Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Evil Pump Genie

Years ago, we owned a house in Boston that was in a kind of depression, sitting lower in the neighborhood than other houses. Shortly after we moved in, a Catholic church up on a hill nearby paved an acre of their property, thoughtfully angling the pavement in such a way that rainwater ran off down the hill, directly into our yard.

Boston is in a part of the country where rainstorms drift in, hang around for three or four days sprinkling the area with a modest drizzle, and then float lazily out to sea. The rainfall was usually light enough that you could walk two blocks without an umbrella and barely get wet. However, once in awhile, a tropical depression would slide up the coast, dumping torrents of rain on the city. When this happened, a sloshing stream of water would flow off the parking lot, filling up our low-lying driveway, and flood the basement. It took a couple of years of legal threats before the church installed storm drains in the parking lot, which pretty much cleared up the problem In the meantime, I bought a portable sump pump.

Whenever it rained hard enough to worry me, I’d break out the pump, slosh through the puddle in my driveway, drop the pump in the lowest point and run the hose out to the street. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes the pump just couldn’t keep up, and we’d spend a week drying out the basement.

When we decided to move to Florida, we thought about selling the pump, but I knew that tropical storms were a regular occurrence in Florida, so we decided to keep it just in case. But we soon discovered that Florida has had lots of experience with tropical storms, and neighborhoods are well-drained. So the pump has been sitting in our attic for a decade.

Recently, a friend of ours told us she was going to have a yard sale, and wondered if we wanted to participate. We discussed the many useless objects we owned, and agreed that the pump has fallen into that category.

There are many variations on the story of Aladdin, but my favorite is the one where the genie was imprisoned in the lamp by a sorcerer, where he remained for 1000 years. During this time, the genie vowed generous rewards to whoever should release him. But over time, the bitterness of his imprisonment turned him against mankind, and he swore to kill whoever let him out of the lamp.

As our pump sat idle in the attic all those years, the genie inside must have undergone a similar transformation. It must have made a chilling decision when it overheard us talking about our plans for the yard sale.

In Florida, storage space is hard to find. Attics are usually accessed by a narrow pull-down ladder between the joists in the garage. Usually, the homeowner buys some plywood and creates a semblance of a floor, on which boxes of Christmas decorations, empty suitcases, unused furniture, childhood memorabilia and other junk is piled in huge, unstable towers.

My wife climbed up the ladder and began sorting through the lifetime accumulation of crap that everybody thinks they will want someday, but which usually becomes a burden for their children to dispose of after their death. She handed down a series of items, including a cane chair with a giant hole in the seat, a trash bag containing a Queen-size egg-crate foam pad that we used to spread on the futon whenever someone would visit (because the futon mattress was like sleeping on bags of QuickCrete), and other bric-a-brac. Eventually, she came across the box containing the pump.

I stood on the attic ladder, and my wife pushed the heavy cardboard box across the flooring to me. I grabbed the box, and executed a pirouette on the attic ladder, so that I could descend facing outward, holding the box in front of me, my behind bumping from rung to rung. You probably think you know what happened next, but you don’t.

My wife returned to her rummaging, as I gingerly stepped down the first rung of the ladder. Suddenly, I heard a loud crash. I was holding the box in front of my face, so I lowered it a bit to look into the attic. I didn’t see my wife, so I demanded to know what had toppled over. Hearing no answer, I lowered the box a bit more, so that I could see across the ceiling of the garage. There, in front of my eyes was a hole the size of my wife. I lowered the box a bit more, and saw her, lying on the garage floor, gasping for breath.

Somehow, I stumbled down the ladder and dropped the pump box. My wife was obviously in pain. She had stepped off the plywood flooring onto the sheetrock that composed the ceiling, which cannot support that kind of weight. She broke through and miraculously landed on the trash bag holding the rolled up foam rubber pad. But she had struck something on her way down and couldn’t move her left arm, or stand on her left foot.

She was able to hobble to my car and I drove her to the hospital. It was about 10 pm. We were swiftly ushered into an emergency room, where she was examined by a Physician’s Assistant and given Percoset for the pain. After several hours, she was taken away for a painful set of X-rays. She had broken the ball joint in her left shoulder and a bone in her ankle, which at this point may require surgery to correct.

We were in the emergency room until 6:30 the following morning, watching reruns of Deal or No Deal. A combination of our confinement and sleep deprivation made me bitter and angry, to the point where I swore I would kill the next medical professional who promised to take care of our needs “in a few minutes.”

The wife-sized hole.

The landing pad.

The contents of the landing pad.

The home of the evil pump

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