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David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children.
When my wife yelled upstairs from the basement that we had a problem Tuesday morning, my first thought went to the ducks.
Ducks, you say. Yes ducks.
Two days before Christmas, my daughter adopted two ducklings. In the less than five months since then, the cute little ducklings are now about 15 pounds each.
They live in our basement, and we love them.
So naturally, my first thoughts after the distress call came was about ducks. Something had happened. Because we have ducks living in our basement (while we try to build a suitable outdoor pen) and ducks don’t live in basements.
Charging down the steps – shoeless and filled with dread – I’m met with frantic quacking and a chaotic scene that, to my relief, did not involve a duck disaster.
Instead, the faucet on the utility sink in the basement was blasting a stream of water, steady and unstoppable.
The faucet, despite being firmly in the off position, was attempting to create a duck-friendly water habitat by flooding the basement. Since off was on, I tried turning the faucet on to see if the water would stop. It made it worse.
The next order of business was to stop the flow of H2O. Calmly – ha – I followed the pipe connected to the sink back to a shutoff valve about six feet away. Thank God!
Except not so much. Closing the valve did not stop the water. Instead, it prompted a new leak at the valve AND the water kept pouring into the sink.
Luckily, I had just watched a MasterClass video the night before, so I knew that the key to managing stress was to avoid a maladaptive coping response, which would only make things worse.
This was no time for yelling or flailing or panic. (The time for yelling and flailing and panic had come about 10 minutes earlier.)
I navigated my way through the labyrinth of a mess that is my basement in a race for the main water shutoff for the house. It’s easily accessible behind a worktable stacked with crap, some of it sharp.
Bending down, reminding myself that it’s righty-tighty, I turned the ancient handle, praying that it would hold back the tide.
Poseidon was still angry.
The water slowed; it did not stop.
Three valves in a row had failed. What are the odds? Based on my limited sample size, it’s 100 percent.
With the water slowed, I called my normal plumber. They were super nice, but they misread my urgency. “We can have someone over between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. next Friday.”
By then, I’d need someone to clean my new indoor duck pond.
Thinking maybe I should have watched a video on plumbing or scuba diving instead of mindfulness, I said “thank you” … and called another plumber.
They said they’d get to the house as soon as possible. Thank goodness!
And then panic, again!
We couldn’t let the plumber see the state of our basement, with the ducks and the junk and the busted footstool and the bags of recycling and all the rest.
So while my wife continued fighting back the water, I quickly made space for the plumber by redistributing crap from the basement to other parts of the house, porch and garage.
The plumber arrived, took one look at the ducks and said, “Oh, you have ducks,” and then continued on like every house he’s been to this week has ducks living in the basement.
He quickly fixed the sink, temporarily solved the first valve issue and called the city to schedule the repair on the master valve, which will require the water to be turned off at the street.
While it didn’t feel that way in real time, we got very lucky. The water in the basement is a problem, sure, but nothing like the disaster that COULD have happened if we hadn’t discovered the problem with the main valve.
The water has stopped. The ducks are fine. The repair is scheduled. And there’s less junk in the basement than there has been in a decade.
About five hours after the fiasco, my son out of nowhere says: “You know dad, we could have run a hose from the sink to the drain to stop the flooding.”
Smaht kid. It’s the timing we need to work on.