Sunday, October 09, 2005

I remember when I was free

And I didn't know it.

A few days ago I read this post by Russell Shaw on The Huffington Post about "the owner/renter divide." The gist of it is that renters are getting the shaft. It included this whoppingly asinine passage:

Are you sensing what I am getting at here? There are two Americas: one for
property renters and one for property owners. Renters live in a world of
arbitrary rules, where ruin is an illness or pink slip away. Owners can be
foreclosed on, of course, but we live in a society where purchasers can procure
mortgages loans for a couple of pennies on the dollar.

Shaw dismisses the very real threat of foreclosure that haunts some owners with a cavalier "Owners can be foreclosed on, of course," and then goes on to say that it's easy to get a mortgage. Well, yeah, until you've lost your home to foreclosure. I'm not sure how the ease of procuring a (first-time) mortgage alleviates the pain of foreclosure.

Shaw also talks about his hard-scrabble days as a renter, floating checks to make the rent. I remember those days too. I've had them both as a renter and as a mortgage-paying homeowner, and believe me, the latter is worse. When I think back on my days as a renter, I remember how relatively free I was - I didn't have much money, I didn't own any more stuff than I could fit into my Camaro, but I always felt free to just pick up and leave any time I felt like it. Or any time I needed to find a cheaper place. No baggage, no mortgage, no 15- or 30-year note.

When I hit a rough financial spot as a mortgage-paying homeowner, I definitely didn't have that feeling that I could escape, move on, if I had to. Rather I felt trapped. I was an OWNER! I couldn't fall behind, let my house go! I couldn't just MOVE, I had to come up with that whopping mortgage payment every month!

I'd also just read a New York Times Magazine article suggesting that renting, at least right now, can be a better deal financially than home ownership, at least for some people. Even when you factor in the mortgage interest deduction, in some places renting is just cheaper than owning.

Plus, I thought as I pondered the Shaw piece, when something in your house breaks, you gotta pay to fix it. Not so when you're a renter. Shaw, I decided, was full of shit. I thought about doing a blog post about renting vs. owning, but didn't get around to it. Too lazy.

So. Saturday evening, I take a shower, in my very own home, and blow dry my hair to silken perfection, if I do say so myself. I had just finished drying it and was admiring my handiwork when I heard this big noise from downstairs. BOOOSHHH! Then a roaring, rushing sound, like a waterfall. Coming from downstairs, from the general vicinity of the laundry room. It sounded kinda like the way the washing machine sounds when the tub is filling up with water, only louder . . . a LOT louder.

Huh. I thought. That sounds like the washing machine. But I washed a load of clothes hours ago, the machine shouldn't be doing anything now. I thought, I sure hope that's not my washing machine springing some kind of leak. Ha ha! No, it's probably not that. I worry too much. I'll just go down and check.

So I trotted downstairs, in, um, my undies, and sure enough, this rushing roar was coming from the laundry room. Ohhh, shit. I opened the door and JESUS! It was a veritable frigging GEYSER in there! Gushers of water spraying all over the goddamn place, at high pressure.

AAIIIIEEEEE!! I screamed and lunged into the laundry room. A gusher of water was spraying from behind the washer, from the hose, apparently, or the wall, I couldn't tell. I frantically tried to remember where the cutoff valves for the washing machine water supply were; goddamnit, I just checked on those a couple of months ago, after my upstairs toilet sprang a leak and I figured I ought to acquaint myself with that kind of thing.

There was so much water spraying - it seemed like a freakin' fire hose - that I couldn't see anything. I couldn't find the valves. Water sprayed all over me, my face, my hair, my body. Some tiny part of my brain thought, Damn it, not my hair! It was perfect!

I had to get help. I slammed the laundry room door shut - it's really not a room, just a large closet off a hallway - and ran back upstairs, no time to get dressed, goddamn, that water was coming out SO FAST, I threw on my bathrobe and belted it, running downstairs. I opened the laundry room door and made another try for the washing machine shutoff valves. Water just gushing right into my face. Jesus! I couldn't see anything! I couldn't feel them! There they were, I tried to turn them, no luck, shit, shit, shit, this is taking too long, water's going EVERYWHERE, I have to go outside and turn off the water at the main valve, turn off the water source to the whole house.

I grabbed my cell phone as I ran outside, in my fluffy white bathrobe, and found the metal lid to the water meter, where the main valve was. Shit! Was that one mine? Yes, it's gotta be, that's it, I pulled the lid off, and it's just a hole full of mud. I started frantically scooping the mud out. For every handful of mud I scooped out, another two handfuls flowed in. WHERE'S THE GODDAMNED VALVE? JESUS, LOOK AT ALL THIS MUD! I CAN'T FIND THE VALVE! MORE MUD IS COMING IN! OH GOD, MY HOUSE IS FLOODING! THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING TO ME!

I stop digging, wipe the mud off my hand onto mhy fluffy white bathrobe, and run to my nearest neighbor's house, ring her doorbell. Nothing. I run over to the gay couple's house, surely one of them is home, one of those guys will know what to do, oh God, no one's home. By now I'm losing it. Hyperventilating, frenzied. I dial 911. I know, I know.

"What's your emergency?" says the operator.

"My washing machine exploded! My house is flooding!"

"Ma'am, that is NOT our problem" - in exceptionally nasal tone.

"What am I supposed to DO?" I screech. "HY HOUSE IS FLOODING!"

"Ma'am, you need to call the water company," she snipped.

For the love of GOD! I don't know the fucking water company phone number! I dial 411, back digging mud again now, hysterical, ask for the water company EMERGENCY number, this is an EMERGENCY. Get connected. Get a busy signal. OH JESUS GOD! Back into the house, more water in the face, can't turn the valves. I call my best friends, S and T, they know everything, T can fix anything, they're just four miles down the road, they can help me. S answers. "Can you please come help me, my washing machine EXPLODED, water's going everywhere, I can't stop it, I can't find the shutoff, no one's here, please come!" T's not home. S, who after ascertaining that I myself have not been physically harmed, says she doesn't know what to do but she'll be right over. I think by this point I'm officially hysterical, hyperventilating, feeling faint, frantic, and helpless.

Meanwhile water is spewing, gushing, blasting. lI run over to yet another neighbor's house, YES, their door is open, they're home, just let them pretend they're not, goddamnit. Bang on the storm door. J comes to the door, he's probably about 69 years old, wiry thin, slow moving. "Oh, God, my washing machine exploded! Water's going everywhere! I can't turn the outside water off, I can't find the valve, can you please come help me!"

J says, "Well, why don't you just turn off the water to the washing machine . . ."

"I TRIED! I CAN'T!" I shriek.

J starts to offer another helpful tip and I scream, "Please, my house is flooding! DO something! Just CALL somebody!" Then I flew down off his stoop and back to my house, my bathrobe flapping. I hear J's voice behind me: "Oh, my dear, you're barefooted, be careful, your poor feet" - thank God, at least he's coming.

Back in the house, back to the laundry room, I look down, of course there's a lake on the floor; gallons of water in my face, fumbling for the valve, no luck, God DAMN it!

J comes in behind me.

"Oh, dear, what's happened."

"It's the hose," I blathered. "It burst, I can't turn it off, oh, God, this is terrible."

"Well, let me see . . ." J got back in there, started struggling with the valves that are behind the washing machine, just beyond whether the hose burst. He's getting soaked, the poor man. "I can't seem to turn this," says J. "I may have to go and get some pliers." He has a very slow and deliberate way of speaking.

I go out on the porch, dial 411 again, get the emergency number for the water company. This time someone picks up. "Please please please, you have to come to my house and turn off my water, my washing machine broke, water's going everywhere, it's flooding, you have to come RIGHT NOW!" I give the women my name, my address. She wants my phone number. I stammer it out. "Just send somebody!"

J goes to get his pliers. I go back in the house fling the cell phone to the floor, have the presence of mind to look for a bucket to catch the flood, find a bucket, shit, what good will that do, the water is spraying out of the TOP of the hose and there's so much of it this bucket will overflow in no time. I wedge it in under the hose anyway, for whatever it's worth. J has put a washcloth over the part of the hose where the water's coming from, but water is still spewing all over the place. I try stanching it with a towel. The jostling seems to make it worse, more water's coming out now, but at least it's not going straight into my face. It's the hot water hose. At least the water's not blistering hot. Now that I can see the valve, I strain again to turn it off, but it's not budging. I look down at the floor. I'm standing in inches of water. How long before this covers the entire first floor of my house?

I go back outside to look for the outside water shutoff valve again. S drives up. She scrabbles in the mud for the outside shutoff valve, can't find it. There's so much mud.

I think we're back inside fumbling with the washer shutoff valves when J comes back in the house, with his pliers. He hands me my phone, which he has picked up off the floor. "Here's your phone, dear." He and S get back in the laundry room.

I walk outside, I'm worthless, just in everyone's way. I feel helpless and despairing. I cannot believe that water is spewing all over my house and I should be able to stop it and I CAN'T stop it and nobody can stop it. I start crying. My cell phone rings. Behind me the roar lessens, then ceases. J has finally got it cut off. I answer the phone. It's the water company guy. I'm hiccuping and sobbing. I tell him I think we got it taken care of. S comes out and hugs me. "It's not so bad," she says. "Yes it it is!" I wail. "I called 911!" I weep. S starts to laugh. I start laughing too.

I'm in shock. J is soaking wet and so is S. I apologize profusely. "Oh, stop," they say. S has to ask me three times for towels before it sinks in. Oh yes, towels to soak up the water, I already threw some down somewhere in the confusion, here's some more.

J' girlfriend (yes) V comes over while I'm apologizing.

"I'm sorry I got so hy-hy-hysterical," I say.

"Oh, honey, that's what women do," says V.

Everyone tells me it's not so bad, and I look around and maybe they're right. There's two inches of water on the laundry room floor, and the hall carpet is SOAKED, but it's not nearly as bad as my hysterical imagination had it while the water was gushing.

Long story short (OK, not-so-short), the floor in the hallway is seriously warped now and will have to be replaced. Hey, it could be worse. What happened was, the hot water hose supplying the washing machine just ruptured all of a sudden. It could have happened when I wasn't even HOME. The washing machine wasn't even running when it happened. I could have been gone for hours and come home to a house FULL of water. As it is, I just have to worry about replacing a part of my floor.

So. My point is . . renting ain't always such a bad deal.


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