January 10, 2005

i said check baby check one two

Despite hangovers and snowstorms, yesterday was wildly productive for this whole “getting the hell out of Central Oregon” thing. I’m borrowing a trailer from Jim, and yesterday morning he picked me up at the house so we could take the trailer to the dump and unload some bags of yard waste he still had sitting in it. He also had to swing by the house so he could acquire my dresser, and because my car was still at the office as I obviously didn’t drive home Friday night. According to my roommates, when I got home I told them the same story three times in a row. The following morning, I didn’t even remember that they were awake when I got home.

At the dump we unloaded bag after bag of yard refuse, and tossed them on top of a funeral pyre of abandoned Christmas trees. Many of the bags were frozen solid to the bed of the trailer, so dislodging them took some serious grunt work with the shovel. After finishing our work at the dump we dropped the trailer off at Les Schwab to have its bearing repacked, to avoid any unfortunate seizures during my three hour drive (typically accompanied by epic storms this time of year) to Hood River.

Jim had to be somewhere in the evening, so it was my responsibility to pick up the trailer when they were done working on it. We jammed on down to Jim’s house over on the Westside to grab some tools for installing a ball on my new trailer hitch. I had the hitch installed weeks ago, but I decided I wouldn’t get a ball until I knew exactly what size I would need. Having the proper tools, Jim dropped me off in the Alpine parking lot and I took off in the Subaru to grab a ball at the trailer hitch shop.

That last sentence is so wrong.

Later that afternoon it was snowing pretty hard, and right on cue I got a call from Les Schwab that the trailer was ready to be picked up. I drove on over there, settled the bill, and dragged that trailer on back to my place. At one point the trailer shuddered violently and I was immediately convinced that I hit a mail truck. This was the first time that I believed I was a complete failure at towing, that I should give up anything active and switch over to needlepoint, and it would certainly not be the last.

Today was not as productive as yesterday. I spent the morning retooling Brainside Out, and I have rebuilt the home page and Weblog page so they’re potentially more useful for people. The Weblog page now features more (more!) weblog entries, more Photolog entries, and more Coolio entries. The home page is a lightweight version of the Weblog page, perfect for people who want all of the lovin’ but none of the commitment. I also fixed the print stylesheet, so those of you who hate reading online can send this stuff right into meatspace.

Anyways, around noon Erin and I ran out to run errands; I needed tarps and she needed bed sheets. I thought that trading one for the other would be really cool, but she did not. We returned to the house with lunch in tow, only to find most of our neighbors curiously shoveling slush out of the street. It had snowed four inches Sunday morning, but shoveling slush did not seem like the most productive use of the Sabbath. But then, maybe on the Sabbath that’s the point. I don’t really know these things.

Anyways, we were dense and clueless and our neighbor Aaron quickly brought us up to speed. As it turns out, the water pipe to our house was leaking at an alarming rate and flooding our yard, and the snow in the street was preventing the runoff from finding its way to the storm drain.

We walked to the leaky side of the house, and sure enough. Where the water connects to our house we have a large pit, three feet deep and the size of a bathtub. This is where we had typically worked on the piping for our irrigation system, which was a project that never got finished for some reason. And now, this pit was brimming with murky brown water that boiled up from the depths below. The overflowing water was carving a nice river channel through our front yard and into the street. We had our own personal, and unintentional and mysterious, water feature. Lots of people typically pay lots money for those sorts of things. Unfortunately for us, ours was in an inopportune location and threatened to flood the neighborhood.

Well, what are you gonna do? In about thirty seconds I had already taken off my shoes and socks, rolled up my jeans, and hopped down into a bathtub filled with three feet of muddy water. The plastic boxes that were supposed to contain the valves for the irrigation and house had cut loose and were bobbing on the surface, so I grabbed them and threw them aside. I pawed through the frigid water, trying to find the leak, a shut-off valve, or a combination of the two. The leak was easy to find, but I could not find the valve. Finally, after digging through the mud and water for five minutes, I found a valve to the irrigation system and cranked it. The water stopped.

Victory! Meanwhile, our lunch was getting cold, so I figured that I’d step inside and grab a bite to eat before helping our neighbors drain the street. I emerged from the house fifteen minutes later, armed with dry pants, work boots and a shovel. The entire front yard was saturated, and it squished under my feet as I walked to the side of the house to check on the bathtub.

To my great surprise, the bathtub was still bubbling. Water was no longer pouring down our front yard in such great torrents, but I had yet to completely finish the job. I was less than enthusiastic at the prospect of dropping into that freezing pool again, and I decided that it was time to shut off all the water to the house before going any further. I knew that the master shut-off valve would probably be in one of the plastic irrigation boxes in the front yard. Unfortunately, since the front yard was damn near a bog at this point, both of these boxes were filled to the brim with murky water.

I was able to pull the lid off the control valve box without issue, but the water meter box was frozen solid. I fished around inside the control valve but couldn’t feel anything useful inside, so I grabbed a bucket from the garage and started bailing. About this time Aaron showed up again, and he donned some neoprene gloves so he could help root around for the valve. Because of all the water, mud had cut loose from the sides of the hole and had buried the pipe, so our time was spent mostly in bailing and digging.

We uncovered the pipe, only to realize that it was a stinkin’ backflow valve and thus was completely useless for our purposes. At this point I remembered the water meter, and so I channeled my frustration into yanking its cover from the ground’s frozen grip. After lots of smashing and wresting it finally broke loose, and again we started with the bailing and digging. We uncovered the meter, and watched the dial spin around as gallon after gallon was committed to the street. Finally, we saw something that Aaron recognized as a shut-off valve, and he cranked it shut with a wench.

The bathtub had stopped leaking, but it was still filled with water. Aaron and I grabbed some shovels to dig out a culvert, and we were able to bring the water level down by half a foot before it was too low to flow to the street. It seemed like we would need a pump or something to get the rest of the water out, but in the end all it took was a couple buckets and an hour or two.

At this point I donned Erin’s fishing waders, and reentered the tub to bail it out more quickly. It wasn’t as deep as I remembered it, which can be equally attributed to the amount of water that we had already pulled out, and the amount of mud that had found its way inside. The ground felt like quicksand, and there were a few times where I almost lost the waders when trying to pull my feet out of the mud.

Finally, the water level was so low that we traded in our buckets for my old Mount Bachelor mug to finish off the job. The valve system was completely buried in mud, so after we emptied the remaining water we needed to dig out the valves as well. Aaron had the brilliant idea of turning on the water to the house for a brief moment, so we could see where the system was leaking and avoid needing to dig up the whole thing. This he did, and Erin and I watched a small patch of mud bubble up and start to leak. In this location I dug, as though following a map to buried treasure, and eventually we uncovered the double check valve.

Right before the double check valve was a hand-operated valve, which we immediately turned and shut off upon finding it. Theoretically, one should now be able to turn on the water at the meter, and this valve would prevent the water from reaching the defective check valve. We stood back as Aaron turned on the water again, and nothing happened. Which was good. No explosions of water? Good. The valve held, and we knew the leak was somewhere between this valve and the opposite side of the check valve.

Aaron called over to me, and told me to turn on the valve. With the double check valve completely uncovered, I should be able to see exactly where it’s leaking if we put some water pressure behind it. I slowly turned the valve…


"AUGGHHH!! NOOO!!!" I screamed. The leak exploded at me, covering my face in mud and water.

"Did you see where it was leaking?" asked Aaron.

"No I didn’t see where it was leaking!"

At this point I had had just about enough. I had been outside working on this project for hours, the temperature was in the 30s, and since I had been working with my arms up to their elbows in cold water, I was wearing nothing but my favorite Matt Pond PA t-shirt. I couldn’t wear gloves, so by now my hands had become useless claws of frozen meat. I would have called it quits right then and there, too, if it weren’t for the minor detail that despite our best efforts, we still couldn’t turn on the water to the house without flooding the neighborhood. I was tired and muddy and cold, and I was sure as hell not going to let this project end anywhere short of a hot bath. In a real bathtub, too, not in my muddy pit next to the house.

We learned that the double check valve was leaking at its gasket, and Aaron grabbed a wrench and tightened down all the screws (which were all horribly loose). Again we tested the pressure, this time with me standing back a good ten feet, and again it leaked. Finally, we completely pulled the cover off the valve, carefully reset the gasket to its appropriate location, and tightened it down once and for all.

Aaron turned on the water and the valve didn’t so much as whimper. It worked. Everything worked. Erin and I thanked Aaron profusely, promised him that we’d fire our landscaper, and that we’d bake him chocolate chip cookies. I would have shaken his hand, but I feared that my fingers would have snapped off like icicles.

I wriggled out of the waders. I got my hot bath, and soaked in the tub for half an hour while listening to Bob Dylan. All the while I kept saying to myself that I should have moved out yesterday.