Last week, my wife discovered that a fair amount of water had collected in an area of our basement. Twenty years ago, the basement of our house was converted from a cement-floor-crumbling-wall storage area to a finished room with a tile floor and paneled walls. It is the current home to a Back to the Future pinball machine, an arcade-size Q*Bert video game and my dual collections of baseball memorabilia and autographed celebrity photos. So, the last thing I want near all that prized stuff is water. Mrs. P lugged out the ShopVac (one of the greatest purchases I ever made) and sucked the errant liquid up off the floor. After some repeated prompting (and ignoring), I got my lazy ass down to the basement to empty the water from the ShopVac's holding tank. I was just about to wheel the vacuum out to the adjacent laundry room, when I noticed that a new puddle of water had accumulated in the exact same spot on the floor. It hadn't rained for several days. I couldn't imagine where the water had come from. Silently, I surveyed the room. Then, I heard an unmistakable "drip-drip-drip" coming from a far wall. Upon closer inspection, I saw a crooked path of yellowish water was clinging to the wall, running from the ceiling to the floor and forming a small tributary that fed the larger pond that now occupied my basement floor.
"Shit!," I thought, with the same anger and helplessness that overcomes every homeowner at one time or another.
I vacuumed up the puddle, sopped up the stream on the wall and called to my wife to see if the general contractor who lives across the street was home. This guy is great and, to an inept, mechanically-challenged artist like myself, he is a godsend. He fixed and rescreened my antique wooden storm door. He built a beautiful front porch for my house to replace an ancient and dilapidated one. My wife has a long list of household repairs to keep him busy for months (maybe even years).
Within minutes, he was scanning our basement ceiling through narrowed eyes, pushing against the damp Sheetrock walls and toeing the baseboards.
"I'm sorry," he began, in his Israeli accent, "I have to break through the ceiling to find the leak. But, I promise, it will only be a small hole."
"What exactly is a small hole in a ceiling?," I thought, as he jammed the business end of a claw hammer into the smooth, white drywall. Debris rained down on to the floor, along with shreds of finishing tape, splashes of stray water and whatever other shit has accumulated within the walls over the past twenty years.
"Ahhh," my neighbor said, as he pointed to the source of our liquid troubles, "right there!" and he added, "Oh crap! What did this guy do?" That was an assessment of the quality of work completed by the contractor who had built our basement. We'd been told, by various workers and handymen over the years, that this guy had no idea what the fuck he was doing. Our neighbor showed me where a long, sharp screw had pierced a piece of copper pipe. Water was dribbling from the area of contact. Now, I know absolutely nothing about construction or remodeling or home repair. But, I do know that one does not drive a screw directly into a water pipe to hold it in place. They make brackets for that purpose and that's what professional contractors use... unless, of course, you are an idiot.
Our neighbor immediately began to take steps at solving our soggy dilemma. He placed a plastic container under the leak, mopped up the spilled water and set out for Home Depot to purchase a sturdy, puncture-proof piece of replacement pipe. As the day progressed, my wife and I were treated to a symphony of hammering and sawing and buzzing and gurgling as he fitted the new pipe in place and began preparations for repairing the giant hole in the ceiling. We felt the work was in capable hands. Our neighbor called it a day at around 7 PM, telling us he'd be back to finish in the morning. He said his goodbyes and crossed the street to his own home.
The next day, I left for work with the understanding that Mrs P would contact our neighbor to arrange for the completion of the work in the basement. When my day at work was finished, I hopped on the train and headed home, anxious to see the progress that was made during the day.
After exiting the train at my station, I walked down the block to my house. As I approached my front walk, I saw a huge stain of spilled white paint splashed across the incline of my driveway. Flecks of white dotted the small grassy area that calls itself my front yard. The paint splotch was about four feet across and glowed brightly under the streetlight that illuminates the space in front of my house. I walked across my front porch, taking note of a few paint-white footprints, and unlocked the front door. I could hear construction sounds coming from the direction of the basement door. I followed the noises down the steps and I found my neighbor busily dragging a paintbrush across the surface of fresh, unblemished drywall.
"How's it going?," I inquired.
"Good. Good.," he cheerfully replied, "Sheetrock is up and I'm painting. This is just the first coat, you know."
"Really?," I countered, "It looks to me like the first coat is on my driveway."
Lucky for me, he laughed.