Saturday, December 20, 2008


I spent most of Wednesday morning in my coveralls at the bottom of the west sedimentation basin, looking for my favorite pair of brown plastic Jones New York sunglasses (the ones I bought at Ross for like $5.00 about five years ago), which flew off my head when I yanked my beanie off two winters ago. (Remember that? I blogged it. I was devastated and ashamed.) I watched them sink casually down the last plate settler into the blackness below and thought I'd never see them again.

Wednesday morning we were also cleaning with the huge wooden sludge rake and a fire hose that took all my body weight to manhandle. I was pretty sure that one of these tools would spell the end for my beloved shades if the rolling hydraulic Trac Vac system that runs along the bottom of the basin on a network of cables and pulleys hadn't already smashed them against the wall or drug them along and crushed them. There was also the question of what two years in cold, cold water laced with synthetic aluminum polymer would do to plastic.

The sedimentation basins are designed with three rows of plate settlers, which are actually giant racks of stainless steel plates, roughly four feet wide by eight feet long, set at about a 45 degree angle so that their rolled tops are just protruding from the surface of the water. Their purpose is to slow the horizontal flow of the water so the weighted sediment, treated with ionic chemicals in the previous step of the process, have time to settle out and sink to the bottom. The rolls have weirs on each side that further trap the silt in the water flowing over into four stainless steel troughs that lead to the filters.

The basins are 19 feet deep, so there's eleven feet of space under the racks of plates, which effectively block out all light and heat. As one climbs down the stainless steel ladder (which is gooey with polymer and slick with algae) into the darkness, one feels the chill and a sense of the unknown, of the unexplored and undisturbed. Like it might feel to walk on the Titanic if it were drained and left dripping and damp in a refrigerator. Then one steps into ten inches of reddish sludge the gelled consistency of chilled poultry fat, only more gritty.

I thought again, I'll never find them in this. But still, I slogged around for a while before I called for the hose, my breath making white puffs in the Maglight beam. Robbie joined me and we had to get down to business, hosing and pushing the muck with the rake (a 2x4 at the end of a long, heavy handle with right angles bolted on the ends to catch the sludge). The caked sludge kept blocking the drain, and it was almost impossible to measure our progress in the dark. I should have worn a rain suit like Robbie; I wound up soaking and covered in goo. But happy. Read on.

I was glad to be wearing a hardhat, because I kept walking into the pipes that bisect the basin at just about head level, staring at the floor, hoping. We were almost done, having bared the mottled concrete floor in places and reduced the sludge to an inch or two of milky, slushy water in others, when I decided to make one last lap around to look for my glasses, which I was convinced had snaked through the screen and down the drain somehow. We hadn't found them in the solid sixteen inches of sludge the Trac-Vac had trapped against the wall, even though we were careful when we hosed there and it was the place with the most pale light from above. Robbie was kind to humor me. They all were.

I took one more look in the pile of chunky debris we were ignoring behind the Trac-Vac hose, and as I turned away I saw in an inch of sloppy water something glinting in the dim, misty light streaming down between the plates. It was the glasses, and I whooped, making Robbie jump. I couldn't tell what kind of shape they were in even in the flashlight beam; they were covered with a greasy film but they were intact. I tucked them in my overall pockets and shouted to Jeff, "I found them!" I heard him squawk somewhere above but couldn't tell what he said.

We finished up and climbed out, shedding our filthy outer layers and mucky fireman boots on garbage bags on the catwalk. And then I pulled out the glasses. Chrome hinges: unrusted, swinging freely. Plastic lenses: filmy from polymer but once wiped clean found to be completely unscathed, a few tiny scratches out of the line of vision but I believe those were there the last time I wore them kayaking. The frame and arms: gently scuffed on the edges and nose piece but still glossy and perfectly presentable, and oddly, in a few places, pitted as if someone had
repeatedly stuck a needle into the cooling molten plastic in a sprinkled pattern of tiny, tiny dots. "JONES NEW YORK" is still boldly written in gold on the outside of one arm and in a dull gray-blue on the inside of the other, the paint completely undisturbed, no chips.

I was ecstatic. The boys were amused.

After the rest of our work was done, I swabbed them with alcohol-doused prep wipes from the first aid cabinet and bathed them in an all-purpose anti-bacterial foam cleaner that bubbled the greasy film away. I polished them up with a cotton rag and Jeff's eyeglass cleaner and I wore them home at noon, having forgotten my Victoria's Secret clear plastic shield sunglasses with the purple lenses (and why anyone would have paid the original price of $17 for such incredibly cheap quality I don't know, because I got them on sale for $6 and grumbled, but they don't block my peripheral vision and they don't interfere with my hat, so I wear them) when I left home.

And unlike most sunglasses I put on after a few months of disuse, I still love them. They still look great, timeless and classic. In fact, the rims are nearly identical to the Calvin Klein eyeglasses I picked out over a year after they took the plunge, and it's no wonder I've bought six pairs of sunglasses trying to replace them. So I no longer have to sigh over the sight of them in photographs where I was joyful and unsquinting, of which there are many in my digital archives.

And that is a rare happy ending.


Blogger a572mike said...


December 21, 2008 at 11:24 AM  

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