Saturday, September 26, 2009


In the midst of Atlanta's historic rains of the past week, our downstairs guest bedroom "took some water", as the saying goes. It was in many ways a blessing.

We've had some gutter problems since moving in five years ago. Several areas have some leaks at the joints, and the shingles don't overlap in a few spots, causing rain to drain across wood, risking rot. After the first round of torrential downpours this past week I scuttled up onto the roof and hurriedly mucked out the gutters which had become clogged with debris in the months since I had last performed this task.

When the truly pounding rain came along, I thought I was in the clear until I came home to find my downspouts totally outmatched. Two were shooting water from the seams where sections joined together, looking like fountain sprays. The downspout right outside of the guest bedroom had effectively collapsed, dumping gallons of rain each minute directly outside the bedroom window. It subsequently turned out that by partially but not totally cleaning the gutters the day before I had set the stage for the remaining debris to wash down the spouts where they clogged.

As a split level, that part of the house is actually a little below ground level, and I'm fortunate that we insisted on the installation of a french drain outside that part of the perimeter before we closed on the purchase. This kept almost all of the pooled rainwater from reaching the foundation. But.....

The next morning I checked the downstairs and found that, indeed, the bedroom carpet was damp. I called Gina who came home to help assess the situation.

Now this "guest room" is a nice name for a space that we also pack in with all manner of belongings that have scant other places to go. A couple of bookcases, a dresser that's been passed down to one of us (I will freely admit -- I've for the most part released my formerly abiding sense of shame in this kind of thing -- that I forget whose family it came from, although I'm sure Gina knows exactly), at least one more table than a bedroom needs, and so forth.

So it was quite a job hauling everything out into other rooms to get at the carpet (see picture). A box cutter made quick work of the carpet to reveal a pad that went from saturated to damp about halfway across the floor. Since there's no such thing as a partially damaged carpet we ripped it all out, discovering in the process that we have very industrial-looking tile underneath. We've been running a couple of box fans for the past several days and even moved in a window unit air conditioner to draw moisture out. The mildewy smell is slowing dissipating.

So how is this a good thing? Let me count the ways:

(1) I was able to compare this minor misfortune with the many houses in the Atlanta area that were almost completely submerged by the flash flood that followed the rains. A number of people even lost their lives. Ours was a great problem to have by comparison.

(2) In the subsequent days I noticed lots of carpets at curbsides around town, vividly demonstrating that I was not the only one by far to experience a breach. There was something comforting about that observation, and even the slightest sense of camaraderie with strangers with whom I previously knew of nothing in common.

(3) It caused me to ask our trusted handyman Jack Smith to evaluate the possibility of any structural damage (none) as well as the gutter problems, which I had long known about but never had the gumption to adequately address. As a result we are having much-needed corrections to bring our rain runoff situation back to tip-top shape.

(4) Related to this last point, I was able to reflect on how often I will let rather routine maintenance work go untended, only to suffer the consequences later. From tooth flossing to interior car cleaning to the pile of papers to the left of me at this moment waiting to be shredded. The list goes on and on, big and small. The metaphoric value is glaringly evident to me, and a fundamental reminder of an area of my life that will appreciate upgrading. You can't (or at least I can't) get that lesson out of a book.

(5) As almost always happens, moving some things allows other things to reveal themselves. Lots of "so that's where that is!" moments brightened our task.

(6) It gave Gina and me a chance to work on a mutual project in a way that hasn't happened for awhile, which felt like a bonding booster shot. I shared my anxiety about the gutters which I had previously kept from her and we were both able to give mutual reassurance and words of appreciation to each other. Not a bad thing, that.

I think it's very true that the key to happiness is gratitude, and that this quality is one of the few things we can control in our lives (although developing it is not so easy in a consumer culture). From that perspective, happiness seeped into my house this week. Not a bad trade-off for a little mildew.

No comments: