May 5th, 2020
I hate plumbing repair projects. No matter how simple they are (or should be), they always turn into a minor disaster for me. I never fail to get the floor awash with water. Yesterday’s effort was no exception to that rule.
We have two sump pumps in our basement. We live in a soggy part of the world, and it is not unusual for both pumps to be working simultaneously. One of the pumps quit on me a couple days ago. The motor still worked, but the on/off switch was shot, so the pump wouldn’t turn on automatically when the sump crock filled with water. The pump had been running almost continuously for about ten years, so this problem was not completely unexpected.
I have replaced sump pumps in the past. It’s not really that difficult, so I figured that I could handle the job yesterday. I bought a new pump at Home Depot, and took it home. I rounded up the tools that I thought I would need, and started dismantling the hook up in the rear corner of the basement. I was careful to keep track of the various fittings and clamps that held the old pump together with the PVC pipes. Two clamps were nearly impossible to release. The screws had corroded in the cold water of the crock over the course of a decade, and they were to the point of being immovable. I also discovered that the original pump had an attachment that the new one did not have, making it impossible for me to hook the PVC pipe to the new pump.
I managed to separate the two PVC sections from the one-way valve. When I did so, the built up water in the upper pipe section sprayed all over the basement floor, and all over me.
I found several old, torn bath towels to soak up the deluge. Then I texted Stefan.
Stefan is our youngest son. He’s twenty-six years old. He is a welder by trade, and he is an apprentice in the Iron Workers Union. Stefan has an uncanny knack for fixing things. I can figure out how to repair something, but it takes me a while. Stefan, on the other hand, can look at a mechanical problem and know exactly what to do within five minutes.
For instance, I used to have a cheap, crappy lawnmower. A tiny metal spring kept the throttle adjusted properly. The spring broke and the mower ceased to work. Stefan came to the house, looked at the mower, and found an old fashioned ballpoint pen. He pulled the spring out of the pen and attached it to the throttle. The mower worked fine again. The pen, not so much.
Stefan came to our house about an hour after I texted him. He saw the wet basement floor and the pieces of PVC pipe scattered around. He made no comment. He is used to this sort of thing. He told me that we could get the missing sump pump attachment at Kortendick Hardware in Racine. We drove there in his pick up.
While we drove to Racine, Stefan frowned and said,
“My chest has been hurting.”
“Any idea what’s wrong?”
Stefan replied, “No, not really. Maybe it’s from work.”
“Have you thought about getting an EKG?”
“Not yet. I didn’t sleep well last night. I was up at 2:30. I wonder where I get that from?”
Stefan gave me a hard look. I have a lot of trouble sleeping. It is apparently hereditary.
Stefan went on, “I guess I could cut back on the energy drinks. That might help.”
When we got back home, Stefan rummaged around the garage for the proper tools to complete the sump pump replacement. Stefan has a couple very large tool boxes stored in our garage. He knows what is in them. I don’t. Stefan rigged up the new pump in about ten minutes. It worked fine.
Stefan asked me, “You want to go to Grant Park?”
Oak Creek flows through Grant Park all the way to Lake Michigan. It had rained a couple days ago, so the water in the creek was moving fast. Stefan pulled a rod and reel from the back of his truck. He likes to fish. I didn’t know that. We wandered along the bank, and he cast a few times. There were only to other men fishing. The weather was cold, grey, and windy. People were sheltering in place.
I asked how it is now that he got laid off.
“It’s okay. I got some money. I’ll be all right for a couple months.”
He told me that, as an apprentice, he is “on call” every morning, just in case there is work available. Sometimes, if a contractor wants a specific worker, they will call the night before. That doesn’t happen too often.
He told me, “Once I get my journeyman’s book, then I can take time off and travel.”
“When do you graduate to journeyman?”
“Two years. I’m halfway there already. With the certifications and hours I have, I’m well on my way. I even have a crane operator’s certification. Some guys go their whole careers and never get up in a crane.”
“That sounds good.”
“Yeah”, Stefan replied, “then I’ll go to Europe.”
“Take the train while you are over there?”
“Yeah. I want to go back to Germany and see what’s there.”
I told him, “I have a friend in Spain. If he is still there in two years, maybe you could meet him.”
“That would be cool.”
I said, “When I was living in Germany, before I met Mom, I went by myself on the train from Frankfurt to Zürich in Switzerland. I knew enough German to get by. I remember going alone to some outdoor market at night. It feels like a dream now.”
Stefan nodded, “Cool.”
Stefan reeled in his line for the last time. He said, “You want tacos?”
“We’ll go to Taco Stop. How about steak chimichangas?”
We got back into his truck.
As we drove to Taco Stop, I thought that it was good that we had been together for a little while. Stefan and I hadn’t done anything exciting, but we had had a chance to talk. We don’t often hang out. I tend to lose track of who he is. I lose track of where he is in his life.
I’m glad I had trouble with the sump pump.