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ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2002 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
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biggest, scariest, drained
july 20, 2002
I mentioned a while back how many of the things we own have suddenly started falling apart. This trend continues still, with an eerie persistence.
The other morning I was getting ready to run some errands around Dallas after I dropped Mary off at her rehab center for her post-stroke therapy. I printed up a number of driving routes from MapQuest so I'd know how to get from point to point (I have a terrible, terrible sense of direction. Each trip I make into the city is as carefully plotted by me as the launch of a spacecraft meant to swing, twenty years later, around Pluto.) I was brushing my teeth, feeling mighty pleased with myself at having calculated yet another foray, when the cap on my left canine tooth suddenly dropped off.
Back to Mission Control to download an additional map, to the dentist.
When I got back, I stepped into one of our bathrooms to urinate, flushed, and the lever came off in my hand.
I was scheduled to have lunch with my friend Dave yesterday, Friday. He was coming over my house this time, so I didn't have to bother with MapQuest. We hadn't seen each other in a few months (we were supposed to have lunch the day Mary had her stroke, but fortunately he cancelled at the last minute, so that I was home when her co-workers called.)
I had about an hour to kill before his arrival, so I went upstairs to my study to do some work.
About eleven-fifteen, I heard a loud hiss downstairs.
I rushed down, looking around.
The hiss was coming from the utility room off the kitchen.
Hot water was spraying violently from behind the washing machine. There was a large hole in the wall.
I looked down. My shoes were wet from the water seeping out from under the front of the machine.
I tried twisting some knobs, but they didn't affect the geyser.
Grabbing a shovel, I ran outside, trying to remember where the builder, eleven years ago, told me the water valve was. I dug up a couple of spots on the grass strip by the curb, found, about a foot down, a buried glass gauge with a little twitching arrow, but no knobs.
I hurried back inside, called information to get the number for the city, which was responsible for the water supply. The phone rang and rang. Nobody picked up.
Should I call 911?
By now, the water had spread completely across the kitchen and breakfast nook floor (it's amazing how fast a disaster can take hold). We feed our cats in the kitchen, using disposable styrofoam bowls. As I looked down, I saw the bowls floating past my shoes.
I called 911.
I felt a little embarrassed, since no one was trying to kill me, but the water by now was starting to overflow into the other sections of the downstairs.
"What's your emergency?"
"A pipe broke in one of our walls. It's flooding our downstairs."
She tried getting the water department but the line was busy. I asked her for the number she was using, and tried it myself. I got right through, explained the problem.
The water was seeping into the living room carpet by now. We keep a clean house, but of course don't roll the refrigerator forward every week to scrub behind it. As a consequence, some dirt builds up behind there, and these dark strips were now floating around my ankles like every style of moustache. I rolled up my trouser legs.
The phone rang. It was 911, wanting to know if I had gotten through to the water department. After I hung up, I went to the front windows and saw one of the city's water department cars pull up.
A woman got out.
"I tried finding it myself, but couldn't."
She pointed at an anonymous piece of sod she was striding towards. "It's right there." She got down on her haunches, dug a little, reached into the hole, turned her wrist to the left. "Call us when you want it turned back on."
I was impressed. She got there in five minutes.
By now, it was eleven-thirty, half an hour before Dave would arrive. I scribbled a quick note in magic marker, telling him what had happened, couldn't find a thumb-tack anywhere, so left the note, three-quarters protruding, under our welcome mat (it doesn't say welcome on it, in fact it would say Go Away if such a mat existed, but you get the idea).
I drove to the nearest Home Depot. I asked an orange-aproned employee where the wet-vacs were. I might as well have asked him how you trisect an angle. "Wet vacs? Hmm! Wet vacs." Another employee, female, leaned across the back wall of her cash register cubicle, speaking over his befuddlement. "Aisle eight. Tool section."
I grabbed the biggest box, lifted it against my chest, and duck-walked it to the closest register.
A huge guy buying little plastic strips the color of milk was scowling at the woman behind the register. "But this check is good!"
"Store policy, we can't accept checks with no name or address on them, sir."
"But these are the checks the bank gave me when I opened the account, until I get the checks with my name printed on them!"
I duck-walked the box to the next register.
Duck-walked it across the lot to our CRV. Threw it in back.
Dave was standing good-naturedly in the driveway. "As soon as I saw all the holes dug up by the curb, I knew what happened." (He told me later the clothes washer on the second floor of his home had leaked twice, the first time damaging the ceiling below it. The second time it happened, he pushed the washer over to the nearest window, grunted it up over the ledge, and pushed it out. It broke into a hundred pieces).
We were planning on having lunch at a local seafood restaurant that had opened recently, but instead I ordered some home delivery pizza while Dave started assembling the wet vac.
By the time the pizza arrived, I had most of the water sucked up from the kitchen and breakfast nook floors. The carpet in the living room though was soaked all the way forward to our exercise equipment.
I picked Mary up, explained the situation to her on the way home. Once there, I called a plumbing outfit. They'd send someone out that evening to fix the pipe.
Two and a half hours later, we got a call from them. A very polite man asked, "Are you the party who reported a burst pipe inside a woman's washroom?"
"No, no. It's a pipe that burst in the wall next to our washing machine."
"Oh! Well, I'm sorry Mr. Moore, but the reason I'm calling is to say we can't come out tonight after all. We've got a hellacious job downtown. It doesn't look like it's going to be wrapped up, for hours."
I explained we had no water. He sympathized. He could send someone out around eight the next morning. I thanked him, hung up.
I was calculating how many bottles of water we had when the phone rerang. It was him again. He started going through his polite recitation of the company's name and slogan when I interrupted. "I know who you are, since we just spoke."
"I got a call-in from one of our plumbers in your area. He just finished his last job. He can be at your place in fifteen minutes!"
It turned out it wasn't a pipe in the wall that burst, which I had assumed because of the hole in the drywall, but rather one of the rubber tubes supplying water to the washing machine. The heat of the water and its force had blasted the hole in the wall.
The plumber left after a hundred dollars and a handshake. By then it was around eight, early for a Friday, but we were both tired. Mary started deep-frying the fresh halibut we bought at Central Market while I sat at our breakfast nook window, drinking a beer, staring out at our darkening garden, and in particular the purple blooms on our crepe myrtle which, in the deepening dusk, slowly turned white. Some of the blooms jutted between the wires going from the street to a corner of our roof. From where I sat, I could see, high up in one of the trees at the rear of our property, a large branch that had snapped in one of the recent storms, hanging like an upside-down V directly over the three wires- cable, electric, telephone- leading into our home.
From time to time I get e-mails from editors asking if I might be interested in submitting a story to them. I always appreciate the contact, and the inquiry often results in one of my stories appearing in their magazine.
I received a request about a week or so ago that was kind of different. The editor works for a bi-weekly entertainment magazine published in Malaysia. She wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a twice-monthly column for the magazine, and asked what fee I would want for the column.
The column, she said, would be on "sex news".
A number of my stories contain sexual content. I don't see any reason to leave out a sex scene in a story anymore than I would leave out a scene of dialogue, since both show how the characters relate to each other. Language and love-making are often not only about revealing, but concealing, and that interests me. Both tell the reader what sort of person a character is.
But writing about sex itself, simply to write about sex, has never interested me.
I thought about her request, but couldn't honestly see myself writing every other week about sex in the news. I thanked her, told her I primarily wrote stories, that the sex in my stories probably wasn't of the type in which she'd be interested, and in any event I couldn't write a new story every two weeks. She wrote back, asking if I'd send her a sample of one of the stories I'd be willing to sell to them, that perhaps they could publish stories of mine on an occasional basis instead. I sent her The Rape, the full text of which is here, figuring that would show her what I meant, and it did. She thanked me, but said it would be too explicit for her readers. She attached a sample story to show what they were interested in. It was well-written, but was basically an "I Got Lucky Last Night" tale, the sort of writing that's done with one hand. I sincerely appreciated her contacting me to see if we could work something out, and wrote her back thanking her for her interest, but telling her that what she had shown me wasn't the type of story I write.
Still, it would have been a lot of fun, knowing I was being read in Malaysian households every other week.
It's funny how we respond to events in our lives.
In the weeks following September 11, without meaning to, I realized that in odd moments I would work in my mind on what I thought a fitting monument to the World Trade Center victims should look like. I didn't do this for any particular reason. It's just something my mind chose to do when I wasn't fully using it.
A number of proposed monuments were unveiled this week, so I thought I'd unveil mine. I don't for a moment think it will actually be used, but I wanted to share it anyway.
I picture two white walls, outer and inner, both seven feet tall, all around the site, so that no one can see the site from the street.
You enter through a modest opening in the outer wall, then must walk through the roofless tunnel created by outer and inner walls around all four sides of the unseen site. Given the number of blocks destroyed, the journey should take about an hour.
As you complete your circuit of the fourth side, a modest opening in the inner wall lets you see the site itself. It will be an immense, sunken rectangle a quarter of a mile deep, lined with white, like the biggest, scariest drained swimming pool in the world.
The purpose of the hour's walk between the walls is to make people physically realize the enormity of the site. After that long a walk through such a narrow passage, the hope is that the sudden exposure to the immense hole in the ground will produce a sense of agoraphobia, maybe even vertigo, to make people emotionally realize the enormity of what happened here.