Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bringing Down the House

The rest of the house is jealous of the new kitchen, so they've created the Appliance Solidarity Movement and are staging a coup. They are sowing the seeds of discontent and getting more and more previously content pieces of equipment to join in their master plan. Already we've had several days of strikes, and the threats of more work stoppages are loud and frequent.

I could see the problem brewing way back when the remodel was going on. One day, every lightbulb in the basement blew out at the same time. We, naturally, assumed it was a problem with the wiring or some such, since they had been down in the basement fiddling with stuff that day. The boys' bedroom was without any lights for something like two weeks, frustrating their need to leave all the lights in their room on when they leave for school, just in case their toys are afraid of the dark. The electrician came back and screwed in a new lightbulb, which made me feel like the butt of a joke: How many Simmons' does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None - they're too stupid! They have to hire someone to do it! Okay, so not a joke you'll be telling around the water cooler anytime soon, but still.

The same electrian switched the doorbell chime to a new, non-paint covered one, and miraculously the doorbell itself stopped working right. He claims that the chime works fine, the button outside is probably fine, it's the thing that the electricity goes into that is probably broken. I can't remember what that part is called, but it doesn't really matter, because no one knows where it is in order to replace it. It could be sealed inside a wall, Cask of Amontillado style, just begging and weeping to be released and repaired, but we don't know. It will suffer for eternity, apparently, and we'll have to suffer with a doorbell that goes "click-dong" instead of the traditional and always preferred "ding-dong."

Maybe you are falling into the trap that I myself did, which is the idea that maybe the common denominator here is the electrician, who also gave us such gems as the ceiling fan that whacks into the cabinet door when opened, the off-center recessed light, and the garbage disposal that wasn't put on all the way, flooding the under sink cabinet and necessitating a call to the plumber because, again, we're too stupid to know that the problem was ultra simple to fix. I for one was all ready to blame the electrician for all of this, but the problems didn't stop when he left.

One morning I turned the water on to get in the shower, and it was stone cold. I checked a couple other faucets and they too had no hot water. I decided that lighting a pilot light was something that regular people did all the time, and surely I could do it too.

Turns out, I can't. This pilot light was sealed behind a glass door and was supposed to always stay lit, so there wasn't really a way to light it with a match. I learned this after about three hours of crouching on the floor of the furnace room, with my head jammed between the water heater and the broken soft water thingy the old owners so graciously left for us, trying to look into the window to see if the light was lit, or if there was a spark. The water heaters were only three years old, so I finally called the phone number of the installer who had left his sticker on them. It was not a reassuring phone call.

When he asked me what kind of water heaters he had installed for us, I told him, and he replied with "I was afraid you'd say that." Apparently, the heaters are pure crap, and we can either have him replace them with the latest model of pure crap for free, or we can upgrade to a supposedly crap-free brand for $500 each. (We have two.) Generously, he came out and jimmy-rigged a repair for us for free, but told us that it was probably a temporary fix and at some point we'll have to come up with a real solution.

The water heaters are right next to the furnace, and that's where the discontent spread next. On the morning after Christmas, we awoke to find the house a balmy 64 degrees - apparently, the layer of toys and wrapping paper were not sufficient insulation for the cold night, and clearly, something was wrong with the furnace. I went back to my hypothesis that a regular person can light a pilot light, therefore so can I. There's nothing like tenacity in the face of personal ignorance.

This time it took about two hours to figure out how to light the pilot, with about 15 minutes being spent attempting to take the front panel off just to access the burner thing. Since I didn't get any repair knowledge passed down to me either through genetics or education, I have to say thank goodness for the internet. I found some generic instructions and eventually an owner's manual for the furnace, but these are written by people who start with a basic understanding of how to build a furnace, and therefore don't deign to tell us novices all of the minutiae. If you had asked me before this whole debacle where one could find a thermocouple, I would have replied "On a space shuttle."

It took me probably 20 minutes of staring at the metal tubes and widgets before I finally decided to just light a match and stick it into the whole mess and hope for the best. It took me another 10 minutes to get up the courage to do it, though, and it wasn't until after I sent the kids upstair and got my soul right with God before I could actually light the match. Pictures of the mushroom cloud where our house once was kept flashing through my mind, along with what the neighbors would say about me: "Poor, stupid idiot. They found her body with a match stuck right into the open gas valve! It's a wonder she lived as long as she did, being that dumb." It wasn't until I decided that if I did blow the house up, I probably would die instantly and therefore it probably wouldn't hurt, that I finally lit the match.

I didn't light anything. So I lit another match. It blew out before I could even approach the thing. A third, a fourth, nothing. I started losing my fear of setting myself on fire, since apparently I couldn't set even flammable things on fire. I tried again, again, again, no dice. I thought about getting Zack down there to do it - if anybody could get soemthing to catch fire, a three year old could. And do it well. I got a piece of paper and lit that, but it wouldn't stay lit either. What the heck is wrong with me?? Finally, finally, on about the tenth match, I stuck it in at the right angle and with my head three inches from the ground, angled upwards, hair on the dusty gross floor, head wedged between the furnace and that cursed soft water thing, I could see a flame. I did it! I danced all around the house, cheering for myself - I am useful after all!! I congratulated myself and insisted that everyone in the family do too. After about 30 minutes, though, the house was still cold - turns out, I had forgotten to turn the thing back on. But that didn't dampen the exhilaration I felt at being able to fix something without spending $100 and getting withering looks from a repair man who charges so much as a way of saying "This repair is beneath me."

Turns out, lighting the pilot light didn't end our heating problems, because the darn thing keeps going out. Today was the fourth time, and once last week I had to light it at like 1 a.m. because everyone in the house was awake and freezing. So I'm a pilot lighting pro, but it's not going to prevent me from having to call a repair guy anyhow.

The coup has now spread to the plumbing, as our seemingly calm and patient toilets have all of a sudden decided that they aren't taking our crap anymore! This one we can pin right on Zack. Finally the boy is potty trained, but frankly the amount of toilet paper he stuffs into the toilet is ridiculous. There are days that I have to change the roll every day. I'm not one to judge whether a substantial amount of toilet paper is required - one of the beauties of potty trained kids is that I am no longer an expert on anyone's bowel movements other than my own. But unless there is some kind of gastointestinal bug going around, I just don't think an entire roll is ever needed.

The first clog, about two weeks ago, was pretty quickly plunged and the bathroom was saved. But the second one made me grateful for an almost endless supply of beach towels, because the amount of water that poured out of the toilet made me wonder where the levee was that broke. (FYI: 6 beach towels, one bath towel, and one bath mat is what it takes to soak up a tank full of water.) After plunging, using a plumber's snake, and a wire coat hanger didn't work, I finally broke down and called a plumber. I picked the one that said "$39.99 per clogged toilet" in the yellow pages, although I discovered that's only if there's more than one clogged toilet - our single toilet cost $80.

Now, a week later, we've got another clog, and it's just not coming out. I've got a layer of towels around the base of the toilet, just in case, and while I'm waiting for the plumber to come again, I'm trying to design a new product I call the Toilet Bib, which would be a plastic swimming pool-like thing that surrounds the base of the toilet to catch all the water overflow from potty-trained kids. It also would help keep the floor clean from boys who think that they can stand and pee even though THEY CAN'T.

There are other, little ways that the house is rising up against us. The DVD player, less than a year old, broke. One of the lights in the living room fixture doesn't work (yes, we changed the bulb, very funny). There is a fax machine noise when I answer the phone. I'm waiting for the ceiling fans to all turn on and fly the house off a cliff or something. Maybe the house will land somewhere exotic, that way even if the place is falling apart, it will be warmer than Utah!


Mom said...

This is your funniest blog ever!!! And I wouldn't discount that a poltergeist is your problem:)

Emilayohead said...

If this was our house in Eldersburg, I would have blamed it on Grandma...

Ryan said...

That was really funny and well written, pretty entertaining stuff!
Gee, I had no idea I was living in such a dump!
Loved your line about the toilets not wanting to take our crap anymore!!! Hilarious!

Anonymous said...

Emily, I was having a bad day, and this entry totally made my day - I was laughing out loud through the whole thing. I think I need to learn to look at things like this with humor more often, the way you do it - it would save a lot of stress and frustration. Thank you for lightening my day! I really liked the comment about the toilet not taking crap too.