Around 9:00 PM last night, John said, “I’m so tired…I hate to do this, but I’m going to bed.” The weeks have been long. There are so many decisions to make all the time. And he bears the brunt of it right now so he’s tired.
What color should the cracks between the tile be? Do you want the grout to be shiny or dull?
Do you want the windows to be 30” from the floor or 36” in this room (or at some other height)? What about in the room beside it? And what about in that area where one of the workers ran an electric line through the middle of where a window could have gone? Do you still want a window there? (In other words, do you want to take two metaphorical steps backwards before proceeding forward again?)
Where should the bathtub go?
Do you want the walls to be smooth or rough? Taller or shorter? Red or brown? Matte or satin finish?
This project has given me a much greater sympathy for whatever Force created the universe:
“Excuse me, God, but where should we put the mountains?”
“Do you want the shoreline to be majestic fjords or just a sandy beach? (Keep in mind that the majestic fjords take longer to build.) What sand color do you want at this beach/that beach?
These insects keep attacking the trees you put here/there…what should we do?
I now understand why the Creator of the Universe may, at times, decide to abandon the project.
So John went to bed. He brushed his teeth. Lydian and I decided to stay up a little longer to chat about some of the encounters she’d had that night with interesting boys and other people while she was selling tickets for the callejoneadas. And all was well. It was raining outside and every now and then, a quick flash of lightning would cascade across the sky through the window every now and again. The world had that wonderful autumn feeling where things aren’t too hot or too cold and the pace of life is in that in-between place that’s not too fast or too slow. I felt happy that we were in our building and that we were comfortable…enough.
And then John went into the bedroom where I heard a bit of shuffling.
“It’s leaking in here.”
We’re currently living on our second floor, which is 3 floors down from the top floor which caps off at 6 levels above the street. So when John said there was a leak, I first hesitated to believe him (mostly because I wanted to deny it), but only for a moment, because then I remembered the other floods we’ve had in this building and how unbelievable each one of them was. I thought back through floods in general and it didn’t take but half-a-second for that wonderful autumn-y relaxed feeling to vanish completely and be replaced by a Bright Red HIGH ALERT Status.
We have 2 double-bed mattresses in the bedroom and they only just barely fit in there. We didn’t want to buy “our bed” until we were in “our apartment” on 4th floor. It’s a long story, but it has to do with buying and reselling furniture for the future vacation rentals. But anyway, we slide in and out the ends of our two double beds because there’s no space left in the room around the beds and only about 2 feet at the ends. Getting in and out of the bathroom in the middle of the night is a complicated affair that we’ve both mastered over time: meandering around a pile of books on a tiny side table at the ends of our beds for our nighttime reading, not tripping over the nearly imperceptible 1 1/2” step at the door of the bathroom, sliding past the dehumidifier that takes up the bulk of the space between the shower and the sink (the toilet is on the other side of these two fixtures). We try not to wake each other since deep, restful sleep is a bit of a rarity these days. At 7:30 or 8:00 AM every day of the week except on Sundays, the workers show up with hammers and shovels. John goes out to talk with them about work for the day. The scraping and the pounding starts as soon as they show up and continues throughout the day. But nevermind all that…
The leak was right over the head of my bed. The mattress, luckily, wasn’t completely soaked yet. One corner of the mattress was wet. A few drips were fattening on the ceiling to drip down onto John’s bed where a small wet spot was forming in the middle of his mattress.
What could possibly be leaking all the way down to our 2nd floor apartment?
John I put on shoes and we tromped outside and then up to 3rd, 4th, and 5th floors to look at things. John did most of the inspection and I just stood nearby to offer moral support since plumbing and floods are mostly John’s domain except for the part where someone has to mop things up and clean up whatever yuck came in with the water.
There appeared to be a few different places that could be causing the drip. John reasoned that since the rainwater was pooling in the new 5th floor area of the building that it was maybe seeping down into 2nd floor via capillary action. He’d talk to Felipe about it the next day.
We went downstairs to our apartment, satisfied with that diagnosis, and decided to clean out a room the workers had finished that day and go ahead and move our beds into that room. But, dear reader, you have to understand something. When I say that we were going to clean out a room and that it is finished (LOL)…what I mean to say is that it is mostly finished—usually somewhere between 13/17th and 11/12th finished. The glass doors are not installed yet on the shower. The drains are all plugged with dirt (why? I don’t know.) And there are no doors into the room or into the bathroom. Also, the beams haven’t been painted. There are no covers on the electrical outlets. The grout is missing next to the stairs. All of the corners are missing soclo (floorboards). Hmmmm…there’s more, but I’m already having a crisis just thinking about it.
When I say that we’re going to “clean” what I mean is that we’re going to move bags of cement along with tools and construction materials that cover every inch of the floor. Underneath it all, we’re going to find things like the leftover remains of a chicken dinner rotting quietly in the dust. There may be clothes that that workers leave behind; sweaty, abandoned items that are covered in all kinds of what-nots. But clean it, we do. And then we move into these spaces and try to forget. It’s a process that normally takes at least 2 or 3 “moppings” usually with something caustic and deadly to all organisms, perhaps even humans. Sometimes, we have to perform veritable exorcisms as part of the cleaning process in the areas that have been “finished” by our workers in order to will ourselves into the spaces. It isn’t entirely because of the workers either. When we first saw this property, there was a sick old woman whose bed was in the now-closet of the new bedroom that was “finished” yesterday. The smell of her sickness and the lack of familial hygiene in the building was atrocious and hard to describe.
But last night, we moved our beds into this room after one cursory sweeping and one mopping and there we slept. John said he slept well. I can’t say that I had the same luck, but I only sleep every 3rd night right now after I’ve thoroughly exhausted myself and I can’t go on. It’s not that I have no time to sleep really, but rather that I hold my breath when I sleep. It’s not an apnea. It’s where I spend the whole day ignoring (for example), the loud fart-sound of a grinder above my head along with the scraping sound of cement workers mixing cement by hand with their shovels on the floor above me. And the sound of someone hammering on the next floor up. This is the example that comes to mind because it’s what I’m hearing right now. Sometimes I leave during the day and go to a nearby coffeehouse, but I’m working on some writing projects that involve heavy books so, I like to stay home and just put in my headphones and “zone” (LOL). “ZONE”. I have to yell the word inside my own head just to hear it over the din of everything. Sometimes I congratulate myself on the Zen-ness of how I can ignore the noise and the chaos. But the truth is, I don’t ignore it. I restrain myself and I’m now unresponsive to it. Is this patience or is it an insidious form of denial? At night I thumb through all the thoughts and emotions I didn’t act on during the day. And at times, I hold my breath as I go back through the previous day in my “sleep”.
About 15 minutes of silent meditation at the end of the day would probably cure the problem, if only there were 15 minutes and a silent space, but alas, I don’t know of such a place or time right now.
Last night I dreamt (during a brief lapse of consciousness after which I was wide awake) that I was hypnotizing people to make it so that they couldn’t see certain things. I suppose this was what Freud would call a “wish fulfillment dream”. At the end of the dream, I was hypnotizing John so that he couldn’t see three people. He could see their clothes, but not the people wearing them and he freaked out and ran out into the street. I thought he was going to get hit by a car. I woke up and thought, “that’s not a good idea” (hypnotizing people so that they can’t see things) and I decided that I should definitely never try that sort of thing on John ever.
Then, I remembered John telling me a story the night before last of these tribal island people he’d read about who were “blind” to the boats that brought some research to their island because the tribal people had never seen a big boat before. John said that the tribal people had no idea how the researchers had arrived on their remote island even when the researchers tried to show them the boats that had brought them to the island. The tribal people literally could not see the boats. John and I had laughed about how you can’t see what you don’t believe in. How you have to believe in something before you can really see it. We’d laughed because it’s weird that our brains are wired that way. That people are the way they are. But I suppose the story resonated with John and me because we’re actively engaged in the reverse process of not-seeing because we don’t want to believe. The denial takes a lot of effort. It’s exhausting, in fact. Every now and then, we have to tune in and see what’s actually here. Or at least try to see it instead of doing the reverse of that process. It’s an exercise that we’ve never done before at this level and we’re both tired of it.
But back to the flood…
Upstairs, we worked to clean out the room so that we could move our beds in and as I mopped the floor I noticed dripping from the ceiling in an area near where the other bedroom was leaking.
John and I went downstairs to alert Lydian to the possibility that the flood upstairs might affect her and in the basement, just outside of her apartment was a small pool of water. I opened the door to her apartment and found that the water extended through her foyer, past her guitar (which was sitting in the foyer) and into her kitchen (about 10 feet). I called to Lydian and she came out from her bedroom and said, “Shit!” and splashed through the water in her flip flops and pajamas toward me.
At this point, we called Felipe for help.
“Hay una inundación.” We told him from the edge of the pond. John stood on one side of the shoreline, squatting down in search of rivers and estuaries that might be feeding this new water feature. Lydian and I stood on the other side with the cell phone. “Por favor” we said…”necesitamos ayuda…(we need help)…”
I got Lydian a mop and John returned back to 3rd, 4th, and 5th floor to look more closely for the problem. He returned saying that one of the pipes laid that day on 4th floor was perhaps broken but he couldn’t tell for sure in the rain. I kept mopping and cleaning the new room upstairs. Lydian came up for a new mop and tried to be optimistic, but I chided her for it.
“It’s not time for optimism yet.” I told her. “We need keep our expectations in check.” She didn’t argue, but rather furrowed her brows and returned to mopping. She hasn’t cleaned up as many floods as John and I have. Sometimes when it floods, it just leaks. Sometimes when it floods, the whole basement is a mess of watery poop from the neighbor’s pipes. It’s good not to get hopeful until things are dry again. Completely dry. Water is funny stuff. You never know what it’s going to bring into your life/living space.
A few minutes later, Christian arrived (Felipe had called him) with a gigantic red umbrella and he and John examined the property and determined that there were actually two different floods: the basement flood and the flood that led to the leak above my bed. A few minutes later, I heard John laugh a little and say something in Spanish (which was a good sign). The door opened and the sound of rain pattering on the street outside got louder and then, the door shut, the rain sound was muted and John came into the room.
“My whole life seems to be about pipes, water, and poop.” He said with a big sigh as he took off his rain jacket. “Whaddaya need me to do?”
“Nothing.” I said. “Just tell me what’s going on.” He told me that there were two floods. Christian had forgotten to hook Lydian’s sink back up after he put in the backsplash yesterday morning so when she got a glass of water before bed and washed her dishes, the excess water had slowly drained onto her floor. The flood above our bedroom was caused by a shower that Felipe had taken on 3rd floor after the drain pipe was moved. He accidentally left the hose on too long and his shower water had slowly seeped through the ceiling and then dripped onto the head of my bed and the middle of John’s bed.
“Gross.” John said.
“So it wasn’t the rain and it wasn’t a main pipe?” I asked, just to clarify since both of those things had definitely seemed more probable since all of the flooding had happened in the same general area on both levels of the building.
“Nope…it was Felipe’s shower.” John said on a long, dramatic outbreath. “Gross.” He repeated for emphasis.
“Whatever…” I said, already working out a stance of denial. “Remember Egypt (and the pillows that were so sweat-stained that they were like sleeping on a pair of blue-jeans—we’d wrapped them in plastic bags to get through the night). Remember McLeod Ganj (and the moldy beds). Remember the room above the fish shop in Turkey (and the bloody sheets in the closet). Remember Delhi (and the hotel room with specks of blood on the lamp shade and little pubic hairs on the sheets—the hotel room where I got a patch of ringworm on my leg). We’ll survive.” I said summarily and then I went to the kitchen and I got out a bottle of Lysol and sprayed it vigorously over the spots of water. Then, I opened a can of Denial for both John and me and within short order, we had crawled into our beds and propped ourselves up to read as though it was 10:00 PM and not 12:00 AM and as though nothing was out of order and as though our beds were not slightly damp with the run-off from Felipe’s shower.
I leaned over to give John a kiss before we shut the light off and I said, “It’s like we’re learning some kind of Little-Golden-Book lesson about water and shit—A Flood of Crud, a Flood of…”
I looked up at the ceiling, searching for words and John thought about it for a second. “A flood of mud…”
We both nodded at that.
I said, “Maybe it’s more of a Dr. Seuss book…”
John looked up for a second and I said it again and then waited, “A Flood of Mud, a Flood of Crud…”
John finished the thought, “…a Flood of Goobledy-Gobbledy-Gud.”
At that we laughed (because Dr. Seuss books have a lot more layers than Little Gold Books) and then we shut off the light.
In the morning we woke up to the sound of pounding, scraping, and the fart-sound of grinding…