Outta My Yard


By Elizabeth Peavey
By Elizabeth Peavey

Troubled waters run deep

The Portland Water District recently sent out a brochure bearing the headline: “Would you know what to do if your water service line burst?” In the cover photo, a geezer in faux-denim jeans and orthopedic shoes bends over a stream of water spurting out of his front yard as though someone just under the surface of the grass were relieving himself. To add to the urgency, the geezer’s hands are on his hips and he’s wearing a “What the hey!” expression worthy of an Academy Award for Lawn Drama. The enclosed cover letter explains these breaks can be caused by normal wear and tear, that they are hard to prevent or predict and that “Many District customers experience this problem every year.” 

Many. That’s a statistic that chills me to the quick. Clearly, the intended result is to keep me saucer-eyed deep into the wee hours waiting for my front yard to explode in a geyser that will cost me thousands of dollars. 

Like I need something else to keep me awake at night. 

As a person with heightened sensibilities and a sometimes fragile mental state, I don’t need my utility servers to stoke the fires of my morbid imagination. Homeowning pushes the fret needle off the meter all on its own. When I’m not waiting for a tree to smash in our roof (that happened to our friends Matt and Stacy one week after they bought their house), a gas explosion to blow the place to kingdom come (word has it, that happened to a house down the street) or hooligans to break in and steal my shopping bag collection (there was a string of burglaries in our neighborhood a year ago), I’m bracing myself for the moment mold, rot, fire, fungi, flood or a huffing and puffing big bad wolf takes down our dear little bungalow. And that’s on a good day.

It’s not that I didn’t worry about things when I was an apartment dweller – I always stowed my 20 years’ worth of journals in the refrigerator when I traveled and would sometimes telephone home just to make sure the answering machine wasn’t under water – but those concerns were mere flights of fancy compared to the real threat of something hurting our house. Now, I have to bear both my fantasizing about what might happen and the responsibility of dealing with what does. That’s a double shot of brain fever – not so good for a person who actually spent an entire weekend at Baxter State Park convinced a thief had broken into her office and stolen her outmoded iMac with all her unbacked-up data on it. (John long ago learned to avoid phrases like, “Penny for your thoughts.”) 

Homeowning, I have learned, is not for ostriches, people who deal with problems by running really fast and spitting at them – oops, those are llamas. I mean the type who likes to hide her head when the going gets tough and wait for someone else to take care of things. When you’re a homeowner, if something breaks or goes wrong, there’s only you and the person on the receiving end of a big bag of money to take care of it – that is, if you can find someone willing to relieve you of that bag of money. Call your former landlords all you like, but they are not going to come to your rescue. Don’t think I haven’t tried.

Ah yes, I remember the carefree life of an apartment dweller. Stuffing whole carrots and cutlery down the drain (“Now, I wonder how those got in there?”) without the slightest thought of a plumber. Hearing the furnace clank and clunk and blithely going out for the evening if the rooms grow chilly. The refrigerator croaks? A new one is just a phone call away. Cracked windows, burnt-out bulbs, iced-up sidewalks, holes in the wall – all someone else’s problem. Really, the only thing you have to worry about is whether one of the morons in your building will tip his lit bong over or leave the leave the tub running and then go out of town for the weekend or forget to lock the front door or lock the front door you’ve left unlocked or take your parking space or kife your newspaper or read your mail or touch your laundry or stand outside your door and listen to your phone calls… well, you get my drift. 

When it rains, homeowners have to actually care if they left their windows open or not. (What difference is that lake in the living room to a renter, so long as it’s not near the stereo?) Homeowners need to check for leaks and seepage, think about what’s happening in the attic and basement and run from window to window to check on the falling limb situation; renters worry about getting rained on en route to their car. Winter brings its own battery of anxieties: Will the brand-new furnace go out and the pipes freeze? Will an icicle drop from an eave and impale the meter reader? Will the mailman slip on the walk? Will the wood we ordered too late dry in time? Will the soup I made kill us all? It’s a wonder I ever sleep.

And now to add to my catalogue of worries and woes is the prospect my lawn (if you can call it that) might spring a leak and drive me to the poorhouse – unless, according to the Portland Water District, I sign on with the suspiciously generic-sounding Home Services USA’s emergency coverage for the low, low price of just $47.40 per year. Just $47.40 per year? That’s a mere $3.95 per month – cripes, you can’t even get a beer for that in most places anymore.

So, will I make the call and shell out the dough to buy myself a little peace of mind? Probably not. After all, then I’d have to stay up worrying whether this company is legit or not or if it’s some secret plot to get to that ancient iMac of mine. 

Besides, it’s really hard talking on the phone with your head buried in the sand.

Elizabeth Peavey will hide under that bridge when she gets to it.