On a Sunday morning in November, I woke up, opened the bedroom door, and found water waiting at the threshold. I was groggy but I thought, “This is strange. Water does not belong here.” I followed the water, getting deeper, to the bathroom, which was completely flooded. Our cat, Theo, previously “the good cat,” was standing on the wet vanity staring at me as water cascaded out of the sink. Theo loves to drink water out of the sink and we had gotten in the habit of filling the sink with a bit of water during the night. He is quite demanding about it, to be honest, sometimes meowing at the bedroom door very loudly. Mind you, he has a bowl of fresh water downstairs in the kitchen. This is not a cat who is deprived of hydration. A couple hours before I woke up, I had gone to the bathroom and there was Theo, expecting water. I filled the sink a couple inches, turned the water off, and he meowed plaintively. I told him, “That is more than enough,” and went back to bed. At some point between then and when I really woke up, he managed to turn the faucet on, and chaos ensued.
My wife, Debbie, was out of town for an event at the Chicago Humanities festival so I had to deal with the disaster alone. Every single towel in the house was called into service. As I was laying towels down in the bathroom, I heard water falling somewhere else. I looked at the sink to make sure I had turned off the water. I had. And then I realized that the water had probably started leaking through the floor. I went downstairs, dreading what I would find and sure enough, water was falling, at quite an intense velocity, onto the first floor and because when it rains it pours, like, literally, it was also falling on the ground floor and into the basement. I took a deep breath and freaked out for about ten minutes. I cried because after the year I’ve had, I have no coping skills left. I had some very stern words for Theo who looked at me like, “What? I was thirsty.” I watched as all three of our animals supped on gross flood water and frolicked in it and left tiny paw prints all over the place. I called our contractor. I consulted Google and called the first company I found to deal with flood damage.
A few hours later, the worst of the flooding had been dealt with. A couple guys came and assessed what was needed and then another crew came and set up dehumidifiers and a lot of high-powered air blowers that need to run for 72 hours. The equipment was loud. It raised the temperature of the house ten degrees. There was no respite. During the Great Desiccation I thought I would lose my mind. Then, there were holes in ceilings. And then floors were replaced. This has all been very expensive and aggravating. And yes, it could have been so much worse. I acted quickly enough that the damage was contained. We have secure employment, most of the time. We have insurance. We have great support systems. It’s a manageable disaster. I have this perspective because, as we all know, the world has been embroiled in a seemingly unmanageable disaster for the past two years. A pandemic really shifts your understanding of, well, everything.
At the end of October, Debbie turned 60. I spent months planning a surprise birthday party at Ginny’s Supper Club, in the basement of Red Rooster in Harlem. Before the pandemic, it was going to be the venue for our wedding rehearsal dinner and I thought there was an interesting symmetry in having a birthday party there. Keeping a secret of this magnitude was harder than I would have guessed. Time and again I found myself wanting to discuss this or that planning detail with Debbie only to remember that she had no idea there was a party on the horizon. I tried to find as many e-mail addresses as I could for as many of her friends as I could. She has a lot of friends so, inevitably, some important people weren’t invited because I didn’t know how to get ahold of them. But still, in the end, a lot of lovely people came, from all across the country. (Yes, everyone was vaccinated and we did rapid tests at the door.) I was nervous because when Debbie turned 59, she told me, quite adamantly, that she didn’t want to do anything for 60th birthday, and that she hates surprise parties. I believe people when they express their wants and needs but I also knew that this was a major milestone that deserved to be celebrated. Onward, I went.