All I Want For Christmas Is…

(Originally published December 14, 2010 at playgroupwithsylviaplath.com)

IMG_0004.JPGWhen I started this blog, I promised myself (and my four readers) that I would not write any posts about my laundry, what to make for dinner, or how long the lines are at Target. (Because, really, isn’t that what Facebook is for?)  I’m not interested in hearing about someone else’s domestic minutiae or the logistics of the care and feeding of their children.  So why would anyone be interested in mine?

But sometimes, as a parent, and particularly as a parent in December, September and May-June, all you’re left with is care and feeding and domestic minutiae.

The saga of my Fall started with the diluvial rains we experienced the last night of September and has ended with me getting a Christmas present I never knew I wanted.

Like any good domestic adventure, this one began with a drip – right over Thing Three’s head while he was practicing the piano. A quick sprint to the bathroom above proved that no, the pipes were not leaking, but indeed the second floor ceiling was.  A trip to the third floor attic showed a knee-wall paint job rippled with water waiting to escape.

Expecting that I might not be the only one with water issues, I called my contractor to reserve my spot in line for the morning.  (And, you know he’s a keeper when given the modern marvel of caller-ID, he still picks up.)

Somewhere in the 7-inches of rain and attendant winds during the night, we lost power.  But, Slim’s keep-the-dream-alive aging athlete’s body still woke at 5:15 for men’s ice hockey. His dreams of greatness were short-lived, when he discovered the source of our troubles.  A large tree had been uprooted and had come to rest across our dead-end street, blocking all possibility of exit.

Still, in those magic moments before sunrise loved by men’s hockey die-hards, Slim put his bag away in the basement and stepped into 8 inches of water.

Daylight brought more excitement.  Dylan Thomas need not have worried, the tree did not go gently into that good night.  It brought down the power lines, the transformer box and the entire utility pole to a grassy resting spot next to my driveway.

My boys (big and small) got to use a chainsaw to cut back enough of the tree to get out of our driveway.  A neighbor let us drive across his lawn to leave the street, and the saintly contractor sent over a pump and a generator to empty the basement.

Even the roofer showed up to give me his diagnosis.  He was happy to be avoiding his own domestic flood plane – where he was supposed to be hosting his brother-in-law’s wedding on his lawn the next day.  (Let’s recall those 7 inches of rain.)   As my feet sank into my backyard, I felt like I might be the lucky one.

“You see that roofline up there?” the roofer says, as he points to my third-floor attic. “You ever been up there?”

I’m uncertain whether to be flattered or insulted that he thinks that my 5-foot, suburban mother self, might be found on a three-story rooftop.  He explains that that’s where the water is getting in, and he’ll happily tarp it for me until it can be repaired.

So, by day’s end, we had a downed power pole on the lawn, a tarped roof, and the contents of our basement drying in the yard. Including 47 linear feet of Astroturf (Thing Two’s beloved birthday gift.)  Can you hear the Sanford & Son theme song? (By Quincy Jones, by the way.)

After two days of cold showers and “family time” around candles and flashlights, the utility company arrived.  They cleared the tree, untangled wires and freed the downed pole.  I was optimistic that our power would be restored imminently if not immediately.

“Uh, ma’am. I have bad news,” the crew’s foreman says. “That’s a private utility pole.”

Sure private property, no-trespassing, I get that.  But a private utility pole?

“Yes, ma’am you apparently own this pole, so we’re not going to be able to connect your power until you get a new pole installed.”  In disbelief, I ask this fine employee of the utility company, who, if not the utility company, might someone contact to install a private pole?

“Oh, ma’am I have no idea.”

On the third day, another crew from the utility company arrives with their bucket trucks, saws, and service equipment.  A new foreman – Slanker (seriously, that’s his name) – assures me that, indeed, I am the owner of my own (downed) utility pole.

I take solace vacuuming the remaining water from my basement using the generator that’s been left in my yard.  I expect having a generator is like having a label maker – you find yourself looking for excuses to use it.

Soon, Slim appears and begins shouting what I hope is good news over my janitorial symphony of the wet-dry vac and the generator.  “You know Slanker out there? He used to coach the Bantam team before they switched rinks. He’s got some names for a new pole.”

Of course.  All hopes of getting my power restored could rest in the hands of youth sports.  So my new friend, Coach Slanker, gives me his power pole connections, and then says, “I could probably jury-rig something to get power to your house.”

Under normal circumstances, you do not want the terms “jury-rig” “power” and “your house” to be used in the same sentence. But I own my own utility pole.  These are not normal circumstances.

By nightfall, Slanker’s team had engineered a contraption of pulleys, cinches and ropes tied to various trees to hold up the rotted pole. We had lights, heat and were even ready to relay the Astroturf in the basement.  Thing Three was repositioning the regulation hockey net when a brown slime oozed from the metal frame.

“Ooh, jeez, I hope that doesn’t stain the Astroturf,” he said.  Truer words my friend, truer words.

Before we move on, I’d like you to consider the things in your own home that were originally meant as “temporary” but through inertia became “semi-permanent.” Like that case of toilet paper that served as a coffee table for months in a New York apartment. “Just throw that weed-beast fabric wall-hanging from college over it and no one will know,” one of you might have said.

Well, at my house, the blue tarp on the roof and the utility pole held up with ropes crisscrossing the yard became part of the scenery while we waited for bids, permits and scheduling.

Things finally came to a head on a recent sunny afternoon.  I returned from the grocery store to discover that Slim had our 13-year-old driving my SUV to haul tarps of raked leaves from the backyard to the front.

My husband beamed with pride as he called out to his first-born son, “and be careful driving around the low ropes holding up the utility pole.”  (I realize that this scene gives some credence to the notion that I might be found on my rooftop.)

It was time to take action.

On the day of installation all the stars seemed to be aligned.  The crew arrived with a new pole just as the roofers were leaving with their ladders. And then the doorbell rang.

There in his regulation orange vest was Steve from the township. Here to confirm that I was indeed installing my own private utility pole.

“I have some bad news ma’am.  I backed in to your mailbox with my truck.  We’re going to have to replace that.”

I’m sure that Steve from the township has no idea how close he came to making a grown woman cry over a standard-issue mailbox post.

Wishing you a little less excitement this December.  But, if you find yourself needing a utility pole, I know a guy who knows a guy.

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(I’m pretty sure he’s attaching a bright red holiday bow here.)

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