Thursday, November 24, 2011

I do tend to ramble: July 11, 2004

This was kind of a random-access-Mary column in which my late grandfather makes an appearance and I have a completely internal conversation with an air conditioning repair guy named Ray.

Sometimes I just ain't right.

A column in which the heat gets to me and I speak with the dead

    Ooooh, lookit, the new Pottery Barn catalog is here! Let’s see what I can buy for $865.

    Well, there are those filing cabinets I covet for my home office, white with silver hardware, just $229 each, plus $25 shipping. I could buy three of those. OR I could go frivolous and buy a new chair for the living room, maybe this big, squishy one with the denim cover — just $749, plus $65 shipping. Perfect!

    OR I could take my $865 and hand it to this guy, Ray, who is standing in my living room sweating, telling me I need both a new motor AND a new circuit board for my central air conditioning unit. Ray is showing me the big scorched spot on the circuit board where the motor blew and fried everything. It’s a compelling sight.

    But I’m thinking: Hmmm. I don’t know, Ray. The new Pottery Barn catalog is here. Have you seen this chair? It’s got a denim cover. It’s really cute.

    I suspect Ray would not care. Ray has spent his whole day in the basements of people whose air conditioners are not working. Ray is a patient man, but he would not find my Pottery Barn catalog interesting.

    I call my husband and tell him what Ray said about our air conditioner. He wants to talk to Ray. I give Ray the phone and listen. Ray and my husband talk about circuit boards and motors and the total lack of any air in our house that is under 92 degrees and 89 percent humidity. The $865 comes up. The Pottery Barn catalog does not.

    Ray is done talking to my husband. He hands me the phone. He tells me he has a circuit board, which he’ll install now, but he has to order a motor. "It’ll be a day or two," he says.

    Ray! After all we’ve been through, you can’t do better than a day or two? After I sacrificed my squishy denim chair, my gleaming white file cabinets? All you can say is "a day or two?"

    Ray really wants to get in his van, where the air conditioning works, so he can go order the part, which will be here in a day or two. I’ll bet the Pottery Barn doesn’t even send him their catalogs. I get one in the mail every 47 minutes. It is a torment.

    The $865, which we miraculously happen to have, was not actually intended for Pottery Barn purchases. I saved it up so we could build a deck. We have the French doors installed already, but they open onto a railing my husband put there so our 4-year-old son won’t fall out of the doors that lead to a two-story drop into our back yard.

    The railing has been there a couple of years now, while I’ve been squirreling away money for a deck. I walk people through the house and point to the French doors that open onto a railing.

    "Do you like our deck?" I say. "It’s a little small, but it’s great for intimate gatherings."     

    Ha ha.

    Ray hasn’t seen the deck. Or the Pottery Barn catalog. I write Ray a check. It is physically painful to write Ray the check. But Ray understands. I can just tell. He’s a deep guy. He has spent his day sweating in the basements of people who have to write him big checks just so they can BREATHE in their sweltering houses.

    Ray gets in his van and goes to order the part. I kind of miss him. He was nice. Plus he knows how to fix my air conditioner, which is still broken. That gives him a certain mystique.

    That night, as I wait for a day or two to pass so Ray can return with the part, I think about my grandfather. He lived in Florida his entire adult life and never had air conditioning. He HATED air conditioning. Too cold, he said. Too artificial.

    But my grandfather would have known how to fix my air conditioner. He knew how to fix everything. He could build anything, fix anything, take anything apart and put it back together. Or mostly together.

    Once, when my mother was away at college, she told him she wanted a hair dryer. He made her this thing that weighed like 25 pounds and blew air so hot it disrupted climate patterns. I think he got the motor for it out of a car.

    Man, it’s hot in my house.

    I mentally contact my grandfather, who has been dead for 12 years. I ask him how he stood it, lying in bed, sweating and flopping around trying to breathe with not even the faint hope of Ray’s return with the ordered part. And in Florida, no less.

    My grandfather, whose voice I can still hear with a clarity that suggests there is probably something loose in my head (maybe Ray needs to order a part for that, too) speaks gently to me.

    "Kelly," he says. (He called me Kelly. I’d tell you why, but it would take a long time and I’m running out of room.) "What you need is a good window fan. Maybe I’ll make one for you."

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