After the Zombie Apocalypse

After the zombie apocalypse, there won’t be any running water. Why? I have no idea. Maybe the zombies will turn it off at the main, which I like to think is a giant rusted wheel thingie in a room deep beneath city hall. The mayor ceremonially turns it every now and then to adjust the pressure and the key to that room is what the assholes in Raleigh are trying so frantically to get their hands on. Whether this scenario is exactly true or not, I have no idea but it is generally accepted that come the apocalypse running water – and electricity and gas – will cease to be. It seems to me that if those things really require so much constant attention that they’re going to shut down on the first day that everyone calls in dead then there ought to be a whole lot more infrastructure watching jobs available, but whatever. I will be prepared.

I will be prepared because I’m spending my Memorial day weekend without running water, as every good American should.

Or because there’s a leak in the main water line into my house, you decide.

Last month my water bill jumped $40. “No more showers,” I said sternly, blaming the not-children as any good mom should. “You’re clean enough.” Then, a week or so later, I found myself in the bathroom at 3 am. Don’t ask. It was quiet and the house was deserted, yet I distinctly heard water running. Well. You haven’t lived until you’ve searched every inch of your house looking for water at 3 in the morning. It’s almost as much fun as prowling around in the wee hours sniffing for smoke or gas, which is an entertainment I engage in on a regular basis. Because I am a neurotic wreck, of course. However!

I could not find any water anywhere, but the sound didn’t stop. So, after a few days of this, I called my friend Chris, who is a plumber and a super nice guy. He came over and poked around in the basement. The water main and the line where the water comes into the house is inconveniently located in what we used to call Teenage Wasteland: my son’s, ahem, appartement. The garconniere. It could still be called twenty something wasteland except that doesn’t scan as well. He and his girlfriend were in there asleep. “Dude,” he said, “I don’t feel so well.” It was only 2 in the afternoon or so. I am inconsiderate.

Chris determined that the water was coming from outside the house. This isn’t, really, good news, partly because outside water desperately wants to be inside like the rest of us and also because a) every drop of that water was costing me money and b) the water line from where it meets the city water supply to where it comes into my house belongs to me, the homeowner, and responsibility and expense of fixing it is mine, all mine. Chris said I was lucky. “I’ve seen them,” he said dourly, “Where they go through three people’s yards and halfway down a mountain. Yours is close and flat. It’s the second best I’ve ever seen, in Asheville.” And he showed me my water meter, which I had never seen before. It has a little triangle on it, which goes around when there is water flowing. “It’s not going that fast,” he said, “It could be worse.”

Then he explained that if the water line was copper, it could be fixed, and if it was PVC, it could be fixed, but if it was galvanized, which it probably is, because this house is old and was never built for or lived in by anyone with two nickels to scrape together (including me) then the whole line would have to be replaced. That meant the whole line would have to be dug up, which would be cheaper if I did it myself. But first, I needed to dig and find the pipe and find the leak and figure out what the pipe was made of. He was going away for the long weekend, he said, would call when he got back. But dig that hole, get your boy to do it. That was Wednesday.

Getting the boy to do it is easier said than done. He is currently working two jobs, both at night and he doesn’t get home until 3 am.  Lack of sleep and all this working has not sweetened his disposition much, my darling surly son. I just dug it myself. Digging, by the way, is easier on a bad shoulder than lawn mowing, much easier, but I think I’m hooked on prescription strength ibuprofen now either way. I dug a bit on Thursday and then yesterday evening I dug some more. I hit pay dirt almost immediately. The leak turns out to be right by the house. Cool! I dug some more! Look at that water!

It turns out that all that compacted dirt was all that was holding my water line together.

There’s a lot of water coming out of that pipe.

Really, quite a lot.

“Help!” I yelled, watching the hole fill up and thinking about what it would be like if the crumbling, dirty brick that is the wall of the downstairs of my house gave way under the pressure. “Help!”

Miles came out. “OK,” he said, “I’m ready to dig. Where do you want me to dig?”
“Dig a trench that way!”  I shouted, “Try to get it to go the other way.”

2014-05-24 17.45.30The water liked the trench but just filled it up along with the original hole, not instead of. Clearly, something drastic had to be done. “I’m calling the city,” I said, “The water has to be turned off.” This was something else Chris had shown me: you need a special tool and a lot of upper body strength to turn your water off and on at the meter. “Fill up all the pots and pans and the bathtub!” I said, running around wildly, “Take a shower now!” I called the city and filled up the kettle and the two filter jugs and the big stockpots and the recycling bin (the one that wasn’t holding dirt and half my poor echinaceas from the excavations) and the bathtub and Miles got in the shower and Audrey complained and the guy from the city showed up.

He was adorable. Later that night I asked my friends, “Do you think it would be creepy if I did a Craigslist missed connections for the city water guy?” The answer, by the way, is yes, but if you have even half an imagination you can totally imagine the posts. I mean, the man who controls the water. The jokes, they write themselves. Anyway, he told me that it is not uncommon for dirt to be holding your water line together and also to always be careful opening the manhole cover thing over the water meter because black widow spiders like to nest underneath them. So now we all know that. Get out the hazmat suits and long pieces of iron. Nature: has it in for us or what? He also told me that he would make a report with the city so that when I called they would adjust my bill, that this was an easy fix and even if it was galvanized it might be fixable with a thing called a saddle joint. He explained it and said they had them at Home Depot and I could probably do it myself. I mentioned that really liked this guy, right? He was cute, saved me money AND he thought I was capable! The poor fool. Anyway, as men so often do in my experience, he then turned off the water, told me good luck, and departed in his city truck.

Naturally, I promptly abandoned my poor unwashed not-children and went to the bar. I think if they were really children still I would at this point just go camping, because if you’re not going to have running water you might as well be in the woods, but when I suggested this possibility this morning to my daughter she was not enthused. “I am not going camping with my family,” she said, “No.” And my son is still asleep, but my guess is he would agree.

So we’re stuck here. The bathtub, it turns out, doesn’t hold water well. The dishes are all dirty and will have to stay that way. I have to go buy paper plates and bottled water. And Chris called this morning and told me it would probably be Wednesday before he made it over to fix the pipe. I keep trying to tell myself – and the not-children – that it is an Exciting Adventure that is Hardening Us Up for the Inevitable Apocalypse. They aren’t buying it, alas. And by Tuesday, I don’t think I will be either.

So hey, can I use your shower?

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