Eleven years. That’s how long ago this happened and I wrote it. Eleven years. So much has changed since then, but one thing hasn’t: bad things happen in threes.
Or do they? Read on to find out: Part 1 of a two-part story on just that topic.
Suitcase and briefcase packed and at the door, I turned off the television and settled into bed with a book and some trashy magazines. After my noon meeting the next day, I would be off to California for business.
The Tampa heat and humidity signaled that summer was around the corner and I looked forward to a few weeks on the cool Monterey coast. I lived on both coasts, back in the day when I could actually keep straight the complications of two homes.
As I flipped the pages of People, I heard a dripping sound. Rain, I thought. I went back to reading about Tom Cruise’s new girlfriend.
Drip…drip…drip…drip … It was more insistent and faster. I got out of bed and looked out the window. Dry as a bone outside. I got back in bed.
Drip…drip…I threw back the covers and walked into the master bath. It had one of those big, round rain-shower heads-but it wasn’t dripping. Down the hall the guest bath was also drip-free. But I could still hear it.
I followed the sound down the hall. It was coming from the closet that housed the hot water heater. I opened the door. I could’ve waded in the flow. A puddle of water was quickly growing into a small pond on the red tile floor.
I’d noticed recently that the shower didn’t remain hot as long as it used to. But it was the kind of thing about which my last ex-husband would’ve said “I don’t notice anything, it’s your imagination.” So I paid no attention to it.
I assessed the situation. It was 10:30pm. A flood was a near-certainty. I had no clue what to do. I’d been married most of my life and since I was without talent in the fix-it department, those chores had always belonged to the man in my life.
My current man was 3,000 miles away and frowned on my keeping a spare man in Tampa. There was only one thing to do.
“Turn the water off on the tank,” he advised. I found a blue knob on top of the tank but it wouldn’t budge.
“I don’t know what else to tell you,” he said. He was always one to give up easily.
My ex-husband, is a handyman extraordinaire, so I dialed him up.
“You have to turn the water off on top of the tank and cut the breaker to it,” he advised.
I grasped the blue knob again. Stuck. And the breaker box was outside around the side of the house under low-hanging palm fronds.
Way around back. In the dark.
I wasn’t going out there.
“Maybe you can call the electric company and get someone out tonight as an emergency,” my ex advised.
“Oh sure,” I said. “I’ll just tell them I’m afraid of the dark.”
It was now 10:45pm. I watched the puddle creep into the hallway looking like the old trailer for the movie, The Shining.
“Oh Jefe, I hope I didn’t wake you up, I wouldn’t call at this hour unless I really needed help,” I apologized.
He gave me the number of an emergency plumber and said he’d come right over.
He arrived as the emergency plumber was telling me to turn off the water to the tank and flip the breaker. As I relayed the information, Jefe managed to turn the knob to the tank. Using the nearest “rag” as a grip: an expensive yellow hand towel from the guest bathroom. It was now, well, pretty dirty. I was still on the phone with the plumber.
“Once you cut the breaker,” the plumber advised, “hook a hose up to the tank and drain it.”
Was he serious? Did I look like a girl that would hook a hose up to a tank and drain it?
“Honey, that just isn’t gonna happen,” I said. I did have a hose but was so known for incompetence with mechanical things I wasn’t even allowed to touch a jammed photocopy machine at my office.
“Well,” the plumber said, “if I come out tonight and replace it, it’s going to cost you your first born child, but call in the morning and we’ll come out tomorrow. You need to get it replaced ASAP.”
The problem was that I wouldn’t be there tomorrow, and not for a month. Plus I had a home warranty and would have to use their plumber.
Together , Jefe and I walked around the house to pull the breaker, bushwhacking palm fronds in the dark along the way. I thanked him profusely and he went home to bed.
Now, where did I put the file for my home warranty?
After 20 minutes tangling with the home warranty company’s automated system, a recorded voice assigned me a plumber. The leak had stopped. I packed towels around the perimeter, took a Valium and went to bed.
In the morning I called my newly-assigned plumber. I explained that I would be traveling.
“Well,” said the plumber’s dispatcher, “since it’s not an emergency we can’t do it till the middle of next week and….”
I interrupted. “Not an emergency? I haven’t any hot water, I’m leaving town–I can’t even monitor the situation!”
She suggested I ask the warranty company to officially upgrade my problem to “An Emergency.” I started dialing. The friendly and now familiar voice of the automated system greeted me.
I begged the automated system for a real person.
I tried “Operator” “customer service” “agent” and finally I yelled “help!!!” Maybe it was the combination of words, maybe the length of time I tried, or maybe the computer picked up my desperation. I got a real person.
A woman. Who also wouldn’t know how to hook a hose up to her hot water heater. We quickly became fast friends. She even told me the secret word for getting transferred from the automated system to a real person. The word is “transfer”.
“Tell you what,” she said. “I can call you back at noon and make it an emergency.”
“I’ll be at a lunch meeting,” I said. “Why can’t you make it an emergency NOW?”
“I can’t disclose our secret rules,” she said, “but trust me. At noon it’ll be an emergency.”
Who was I to argue? Part 2 tomorrow!