Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Raindrops Were Falling on Our Heads


Everyone is familiar with adages that seem old but are of recent vintage – like “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” Another one is “Be careful what you wish for............” The thing about these truisms is that sometimes they are all-too-true. Here's a case in point.

Our friend Varda was spending a Shabbat with us. It wasn't just any old Shabbat; it was the day before Purim most everywhere (two days before Shushan Purim in Jerusalem, just down the road). It was midway in the morning. I had come home from shul and was sitting in our living room with my buddy Michael, making kiddush with some Jack Daniels, herring, and a cup of instant coffee – which we do most every Shabbat (and why not?). Barbara and Varda were upstairs, as was Natania. And Barbara was regaling Varda with our travails as apartment owners. More specifically, she was describing the on-going saga of our merpeset.

A merpeset, which can either be a porch or a balcony, is a standard feature of many Israel apartments. We in fact have several, but the one under discussion is the large one off our dining room, the one with the view you could die for of the hills leading to Jerusalem. This merpeset is right above a bedroom, not as you would expect, from the apartment below us, but part of an apartment in the adjacent building.

The thing is, that every time we have a decent rainfall here in Ma'ale Adumim, water from our merpeset leaks into this bedroom. Now that we've been here awhile, we've learned that this particular problem is quite common in our building block. We're also convinced that the previous owners of our apartment knew about it and chose not to fix it. The first winter we were here, we got an angry phone call from Carmi, the lady who owns the adjacent apartment and rents it out to a tenant. When were we going to fix the leak? No doubt, she had heard that “rich” Americans (in The Land, it is assumed that all Americans are wealthy) had moved in, and she figured that if she called us and screamed, she would get further than she had with the previous guy. Maybe we aren't rich, but we are reasonably responsible, so when the rainy season was over, we called up our local handyman and had him come over and do some major re-grouting. We even had him go down to the apartment in question and patch up the paint where the water had seeped in.

Then we waited and waited. We wouldn't know until the next rainy season whether what we had done was going to work. Well, the rains did come the following winter and not a peep from either the tenant or Carmi. Yesssssssssss!!!!!! No more worries! So we thought. Months later, Carmi called and started screaming again. When were we going to fix the leak? There was one thing we hadn't counted on. Carmi's tenant couldn't stand her, wouldn't talk to her, or let her in the apartment. This may sound crazy, but the tenant would rather have rain drops falling on her head than complain to her about the problem.

We upped the ante and called in a roofer who had experience dealing with leaks. He did a better job of sealing the places where water might seep in. He changed the drain. Same thing all over again. It's still leaking. I'm taking you to court. A few months ago, we got the name of a guy who specializes in leaks. He came and ran around with an infra-red camera, taking pictures. Even before he prepared a written report, he was ready to start ripping up our porch and re-doing it. Fine, except he wanted an amount that was more than we bring in each month. There seems to be a special rate for rich Americans. It's called an arm and a leg.

Finally, we got one more recommendation, an American named Dan. He came over and sized up the situation. He looked at the other guy's report and said it was spot-on – except for what he was going to charge us. So Dan was hired and will be coming in about a month. He will rip up the tile floor and deal with the problem, laying new tiles (which we will buying) and replacing the entire drainage system. He'll also do the same for the small merpeset off our bedroom. It won't be cheap, but it won't be highway robbery either.

In a nutshell, that's what my wife was explaining to Varda. She lamented that we'd much rather use that money to replace the bathroom (off our bedroom), the one the geniuses who had the apartment ahead of us removed (rather than deal with the leaky pipes there), and maybe redo the main bathroom. But that, she said, would have to wait – until we had a leak.

End of conversation. Then Varda decided to take a quick shower before lunch. You may remember that Michael and I were relaxing in the living room, nibbling our herring and sipping our Jack Daniels. So we had ringside seats to what happened next. We watched in awe and then in horror as water started coming down through the big fluorescent fixture in our kitchen, which fortunately was not on over Shabbat. I don't mean a trickle or a sprinkle. We're talking here about carwash strength, enough to take a shower and shampoo your hair; in fact, a flood. Boy, did we have Barbara's leak big-time! We figured out pretty quickly that a pipe upstairs had burst.

We have three water valves in a little box of their own in our kitchen. We weren't sure which one went to where, but we turned them all off. Eventually the water subsided on its own. Mercifully, we did not need a raven, a dove, or a rowboat. Just a few buckets to collect as much water as we could.

Fortunately for us, we were invited out to Ron and Esther's for lunch. They offered us some great advise. Before you do anything else, call up your insurance company; let them handle it. There wasn't much we were going to do over Shabbat as far as calling anybody. The one thing we were able to do was play with the valves for the water. We figured out by trial and error that if we kept one of them on, we did have water on our lower floor. We weren't about to mess with anything on the top floor; let leaky pipes alone. Shabbat would soon be over; time for the Megillah reading and frantic calls to our insurance company. Let's see if their emergency number would be of any use!

Did I mention that on Sunday, Purim day, we were set to host our usual Purim meal? Well, we were. Every year, we have the same crew over: Ron and Esther (and Sara), Michael and Tehilla (and Yisrael), and another couple (with or without their son and his girlfriend). We make most of the meal and our friends provide the rest. As long as we had some running water in the kitchen, I figured we would be OK. So I called everyone and said we were on (by this time, apparently everyone we knew in Ma'ale Adumim was aware of our plight). First thing, though, Barbara wanted to clean up the kitchen before we started cooking. That involved lots of mopping, cleaning behind the refrigerator, the whole ball of wax. Finally, finally, it was time for me to start cooking; and then the inevitable happened. No more water. Not a drop. It turns out that what we had been doing, unbeknownst to us, was using up the supply of water stored in our dood shemesh, the water tank-solar heater that everybody in Israel has. (Now that I think of it, I don't know which valve controls the water supply going into the dood shemesh, but we must have turned that off as well.) Once the dood was empty, we were as dry as a county in the Bible Belt.

No water. Hard to cook that way. More phone calls. Ron and Esther were kind enough to a) loan us the use of their kitchen, b) host the Purim seudah at their house, and c) drive over and pick up me and all the food and everything else I needed to prepare the meal. Not to mention d) let me take a shower at their place afterwards.

By this time, at least one person out there must be wondering what the menu was, and usually I would remember what I had prepared. You'll have to let me slide this one time; I was somewhat distracted.
Most of you, however, are probably wondering what was happening with our water – or lack thereof. We were able to reach our insurance company, and Goldfoos was as as good as gold. With more than a little effort on their part, they arranged for a plumber to show up at our door on Monday. In walked Alon, the Israeli plumber, (which prompts me to begin singing, as if on cue, Alone, alone with a smile and a song..... which as you all know was written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed for the Marx Bros movie “A Night at the Opera,” where it was sung by Kitty Carlyle and Allan Jones – but I digress) with his Arab assistant, named – I kid you not – Osama.

Alon-with-a-smile-and-a-song is one of those guys who projects a demeanor of complete self-confidence – never fear, I am here. As those of us with a little life experience are aware, the fact that someone appears self-confident does not mean that he knows what he doing. Our Alon actually is a qualified plumber, but here he was a tad too sure of himself. The first thing he did when he came in was turn our water valves back on and then go upstairs to see what the problem was.

Would you be surprised in the least if I told you that within a few minutes we had a repeat of Niagara Falls in our kitchen? But this time, we had a witness – Osama. Alon had sent him down to get something-or-other from the truck, and the young Arab walked past our kitchen as the water began to flow. I imagine that the look of awe and horror on his face mirrored the expression on my face several days before. “ALON..........” Within seconds, our self-assured plumber was down the stairs to get a first-hand look as water gushed through our light fixture. Within seconds, those water valves were back to an off position.

I stayed downstairs to keep out of the way; but not so far that I couldn't hear the racket upstairs. Alon-with-a-smile-and-a-song was conducting a two-phase assault to reach the offending pipe. The first phase involved breaking through the wall that separates our bedroom from the pipes behind our bathtub. That wall, like all the walls inside and outside, is tromi, pre-poured concrete – not the easiest thing to demolish. Nor the quietest. The second phase involved tearing up a row of tiles in our bedroom and hallway in front of the bathroom. The result: a gaping hole in our wall and a trench a few feet long on the floor. However, they did find the offending pipe and do the necessary surgery. Water would again flow – through the proper channels this time – in the Casden household. Keep the bathtub wall dry for twenty-four hours. Alon and Osama would return within a few days to mend the damage they had created in their search and rescue mission.

Anyone who knows Israel realizes that it wouldn't be that simple........