THE NIGHT I ASKED THE WORLD TO SEND MY SUMP PUMP GOOD JUJU by Donny Levit
Tropical storm Ida’s most unwelcome visit
Do not underestimate the power of water. Best to respect and fear the wet stuff.” So said my dyed-in-the-wool shipbuilder friend in his heavy Cajun accent back during my New Orleans years, after my banged-up 1987 Pontiac LeMans flooded all the way to its roof – a casualty of a relentless Crescent City storm.
Having lived in apartment buildings for most of my life, I dodged many a water bullet until November 2017, months after we moved to Maplewood. A clueless new homeowner, I watched helplessly as our boiler cracked and emptied its entire contents while our sump pump simply could not keep up. The only thing missing that night was a Norse kraken rising up from the sump pump and sucking me through the northern New Jersey swamps to deposit me next to Jimmy Hoffa’s body in the Meadowlands. Quite an introduction to suburban life. Thanks to Ellen – who publishes this very magazine you’re reading – I was able to write about that event in this Final Matters section and exorcise some demons while doing so.
My wife, Nicole, and I quickly shored up the basement with a new boiler and a backup sump pump, and re-did almost the entire drainage system on our property. We tried to turn our trauma into action.
This time, just hours before that infamous first day of September when Ida made her unwelcome visit to our neck of the woods, I was furiously stalking the Facebook pages of my New Orleans peeps to see how they survived their hit from the hurricane. Luckily, they were all safe.
I didn’t fully grasp what was going on outside until a live Instagram popped up on my phone.
Sabatino of local pizza fame was telling anyone who was listening to stay home. He had just dropped off employees when he started to broadcast from Valley Street. Usually, I only check out @sabatinospizzagram to ogle his roasted zucchini pie. This time, I was watching Memorial Park fill with so much water that it appeared to have waves and a current.
Nicole and I feverishly pulled up every item from our basement floor: guitars, two gigantic spiders from our Halloween stash, my mother-in-law’s bridal lingerie (long story and, I know, so awkward), Akashi’s dog food…it all went upstairs or to higher shelves.
I’m sort of embarrassed to admit this, but I literally placed my voodoo doll at the mouth of our sump pump. I mean, I didn’t even do it with irony. This was full-fledged desperation and I was on board with any superstitious ritual that would keep the basement dry.
Eyeing an area near the basement sink, I noticed water seeping up through the floor. Nicole brought down towels. I poured myself a whiskey, and began to sop up the water. Nicole brought down ever more towels. By 1:00 a.m. and dozens of towels later, I knew we were going to be ok.
The hardest part of the night was hearing from way too many people who were not ok. We had multiple group texts going with friends and neighbors who were bailing out water. One friend sent us a photo of her submerged basement. Others had water pour in after blowing out their basement windows. We offered what we could in the way of wet vacs and portable pumps.
Nervously crunching my ice cubes, I came up with an idea. Maybe Ellen would green light another Final Matters so I could exorcise my residual anxiety from 2017 and try to articulate what happened the night Ida came? And what would I write at the end?
I’d probably finish the story by admitting to the readers that for the remainder of the time we live in this house, my treasured voodoo doll will permanently rest near the sump pump. And, of course, to express how deeply sorry I am that others were not so lucky.
Donny Levit is a writer and Maplewood resident. He is the author of "Rock n’ Roll Lies, 10 Stories." You can hear him DJ his indie rock show "Under the Influence" and his jazz show "Kind of Pool" on Bone Pool Radio. Follow him on Instagram @undertheinfluenceradio and @kindofpoolradio.