Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The cold shoulder

Two weeks ago, I got out of bed on a chilly Saturday morning, padded out to the living room and turned up the thermostat to 68 degrees. I then waited for the familiar sound of the furnace kicking on.

Nothing happened.

I cranked up the thermostat to 80. Still nothing.

I opened my mouth to shout to my sleeping husband, but then changed my mind. First, I decided, I would try everything possible to get the furnace to pop on. If I failed, then, and only then, would I wake up Rip Van Breslin.

First I checked the oil tank. The gauge said it was half full. Then I checked the circuit breakers. They were fine. Finally, I hit the furnace’s reset button. Nothing happened. There was only one thing left to do…write two obituaries – one for the furnace and one for myself…for waking up my husband on a Saturday morning.

In a last-ditch effort, I called my cousin, the heating/refrigeration technician, and asked for advice. He ran through the list of everything I’d already done, then said there was one more thing I could try.

“You know those two screws on the motor that are holding the wires down? Well, sometimes you can jump-start the furnace if you take a pair of needle-nose pliers and touch the two screws with them at the same time.”

“Won’t I get a shock if I do that?” I asked.

“Yeah, but it will only be a mild one.”

I woke up my husband.

“Well, we’re not calling a repairman till Monday,” he said after he tried and failed to get the furnace to pop on. “They charge double, even triple on weekends. I’d rather wear a hat and long-johns around the house than pay all that extra money. Besides that, the furnace is practically new. It can’t be broken!”

“Well, I hate to say it,” I said, “but the blue tint on my lips and my teeth chattering like castanets are a pretty good indication that it just might be!”

So all weekend, I suffered with a frozen nose and a bloated bladder (from drinking 400 cups of hot tea to keep my body from stiffening up).

The repairman arrived on Monday afternoon and spent a lot of time fiddling with the furnace. At one point, he actually got it to pop on, only to have it pop off again. This continued until he finally got frustrated, muttered a few things under his breath and called for backup. Another repairman arrived within 15 minutes.

Together, the two of them stared at the furnace as if it were a UFO. “I think it’s the heat sensor,” one of them said. “And let’s change the nozzle, just to be safe.”

An hour later, the familiar sound of the furnace running filled the house, followed by the long-awaited blast of warm air. I removed my scarf and earmuffs.

“That should take care of it,” one of the repairmen said. “If not, be sure to give us a call.”

“How much do I owe you?” I asked, bracing myself for cardiac arrest.

He shrugged. “You’ll get a bill in the mail.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. Visions of them leisurely sipping coffee and taking extra time to add every little bolt and screw to my bill, filled my head. Christmas shopping, I decided, would have to be put on hold until that bill arrived.

A week later, I still hadn’t received the bill, so I got up that morning with every intention of calling the billing office and asking about my balance. First, however, I turned up the heat.

The furnace made three loud booming sounds, coughed and died. The strong smell of oil began to fill the house. The furnace then struggled to pop on again and made a helicopter sound. I, picturing my house going airborne and landing somewhere in Munchkin Land, dashed to the furnace’s emergency shut-off switch and flipped it. Then I called the repairman.

I was put on hold for 45 minutes.

There have been only a few times in my life when I’ve been really angry, like the time I found out that my supposedly sick boyfriend actually had taken my best friend to a drive-in movie, but I honestly can say that after minute number 35 on hold, I was feeling just about that angry. In fact, I was so hot under the collar, I didn’t even need the dumb furnace.

The repairman arrived two hours later. This time, he decided it was a clogged fuel line. Maybe it was sediment from the bottom of the tank, he said. Or maybe it was a kink in the line. Or maybe it was air in the line. Or maybe it was a clump of jellified oil.

I was waiting for him to say that maybe a raccoon had crawled up into it and died, but he stopped talking and set to work clearing the line.

The furnace, knock on wood, has been purring like a kitten ever since.

And I’m still waiting for both repair bills. I have the sneaking suspicion I may be doing all of my Christmas shopping at the Dollar store this year.

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