Wading for Godot

Allison arrived in a flood of thoughts -- mattress rafts, murky thigh-deep water and the sudden flotsam of family life rushing out the back door

And once again we are sitting in silence, while I contemplate just exactly which would be lower on my priority list, my wife's shoes or the cats. The somewhat diverting task is interrupted suddenly by The Revolt of the Machines.

There are a lot of electrical devices in the house, and they have all been sorely tested by this event. Now they can take it no longer. Now they rise in protest.

Mark Poutenis
Mark Poutenis

Or at least one of them does. The electric pencil sharpener, to be precise. As the water rises over the desk on which it sits, the brave little sharpener goes not gently into that good night, but rails, rails against the…you know the rest.

It simply starts grinding, as if it doesn't want to die without showing us just how great a pencil sharpener it can be. Or maybe it's harking back to its salad days, when our toddler could take a brand-new six-inch Ticonderoga No. 2 and have it down to a nub in a matter of minutes, providing endless joy both for him and the sharpener.

Whatever the reason, the sharpener is going gangbusters, grinding away. Neither my wife nor I volunteer to go into the office, stick our hands in the mucky brown water to feel around for the outlet and disconnect the thing. So on it grinds, defiantly daring the flood to come and get it.

Which the flood eventually does. Slowly the grinding becomes more and more muffled, more waterlogged. The joyous, orgiastic explosion has gradually dimmed to a pitiful, fitful last few gasps.

Farewell, brave little sharpener. We hardly knew ye.

The arms of the sofa are now under water too, so we abandon our posts. Up floats the couch, a huge piece so expensive I've never gotten a straight answer on just how much it cost, beyond being told it was "on sale."

Like a giant ocean liner, it cruises majestically among the lesser chairs of the sea, surrounded by admiring paperbacks sailing up for a close look. (And me without film for the camera, dammit.)

The only remaining chair that's above sea level is the wooden barstool. My wife takes that, and I decide to take a wade though the house.

That turns out to be a mistake.

You can look around at all your junk that you've accumulated through the years, and all the stuff that's too valued to be called junk, and while it's not a breeze to just write it off as a loss, you can accept it. Nothing much you can do about it now, anyway.

But you walk through your kid's room, and all it takes is the sight of something like a floating, ruined book titled Ask Me Anything About the Presidents! and your heart just sinks.

Stuff is stuff, ultimately, to adults, but to kids it's a lifetime achievement. It's the summing up of all they've done so far, what's made them what they are. And now it's all under filthy water, the signposts of past toddler obsessions: the extensive library of Berenstain Bears books, the first tentative drawings of army men attacking enemy positions, thousands and thousands of Legos.

And, of course, almost all of the evidence of the dominant figure of his first few years: Thomas the Tank Engine and his many friends. The videos, watched so often you could narrate along with Ringo Starr or George Carlin; the books that helped him become an eager reader; and mostly, the die-cast metal models of the various trains that were Prized Possessions for so long.

Before Thomas briefly became a well-marketed movie star, tracking down the models of some of the more obscure characters was a parental hobby. The things cost only a couple of bucks, but to be able to come home and watch his face as he saw that you had tracked down Donald & Douglas, the twin Scottish engines, or Bertie the Bus, or the evil Diesel, made it seem they were priceless.

And now they were beneath the muck. So were several footballs and baseball gloves we had forgotten to find in time, so was a collection of football cards, so were almost all the Titanic books he wolfed down as a five-year-old, somehow becoming fascinated with the doomed ship even before the movie came out.

It was all too depressing. My wife already had made the same psychological discovery, so we each more or less decided to avoid his bedroom as much as possible.

Another room we couldn't face -- just because we knew it was going to be a huge mess -- was the so-called Songs Room, named years ago by our kid because it had the stereo in it. It also had his TV and PlayStation, and he loved to go off into what eventually became a cave formed by all the things we threw in there in lieu of putting them anywhere else.

Both my wife and I had spent time writing for music magazines, so we had accumulated lots and lots of vinyl albums. Hundreds of them, we knew, were now soaking under water. Some were the very definition of Not Even One-Hit Wonders -- in the Songs Room, I'm pretty sure, was not only an album by some band named Chiliwhack, but also the solo album by the former lead guitarist who could not let the other members of Chiliwhack tamper with his artistic vision.

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