Adventurous matters of water and sewer

By Bill Colvard -

A decade and a half ago, when I moved to Jonesville — or as I like to call it, the Left Bank — everyone I met in my new home asked me if I was suffering from culture shock.

Jonesville is the left bank. Look at a map of the Yadkin River snaking its way between Surry and Yadkin counties. Jonesville is on the Left Bank. Elkin is on the right. It’s simple geography. But I digress.

I mean to say that every single person I spoke to in my first year of being back brought up the culture shock thing. Whenever I met someone and spoke to them for the first time, the first question they would ask was “Where did you come from?” Literally the first question. Even before “Where do you go to church?”

Having been here a while, I do it myself now. It’s the first question anyone asks anyone they haven’t seen around before.

But as soon as I would answer, “New York,” I knew the next comment would be something about culture shock.

But, in fact, there wasn’t any. I grew up in Elkin, and had continued to visit periodically. But even people who knew that would also ask about the culture shock. Family. Extended family. High school friends. All wanted to know about the culture shock. But there wasn’t any. I knew what I was getting into, and I’d been through it before.

In fact, things had improved during my absence. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that my local Food Lion offered jars of pesto, which I had not expected. That had certainly not been the case during my youth.

But one thing that did take some getting used to was the local paper. Going from the New York Times to the Elkin Tribune as my local paper was quite an adjustment. And I’m not talking page count. I’m talking content.

More precisely, I’m talking about the total fascination of the Trib of 10 years ago with matters of water and sewer. The amount of space devoted to water and sewer issues back then was mind-boggling. Perhaps my neighbors waited with baited breath for the latest news of the trials and tribulations of the water and sewer systems. Me, not so much.

After living in New York for decades, the only thing I knew about the water supply in my adopted home was that our water came from reservoirs in the Adirondack Mountains that collected rainwater, and then sent it to the city in aqueducts that were 150 years old. When I first got there, the water wasn’t even filtered. It was the most delicious municipal water I have ever tasted.

Far better than Elkin’s which was more or less drinkable in my youth, and Jonesville’s which was, and still is, undrinkable. And I have no idea what was going on with the New York sewers. The Times never mentioned it, which could have been a dereliction of duty of their part, and could explain why they are now said to be failing.

One flushed the toilet and the nastiness magically disappeared, with no discussion by the news media. Granted, there may have been items buried in the back of the metro section, but I never got that far. My commute was only an hour, and that was barely enough time to get through the stuff that was actually of interest.

But now I’m covering the town government in Pilot Mountain, and I find myself turning my hand to gripping tales of water and sewer. When I discovered that December’s commissioner’s meeting would be preceeded by a one-hour special meeting devoted exclusively to a sewer study, I immediately knew that Pilot Mountain was as deeply enthralled by matters of sewer as Elkin.

So two engineers were making their presentation at that meeting, and I learned a few things. Not very interesting things, but I did learn them. As I was furiously scribbling notes and trying to make heads or tails about what was being said, the nagging worry was never very far from my mind as to how in the world was I going to make this barrage of information interesting enough that anybody could bear to read it.

And then one of the presenters casually dropped the phrase “scum baffle.” I didn’t know whether to snicker, or mutter “you said scum baffle” a la Beavis and Butthead, and then snicker.

Maybe because the rest of the discussion was so very dry, the word “scum baffle” struck me funny. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud.

Then I start thinking what a useful term it could be. There are so many occasions when I start to let loose with an extremely vulgar/profane comment, and just as I realize it’s too late, I see some disapproving matron of Southern society scowling at me and silently judging me for my lack of decorum. You know the type, the sort of pinch-faced old doll who wouldn’t say poo if she had a mouthful. Yeah, her. The only question is whether she will continue to judge silently or take her judgment to a verbal level.

But what if I could quickly substitute “scum baffle” for any offending words about to pop out of my mouth.

“What the scum baffle?” or better yet, “WTSB”

“His scum bafflery knew no bounds.”

“Scum baffle YOU!”

“You scum baffling old so-and-so.”

Scum baffle it!”

I could see real possibility here.

And then my friends Paula and Vicki ruined everything by explaining to me what a scum baffle is. “Scum baffles retain solids floating on water surface inside the clarifier and prevent their escaping over the weir plate,” according to information they sent me.

Considering the context here, and the fact that we’re talking about sewer, that’s pretty disgusting. And informative.

But all I could think was “You said weir plate!” Snicker, snicker.

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

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