Tim’s alluvial shanty
November 23, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
I used to love Tim’s house. Now it has to be demolished because of flood damage. The flooding is the result of the climate, the neighbors, and the idiotic plumbers who didn’t notice that the blueprints were upside down.
Mom grew up in this house, the front part and garage of which were built in the late teens. Sometime in the fifties, they connected the garage and the front part of the house with a room that had a second fireplace.
The garage was converted into a workshop, and a storage room was built. From the air, the house looks like a square, backwards “C.”
Here are Mom, my sister Carrie, and I visiting California in 1968.
We’d gone to the sheriff’s station down the street, and they’d given me a badge; I’m pointing to it on my chest. The sheriff’s station is still there. When we dial 911, the cops are here in under two minutes. I love them.
The alluvial shanty
At one point all of my siblings and Noreen lived in the house, after my grandmother Carolina died. One by one everyone went their separate ways, until only Tim and Carrie were there. I joined them in 1993, driving Carrie out. In 2006 I moved into the house next door. My departure was the signal for all water-hell to break loose.
The plumbers who built the original house—the barn-shaped part—put the water pipes in the ceiling of the living room. Don’t ask me why. Soon after I moved into my house, Tim woke to the sound of water dripping in the living room. He went out and found the carpet soaked and the paper hanging down from the ceiling. The pipes had burst.
He had new pipes put in, but since the entire back yard is covered in concrete, the inventive young plumber had to snake the pipes all over the side of the house instead of burying them underground. They look really cool, giving the house a kind of steampunk vibe.
Tim tried to reattach the paper after the ceiling dried, but there’s no glue strong enough.
Another problem was that the fireplace room that connected the original house to the converted workshop garage was built with some bizarre, super-cheap monkeywood that warped, twisted, and curled. After I moved out, the ceiling began leaking heavily during every rainy season. What looked like powerful streams of urine poured out of almost every joint.
Tim set out buckets, pots, vats, plastic boxes, and pans, so you’d hear what sounded like a crowd of men peeing on cooking utensils and musical instruments.
After each rainy season, Dad would hire someone to patch the roof, and then the Urine Orchestra would make its annual appearance at the alluvial shanty, playing to a furious crowd of one.
Finally, some quiet youngster with a heavy mustache told Tim he could fix the leak by patching the lower front edge of the roof. Tim didn’t believe him, since water doesn’t flow uphill. But Dad was paying the bills, so the guy was hired, and he fixed the leaks. We still don’t know how he did it.
Our neighbor Mimgrim lives with his father, mother, and younger brother next door. The fireplace room my grandparents added to their house in the fifties was built right on the property line. After Mimgrim’s father inherited his current house from his grandmother, the decision to build on the property line came back and bit us all in our seaters. Mimgrim’s father is completely abnormal. There’s simply no explaining anything about him.
He wouldn’t let us into his yard when we had the house tented for termites. No reason was given. Tim had to threaten legal action to make him comply. To tent, we needed to get into Daddy Mimgrim’s yard. It was the only option, but he simply refused until we lowered the boom on him.
After we had our house painted, Daddy Mimgrim came out and sprayed the wet latex paint with a hose until I told him I’d call the police if he didn’t stop.
Every year during the rainy season, the corner of his yard next to our house fills with water, since he never rakes up the leaves. The water level rises until our workshop-garage and the piano room are flooded. Tim always went out in a slicker and used a long pole with a hook on the end to clear out the leaves through the fence while Mimgrim’s beloved dog Mangy (not his real name) produced falsetto barks like his testicles were in a vise.
Daddy Mimgrim was either indifferent to the flooding he caused, or he did it on purpose.
And then one year, he put in a foot of sod and new earth in his back yard, raising the level of the ground right up to the window sills of the fireplace room. When we had the first rain of the season, the fireplace room flooded completely. What happened was the water filled the walls of our house and then roared into the fireplace room, creating a lake.
We had to immediately move everything out of the fireplace room and then cut out a giant section of the carpet, which began mildewing almost instantly.
In that photo, those are the harmless asbestos tiles that we don’t have to worry about. Behind the wall of wood is solid earth. All the walls on that side of the house are so rotted now that they’re like Styrofoam. You can push your fingers through them. The house has to be demolished and rebuilt.
We can’t sue Daddy Mimgrim because he has no money. He’s a middle-aged stock boy. Also, we’d have to prove that he knew his new sod would ruin our house. That kind of civil suit could go on forever. The main thing is rebuilding the house so we can sell it and then get the hell out of California.
The night Tim discovered the massive flooding, we went down to tell Mom and Dad. My father’s face lit up.
“What we’ll do,” he said—at age eighty-one, suffering from heart disease and diabetes and probably aware that he had bone cancer—”is get steel plate and pound it into the ground all along the side of the house. We’ll use sledgehammers. The only problem is creating a watertight seal between the plates. They’ll have to be four or five feet long. We can weld them together or overlap them.”
Yes, Dad and his two middle-aged sons would use canal-building techniques like the Army Corps of Engineers. Piece of cake!
“We’re not going to do anything like that,” Tim said. “We’re going to have to rebuild the house or demolish it. Putting in steel plates won’t do anything about the rot. And besides, none of us are in any shape to do work like that anymore.”
Poor Dad. His face fell as though Tim had told him Santa Claus didn’t exist. He honestly thought we could just Paul Bunyan our way out of flood damage, old age, illness, and death.
Now Dad’s gone, and the house will be demolished. When we leave we won’t look back. This is no longer the place it was in 1968, when I stood in the driveway of what became Tim’s alluvial shanty and wore my deputy sheriff’s star.
But it’s only a house. The photos and memories still exist, and the future is full of opportunities. Everything has a lifespan; the house has reached the end of its allotted time. It can come back as an even better house. We’ll make sure that we sell it to this guy as a practice studio.
In the meantime thunderclouds are forming. Another flood is on the way.
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