July 20, 2006

Things Fall Apart

I turned my weekend toilet and air-conditioning post into my column for next week. Wanna hear it? Here it goes.

I live in perpetual fear of things breaking down. I mean, I'm to the
point where I will horde money—literally HORDE (which is fun to
say)—in preparation for things breaking down.

Now, I'm not talking about little things breaking down, like remote
controls for TVs or garage doors; those are minor inconveniences. No,
I'm talking about big things, like when the temperature climbs into
the 90s and you discover, to your horror, that your central air
conditioning unit doesn't work. Which, by the way, happened to me last

It shouldn't have surprised me, in retrospect. As soon as I heard on
the radio that we were nearing triple-digit temperatures, I should
have just expected that my air conditioner was going to tank.

A funny thing about peak high temperatures, by the way, is that during
such temperatures, the demand for new air conditioning and repairs
tends to spike, so getting any service calls to your home within a
week is a miracle akin to walking on water.

So, there we sat, my girlfriend and I, staring at the prospect of a
long, humid, gaspingly hot weekend. Our solution? Go to my parents'
air conditioned house for the weekend to escape the heat. Which was a
decent, if short-term, solution. But, come Sunday night, we walked
back into our furnace of a house, facing the same uncomfortable
reality we managed to escape for a short while.

Facing the prospect of a night of sweltering sleeplessness, I went
down to the basement to gauge the subterranean environment to see if
it was acceptable for sleep. It was not, not by a long shot, but it
was a good thing I went down there, because it was then that I noticed
water was dripping voluminously from the ceiling, directly below the
bathroom upstairs.

I raced back up the stairs, into the bathroom, to discover that the
toilet had joined in solidarity with the air conditioning unit and
had, likewise, broken down. Water was spraying from every valve, hose
and joint, and the toilet tank itself was cracked. A new toilet was
desperately needed but, it being late Sunday, there was nothing open
that could sell me a new one. My only recourse was to shut the valve
to the toilet off, which I did, only to discover that the valve—having
been installed when Eisenhower was president—just wasn't valve-ish
enough to close all the way, which meant a steady spritz of water
issuing forth. Faced with this damp reality, the only remaining thing
I could do was to turn the water off to the entire house, a power one
only wields in the most dire of circumstances.

So there I was, my body dripping with sweat from the 92 degree heat of
the house, thirsty for water I had just shut off, and quickly coming
to the realization that I had to go to the bathroom worse than at any
point in my life. It was like every cell in my body got together and
said "Oh, you can't use the bathroom? Oh, but you MUST!"

So, it was off to the local convenience store for me, where I picked
up some pop and chips, but not before making hurried and drastic use
of the lavatory, which was thankfully air-conditioned.

Back at the house, I assessed the situation. It was hot, and there was
no running water, which meant no toilet, no shower, no sink and
basically no watery convenience of any kind. Which, as an experiment,
I encourage you to shut off the water to your house for one full day,
so you can gain a full appreciation for just how often you utilize
that convenience we take so much for granted. At least once an hour, I
found myself absent-mindedly trying to turn on the water, only roll my
eyes and say "Oh, dang it, that's right, I'm stupid."

In the end, thanks to my emergency horde, I purchased and installed a
new toilet and got the water running again, and a new central air unit
is slated for installation this week.

Of course, that means that my car is slated to break down next month,
followed by the furnace come November. Getting ahead in life is harder
than they say.

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