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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: This old house can be expensive

You know that old saying about how life can turn on a dime?

Well, that’s a total crock because a dime these days is only worth about two cents and nobody’s life ever turned on a lousy two cents.

As I learned Thursday morning, however, life can turn on a knock at the front door, especially when it’s a city water cop.

I’m being unkind. The person knocking on my door was a very polite young man from Spokane’s water department.

He wanted to know if I’d let him go down into my basement and install some sort of James Bond eavesdropping device on the water main so that meter readers could simply drive past my house, hit a switch and find out how many baths I’ve been taking.

I said sure, go ahead, and went back to whatever I was doing until he asked me to come down in the basement and see something, which is the plotline for every horror movie ever made.

But down I went, and pretty soon he was showing me this dark patch on the floor that looked a lot like water seeping in from the outside – because it was.

He asked me if I was aware of this leakage and, of course, I had to be honest.

Yes, I told him. I had talked to a contractor about it a while back, but mainly I was hoping it would go away on its own, which is my general fallback position for nearly all home repair situations.

My new friend told me that I had a leak in the water line somewhere outside under the ground. He said that even a tiny leak could amount to losing Lake Erie over a month or so.

Something like that. I wasn’t listening to everything he was saying because, looking over his shoulder, I saw that two half-gallon bottles of booze were sitting on top of our alternate refrigerator, one of vodka and the other tequila. The liquor was left over from our Christmas punch that my son-in-law Shane insists on making every year.

Of course, this guy couldn’t know that. He probably thought that he was dealing with a lush who sneaks down in the basement every so often to get so sloshed that he doesn’t even notice the water on his floor.

Speaking of the leak, what he was telling me sounded expensive.

“Will I have to pay for all the missing water?” I asked, starting to feel woozy.

He told me no, but that I’d have to get the bad line dug up and fixed. That meant replacing the original old galvanized pipe that was laid back when Taft took office with a nice, new copper pipe that, I hoped, would be buried fast before it was stolen for salvage by meth addicts.

Buying a vintage old house seemed like such a good idea at the time. The one my family calls home was built in 1909, the year Robert Peary reached the North Pole and Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Honus Wagner stole his way around the bases in the first inning of a game against the Cubs.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that pipes leak and the floors creak. Hell, I’m just 64 and my knees are already shot.

The water guy gave me a list of digging experts to call. Then some other city water people showed up and found another leak in the faucet controlling my sprinkler system.

If this keeps up, I thought, I’m going to have to build an ark.

After everyone left I called one of the recommended excavators, who turned out to be another really nice guy. He came out just before dark and shut off the valve to the sprinkler system and then told me, in great detail, where he’d be digging and how it probably won’t run any more than, say, $3,000 or about 150 pounds of dimes.

The big dig should begin in a week or so. Until then I’ll be in the basement, soaking my feet in the water puddle while swilling tequila and vodka cocktails.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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