Even if the news on TV the other morning had announced that a giant meteor was about to collide with Earth and turn the entire planet into a pile of gravel, my husband couldn’t have been more upset than he already was. You see, we had a tragedy in our household that morning.
Our central air-conditioning unit died.
I hate to say it, but I think my husband is addicted to air conditioning. The minute the temperature outside reaches 65 degrees, even if it’s in the middle of March, he turns on the air conditioner and leaves it on until November. As a result, I end up spending most of the summer months dressed as if it’s January. I even have to sleep in flannel pajamas and knee socks in July, or risk getting frostbite.
In our previous home, we had a window air-conditioner. It was huge, and so heavy, it took four people to lift it into the window. By the end of the summer, the windowsill not only was sagging, it was rotting due to all of the moisture that had crept in underneath the unit – despite my professional anti-leak method of sealing all of the edges with duct tape. Still, if my husband could have had his way, we’d have invested in an even bigger unit...for every room.
So when we decided to build a house, the first thing he did was insist we get central air-conditioning. I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the idea, mainly because...well, I’m cheap. I mean, if we lived in Arizona where the temperatures are over 100 degrees about 364 days a year, I could have justified the expense, but not for something that probably would be used fewer than 10 times all year.
I ended up buying an air-conditioning system that was slightly less than top of the line. In fact, it was about one step higher than a chunk of ice with a fan blowing on it.
Still, in the two years we’ve had it, it’s worked fine and has managed to cool off the house quite efficiently. That is, until the other morning.
That morning, my husband got up and noticed that the indoor temperature was 72 degrees. Immediately, he nearly suffered from heatstroke. He rushed over to the thermostat and set the temperature on 65.
An hour later, although we could hear air blowing through the registers, the temperature in the house had climbed to 76.
“What’s going on?” he complained, fanning himself with the latest issue of his model-train magazine. “It’s like a sauna in here! I don’t think the air conditioning is working!”
“It’s still practically new,” I said. “It can’t be broken already.”
I walked over to one of the registers and put my hand in front of it. The air coming out was lukewarm. I didn’t dare break the news to my husband because I was afraid he might burst into tears.
“There’s no cold air coming out,” I finally told him. “I think you’re right about the central air not working.”
“No!” he cried. “I’ll suffocate! I need cool air to breathe! I can feel my lungs shutting down already!”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t die yet. I’ll go check a few things.”
“Hurry! I can feel the sweat already popping out on my forehead!”
I went down to the basement. The blower in the furnace was blowing air. I then went outside to check the air-conditioning unit. The big fan inside it wasn’t turning. In fact, nothing was moving in it or around it...except for a couple deer flies. I went back inside and flipped the circuit breaker. I then turned the “cool” switch on the thermostat off and on again. Nothing changed.
In desperation, later that night I called my cousin Al, a heating and refrigeration expert, and asked if he had any suggestions. He had me try everything but chant under a full moon, but still I couldn’t resurrect the air conditioner.
“I’ll come over tomorrow after work and check it out,” he finally said.
“Tomorrow?” my husband repeated, his voice panicky, when I told him. “There’ll be nothing left of me but a melted puddle by then! Maybe we should check into a motel tonight, where there’s air conditioning!”
“Honey, it’s only 48 degrees outside. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
Al arrived the next day, as promised, and found the source of the problem almost immediately. He’d removed a panel from the unit and exposed a neatly built nest. Holding up the frayed ends of several colored wires, he said, “I think you have rodents.”
He re-wired everything and had the air conditioner spewing cold air in less than 30 minutes. My husband was so happy, he probably would have danced a jig if his knees weren’t in such bad shape.
“So,” I asked Al, “how do I keep the mice from getting in there again and making a habit of chewing up the wires?”
With a completely deadpan expression he said, “I think you should hang up a ‘keep out’ sign.”
The worst part was it took me a while to realize he was kidding.