CHEVY CHASE. — I'M A BASEMENT person. My things belong in a basement. A weight bench, rarely used but thought-of often; stained tattered clothes, long overdue for the thrift shop; empty containers, cans, bottles, milk cartons, 150 pairs of running shoes filled with extra breathing holes from excessive use, but still retaining one last run; fill my personal hideaway. This spidery, dusty, underground cavern gives me more delight than any walnut-lined study.
BUT, water likes to enter my stronghold. Pure (aside from acid rain) precipitation falls from the sky, sinks into the ground and bubbles up under the furnace; invades my basement. Water is hard to stop. It bubbles, seeps, squirts, even oozes when the skies open. Nothing, aside from the Army Corps of Engineers, can stop the small river that must run beneath the house.
BUT, a pump can remove it. Hardware stores sell pumps of all shapes and sizes. For my needs a $150 model seemed adequate. This pump put out 2,700 gallons per hour. The Titanic would still be afloat if some clairvoyant passenger had seen fit to bring one abroad.
BUT, once I got this pump home, I learned a very important fact. Pumps only work when the little float goes above the top of the pump housing. In more graphic terms, those subletting crickets and spiders would have the option of riding floating running shoes or buoyant containers, if the pump merely sat on the floor. A hole was needed to cover the pump housing.
BUT, that meant I had to rent a jack hammer. This part of the saga taught me why men who run jack hammers are big, burly strong dudes. Jack hammers are not made for 148-pound, no-upper-body-strength marathon runners. In fact the clerk at the Got-the-Tool-For-Any-Fool Rental had to place the electric ground pounder in the back of my truck. On my return home large chunks of sod clung to its vicious bit as I dragged it across the lawn and finally smash, smash, smash down the basement steps.
BUT, jack hammers do work. These noisy instruments of death destroy anything in their path, especially human toes. Dare I mention that this was a clandestine operation? The pump, in fact any pump, is illegal in my neighborhood. Whether it be pump prejudice, pump phobia, pumpitis, who knows; but the word was out ''pumps are illegal.'' So I quickly whacked out a hole, just wide enough and deep enough to cover my water-sucking savior.
BUT, I still had latent fears about the pump once it was in place and ready to drink. Latent fears I have found, grow out of good vibes -- usually I've screwed up! Those fears sprang into living reality when the first deluge came. Of course, I couldn't be in the ark like Noah; I had to be out earning money to pay for the pump. Foolishly I brushed aside those latent fears, telling myself that the pump was furiously spouting water out the back window into the yard and turning my lawn into a rice paddy.
BUT, when I returned home that April afternoon, after the rains had stopped and the seagulls were circling overhead looking for carnage, I noticed that my yard was too dry. It was wet, but not soaked. Was the pump . . .
BUT, I calmly walked into the house, telling myself that maybe it didn't rain that much. Dead fish are a normal sight in my neighborhood. I slowly opened the basement door and was wantonly wafted by the musty smell of water, lots of water. Water deep enough to float a running shoe, in fact 150 running shoes; a container, in fact maybe 150 containers, (though not a weight bench). The pump lay on the bottom of the lake, quietly peering up at me with its two long black antennae and its long green sucking tube flaccid in the face of disaster.
BUT the float was nowhere to be seen. The float was neatly tucked under the ledge of the hole. The float was nestled against the jagged concrete in the hole, too small for the pump. The pump had saved all kinds of electricity. The pump was a failure.
BUT the pump drained the lake in less than 30 minutes, once the float was released. The 150 soggy running shoes formed an impressionistic evaporation sculpture on the dampened floor. The varied containers began their march toward decomposition via mold and mildew. The weight bench -- it just began to rust. The pump; it's undergoing major modifications.
Mr. Sanford is a free lance.