Undaunted by frozen pipes

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(Host) A few months back, commentator Philip Baruth wrote about looking out his back door and seeing his fence consumed by flames. Today he writes about the extreme cold and frozen pipes. Here’s Philip:

(Baruth) Almost exactly four years ago this past week, I got out of bed to answer the phone at a little after midnight. It was the chair of my department at the University of Vermont, telling me that the extreme cold had frozen a sprinkler pipe in the Old Mill building where I work. This pipe is located on the fifth floor, directly over my own office on the fourth. This pipe sprayed water for a good long time before anyone stumbled across it and, predictably enough, my office was destroyed: books, computer, carpet, sub-flooring, the little Chinese fortune on my wall that read, “You will be happy in receipt of good news!” everything.

But it wasn’t the first time UVM had dealt with the after-effects of sub-sub-zero weather, so before a week had gone by, they’d replaced the floor and the carpet and freeze-dried my books, making them miraculously whole again. Even more astounding: they had a new computer on my desk in a couple of days, and the university’s IT guru transferred everything from my soaking wet hard-drive over the Internet and onto the desktop of my new blueberry IMac. Not one mega-byte of information lost.

So you see where I’m going with this: this past Friday night I get a call at about 11:30 pm from the new chair of my department, saying that exactly the same thing has happened. The extreme arctic temperatures we’ve gotten the last few days were low enough to overcome even the new insulation they installed on the sprinkler pipe four years ago. Same set of pipes fractured, same everything except this time the tiny corner of my office containing my computer and my books was relatively untouched.

And just like last time, UVM is all over the problem: within hours, gangs of workmen had pulled up carpeting and flooring and cut foot-high panels in the walls, to open everything up for the drying machines. And these big neon green high-tech dryers and dehumidifiers are everywhere now on my floor, one or two in every office, fifteen or twenty in the hallway. As I write this, they’re all running at once, and this produces little twisters of sawdust and a wall of white noise that only Phil Specter could truly appreciate. Insulation is spilling out of the trenches cut in my office walls. My acoustic ceiling is gone leaving just a deep dark skeleton of metal frames. Water has run down between my window panes and frozen there, obscuring the view completely so that I seem to be sitting in a ruined office frozen in a block of ice. It is something like 40 degrees below zero outside with the windchill.

So what’s my point? My point is that I may have been born in Upstate New York, but I belong here now, and no matter how many times my surroundings disintegrate around me, no matter how many neon green blowers they cluster around my desk, no matter how many times my entire life’s work has to be spirited into the ether and then snatched back to reality by some 22-year-old guy who speaks in a high-tech jargon I can’t even begin to understand, I’m a Vermonter, and I’m not going anywhere, baby.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington, who teaches at the University of Vermont. His latest novel is titled “The X President.”

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