Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Black Water in Knoxville

Back in I guess... 1999, Julie and I moved to Knoxville. She had just finished the first two years of medical school and she had the option of doing her 3rd and 4th years at UT Knoxville instead of UT Memphis. We had friends in Knoxville, and well... it wasn't Memphis... which, if you're white, and you've ever been to Memphis, you know is a good thing.

The upside of moving to Knoxville was pretty simple. Julie wanted to do her residency at the UT Medical Center there, and we had friends there. Not to mention that Knoxville is just a great town. It's a college town that has managed to maintain an identy of its own, beyond just the college.

There was a catch of course... I had just been offered a job to basicly run the entire mortgage wing of a large regional bank based in Memphis. It was a dream job for me. I would write the underwriting guidlines for the whole bank, and see them followed. I would get to select the processing software and streamline the processing system to my liking. Imagine... an offer to take control of a multi-million dollar institution... And that offer came with the pledge of all the monitary support I would need.

But... it was in Memphis... and we really didn't want to be in Memphis. As tempting as it was, it was a death sentence. If I had taken it, I would still be in Memphis today, and I certainly would not be as happy as I am now.

So we moved to Knoxville. Now part of the upside to moving to knoxville was the fact that the Medical school provided us with an apartment for free. The downside, however, was that same apartment.

This is the same apartment that I described in the story about the fact chick in the world's slowest elevator. Misery people! Misery!

Anyway, we knew we were gonna be there for at least 2 years, so we settled in. We broke every rule you can think of. You're not allowed to paint... we painted the whole apartment. No Wallpaper. We wallpapered the bathroom. No Pets. We had two cats. We also had a contraband dishwasher... and oh yeah... we cartpeted the whole think too!

The other, not so minor catch, was this was part of campus. So no firearms. Of course... we had an apartment full of them...

Well.. time went along and everything was pretty cool. I got a job at Client Logic doing tech support for DSL, and we were pretty much on cruise control.

Now finally... we get to the meat of the tale. This is the story... of one of the worst days of my life... and how I came to know that Shane Smith, Esquire (VRWC), was indeed my friend, and always would be.

It was our last winter in Knoxville. Julie was in Memphis finishing up a rotation that wasn't offered at UT Med Center, so I was on my own. I was plannin' on meetin' julie in Murfreesboro that weekend though.

Friday afternoon I set about getting everything packed up to head out. I had snuck the guns out... thank God... and I was making my last trip to the car...

Halfway to the elevator I realized I'd forgotten something... so I went back. I walked down my hall... stuck the key in the lock... and well... I seem to remember hearing something...

I opened the door and the world went black.

I was blasted with something foul... at incredibly high pressure. I fell back against the wall in the hallway, opened my eyes, and found that the sprinkler system in my apartment was spewing black filth everywhere.

I was soaked, and the fire alarms were going off. Fuck!

I walked down the 12 flights of stairs... amonst countless angry, yet dry people, who were bitching in 15 different languages. I made my way to the office were a bunch of college kids were trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

So I'm standing there... soaking wet with black soot infected water.... and one of these snot-nosed kids says, "Can I help you?"

"The spinkler in my apartment just broke."

"You have to go outside."

"It's 25 degrees outside. I am soaking wet, and there is no fire. I'm not going outside."

"You have to go outside."

"Are you blind? Can you even spell hypothermia you idiot? The system broke. There is no fire."

"You will go outside or I'll call security."

"Call them."

15 minutes later I'm standing outside along side two UT security guards, with my bluejeans literally freezing to my legs, while my apartment, and everything I own is being flooded...

They finally allow us to go back in... and at this point, I've been outside so long that my clothes are practically dry. I would've been blue, were I not already black, from the filth ridden 20 year old stagnat water that had just erupted all over me.

I get up to my floor, and find the whole thing flooded in black discusting water... about 4 inches deep. There are firemen all around, and there was this old gruff inspector who looked pissed. They had finally got the system turned off, and were in the process of sucking up some of the water.

Now... if you've never experienced losing everything you own... you wouldn't understand the shape I was in. Let's just say... I was... out of it. I was bug-eyed... a bad combination of pissed off and scared...

Well... the inspector starts giving me shit. Aparently he didn't like my explaination. He held out his hand, and it had several pieces of the sprinker in it.

"You know what that is?"

"No sir, I don't, but I reckon it's probly off that sprinkler in my apartment."

"See how it's broken like that? You know how that happened?"

"Nope. I wasn't in there when it broke."

"So you think it just broke on it's own."

"I ain't got any idea how it broke. I don't know how those things work, but it wouldn't be the first mechanical device to fail after 20 years would it?"

"They usually don't fail like this."

"I've got a lot of stuff to do... so are you telling me usually means never?"

At that point he lead me to the front door of my apartment. He pointed out the splatter pattern on the door. Apartently the door was dirty on both sides and that seemed strange to him.

"I opened the door sir."

"But it's dirty on the backside."

"Great. Was the door open or closed when you got here?"

"Well... it was closed."

"Guess that's how it got dirty then huh?" I knew I was bein' a smartass to someone I had no business being a smartass to, but for some reason I couldn't make myself act normal. At that point, I wasn't screaming and cussing everyone in sight, and that's about the best I could do.

He let me go back down the hall to find a dry spot to sit. I found a towell to dry my hair and one of the firemen gave me a blanket. Shame he didn't offer a shot o' Jack. God knows that's what I needed.

At about 11 pm they were starting to pack it all up... and a fella told me the inspector had another question. He did his little hand thing again... This time there was a wet black Q-tip in it.

"You know what that is?"

"yessir. That's a Q-Tip."

"You use these?"

"Well... at the risk of giving away my secrets to personal hygene... no. I don't."

"You live alone in there?"

"No sir. I'm married. Wife lives there too."

"She use these?"

"I have no idea. Girls may use them for make-up and such."

"You know why we would've found this inside your front door?"

"Well.. Wife coulda dropped it there... I don't know..." Looking back, I shoulda stopped right there... but now I was really pissed and what short fuse I had left was quickly been lit-up by the way this old bastard was talking down to me. I decided to make my attitude a little more clear...

"I'll tell ya what I do know though... I know you're a pretty smart guy, and you've got some smart guys workin' for ya down a lab. It don't matter what I say to you about that Q-tip. Either way, you're gonna have them test it to see if it's ever been on fire. So why don't ya just get to it?"

He smiled for the first time that night... then he leaned a little closer and said,

"I will."


Away... at this point... all the way across town.. Shane Smith, Esquire (VRWC) is just gettin' home from work. He's been bustin' his butt all day, and all he wants to do crawl in the bed. He's peeling his socks off his feet when his half-asleep, yet adorable wife Brook mumbles...

"Julie called, Nate's havin' some trouble over at the apartment."

Lots of people have lots of friends y'all. But how many of 'em can really count on their friends?

I ain't got a lot of friends by no means... but I've got a few friends I can count on... and while Hell is unproven... I can damn sure count on them come high water.

Shane pulled into the parkin' lot as the Fire Engines were leaving. hehehe... a little trouble.. that's what his wife said... a little trouble... right...

Shane and I spent the rest of the night moving ruined furniture out of the apartment... cutting up ruined carpet with dull razors, and dragging 700 pound trash cans to elevators...

The boy even went so far as to guard my personal affects from the prying eyes of the janitors who were helpin'. Though no doubt he still has questions about the pink fuzzy hand-cuffs that were hangin' in the closet.

We finished... as much as one can finish such a thing, around 3:30am, and made it to bed around 4:00.

Lastnight Shane called... and we were talkin' about all this... he said, "I can still smell that nasty black water"

"yeah I know... and I can still taste it."

Thanks for your help buddy.

No comments: