I had originally planned an entirely different title and an entirely different timeframe for posting this, the last missive of the “My *%@&!# House Burned Down” blog. However, things don’t always turn out the way you plan which, now that I know what I know about one’s house burning down, also would have been a good title for the blog.
But anyway, I had planned to write one last post when we finally moved home which, technically, was Dec. 2 (about a week after Alice was able to move back home). We had been languishing in the previously mentioned house in the Sierras – the only rent-free abode we could find, details of which you can read about in the previous post -- for two months when Glenn the contractor finally called and told me that the building inspector had just signed the occupancy permit. The following day, Jon and I repeated our Mr. and Mrs. Joad routine (although this time we were headed in the right direction – west), piling clothes, kitchenware, furniture and even a queen-size bed into the back of a pickup truck and barreling down Highway 120 toward Menlo Park. All we needed was a bloodhound baying from the open bed of the truck to complete the scene.
We arrived at the house, which was empty except for a bed, on Friday night. We set up two folding chairs and a camping table in the dining room since the rest of the furniture wasn’t scheduled to arrive until Monday. We were finally home! Glenn gave us the keys and told us to keep testing every aspect of the house – lights, appliances, etc. – for a few weeks and to keep a list of whatever might not be working properly so he could make any necessary adjustments. Sunday evening, we decided to test the fabulous soaking tub in the master bathroom. We poured some wine, jumped in and gazed at the starry night through the massive skylights. We talked about how beautiful the house was, how even more fabulous it would look the next day when the furniture arrived, and how great it would be to celebrate the holidays at home for the first time in more than two years.
Five minutes later, the sewer line backed up and blew a massive amount of raw sewage out of the downstairs toilet. Gallons of wastewater poured out of the bathroom and into the first level of the house, saturating the hardwood floor. It was exactly as gross as you are imagining. I won’t go into all the details of this episode other than to say that it wasn't Glenn's fault, and that after installing massive drying machines that sounded like the engines of a Boeing 747 and running them for 10 days nonstop (I took to wearing Bose noise reduction headphones day and night, taking them off only to bathe), Glenn decided the floors couldn’t be saved and had to be ripped out and replaced. Jon and I packed our bags, moved out of the house again, and were not able to move back in until Jan. 5.
The only other thing I’ll say about this episode is that while the sewage water was pouring across the main floor of the house, I called Alice since Jon and I had exactly three bath towels at our disposal as we desperately tried to mop up the mess. I had been waiting until I was home again to buy some nice, new bath towels and had spent the previous 2.5 years mooching this kind of stuff from my landlord. “Alice, the sewer backed up into the house and we don’t have anything to soak up the water!” I yelled into the phone. “Do you have any towels we can use?”
“I think I have maybe three,” she said. “I was waiting until I was finally back home to buy some nice, new bath towels.” The next day, when she came over to survey the damage, she looked at me and said, “Well, first there was fire, now there’s flood. We’d better watch out for locusts next. You want to come over and drink some wine with me?”
Oh, and the only other thing I’ll say about all this is that you can imagine how excited my insurance company was when I called them and said I had another claim to file.
So I am finally home – hopefully for realsies this time. There was no poetic ending to the “my house burned down and I lost everything” story since I can’t recall any poem I’ve ever read that included the word “sewage” or even a word that rhymed with it. Much more important though, is the fact that I like being in this house. It doesn’t quite feel like home yet, but I can tell that it will sometime soon.
Now that I finally am home, I think it’s time to wrap up the blog even though I don’t think you can ever claim an event like this one to be “wrapped up.” I think the best you can do is figure out a way to let it reside in its proper place within the broader storyline of your life. I’m confident at this point I’ll be able to do that and frankly that’s a big enough accomplishment for me.
One last thing I want to do before signing off is to share some pictures of the new house, since everyone has been getting on my case for being so slow to do that. What I’ve also done is also include some of the photos I took the day after the fire so you can also see the before and after. I’m not doing it for shock value. I just think the pictures show how far things have come – and how far I’ve come -- since July 2009, which of course would have been impossible without the kindness, generosity, patience and support of everyone who has been reading this blog.
With love and thanks, Chris