis. He is a philosophy prof who has a great deal of building expertise. I know — why waste your time on philosophy when you could make big bucks in construction? He rushed right over, 7-year-old daughter by his side. She had a plastic tool kit with her and they billed themselves as “The Skippy Squad”.
I admit it, I had tool envy. I marveled at the child’s tools. “And this one is a wrench,” she pointed out to me.
“I see,” I said, bowing to her superior knowledge. “Ooh,ooh, ooh… I know what this is!” I cried excitedly. “It’s a hammer! I have a hammer too. And a screwdriver. And a roll of duct tape. And a glue gun…” She looked at me, askance.
“Why do you have duct tape?” she asked.
“To fix things,” I answered, puzzled that anyone needed to ask that. “But I don’t think the water in my basement can be fixed that way…although I’m not sure. That’s why I called your dad.”
“But don’t you want to fix things yourself? Instead of having to ask other people to fix things for you? (Translation: calling my dad, thus making sure he doesn’t have time to take me for a swim.) I’m going to do all my own repairs when I grow up.”
“Oh, that’s admirable,” I acknowledged. “Despite my many attempts to tinker with things, I’m a little old now to actually start a career in home repairs. Besides, I come from a long line of non-fixing, check writers…”
She looked at me oddly. I looked at her oddly too. ‘So this is the new version of feminism’, I thought to myself.
“Where’s the fun if you can’t bat your eyelashes and ask some nice guy to help you? That technique has stood me in good stead all my life.” I explained that approach to her. She didn’t look impressed. If I had to describe her look, I’d go for ‘confused’ or ‘appalled’.
“You do that even when you’re old?” she asked innocently.
“Do what?” I asked. “Bat my eyelashes? Oh, especially when I’m old,” I confided. “Now I get to play the helpless, silly female who’s also old, frail, knows nothing useful and might drop dead of a heart attack any minute. You’d be surprised at how nervous and obliging that makes people.”
I could tell she was weighing these words of wisdom and found them wanting. “Well, my daddy is teaching me how to fix things myself so I won’t have to do that,” she said, superiority oozing from her 7-year-old self.
The neighbor then jumped in to explain that he’d found the problem: a crack in the pipe coming from my backyard hose. “You see?” he asked as he pointed to the crack. “The bib and pipe have to be replaced. It’s a simple fix but I don’t have the proper tool to do it for you. Guess you’ll have to call a plumber.” He then turned to his daughter and explained to her how two pipes fit together, are soldered to make a seal, and that would stop any water from leaking out. And he pointed out that an emergency stop valve could be put in place for extra protection.
I zoned out with all this information overload. The child, however, was intent on understanding everything. And I guess that sums up the new generation of feminists. I, being old school, like being able to do things and maintain my independence but am not above batting eyelashes and playing helpless when it is called for. Fortunately or unfortunately, my children have also adopted that way of thinking. If duct tape won’t work, call somebody and throw money at the problem or play the stupid, helpless card.
Hey, it ain’t pretty but we have no shame.