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a diamond's plumbing
june 14, 2003
In between everything else I've been doing the past few months, I've been gradually working my way through all the pages on this site, updating them to the new, cleaner format I came up with earlier this year.
Just recently, I finished reformatting all the Lately entries for 2001. They're now uploaded.
In reformatting the entries, I took the time to read each entry, to see if there were any grammatical mistakes, or misspellings. During the proofreading, it dawned on me how many of the Latelys deal with repairs.
Well, this is another one.
Last Saturday, June 7, Mary and I gradually became aware, as we made breakfast, decided what we were going to watch on TV while we ate, debated whether or not to work in our garden, that it was getting more and more humid inside.
First Mary, then myself, stood in the kitchen in front of our side-by-side refrigerator-freezer, putting an upraised right hand up towards the grate in the white ceiling there, as if in salute.
The air blowing down at us was cool, but not that cold, ice cube touch we normally get.
As the day went on, we eventually admitted our downstairs air-conditioning system was malfunctioning. It was blowing air, but not chilled air.
We have two separate air conditioning systems in our house, one for downstairs, another for upstairs. We went up the steps, to my study, Mary's project room, the upstairs bathroom, the back room where Joe, Mary's dad, stays during his visits.
Nice and frigid.
We've had the same air conditioning system for twelve years, ever since we had our home built. The past year, repairmen who have come out to fix the system have told us it's on its last lungs, and that a new system will cost several thousand dollars.
So I've been thinking of our air conditioning, the past year or so, as a favorite uncle with fading memory and a bum heart, no estate, and in fact a desk drawer full of unpaid bills we'll be responsible for once he clutches his chest, rimless eyeglasses popping off his nose.
We didn't want to call a repairman out over the weekend, inconvenience, double-time, so we waited until Monday.
Saturday night we slept upstairs, in the back bedroom, no TV to watch, so we read instead.
Mary slept on the right side of the bed, which had a lovely bedside table for her jug of ice water.
I pulled the bed away from the white wall, so I could fit an upside-down cardboard box between the edge of the bed and the wall, on which I placed my plastic bottle of Deja Blue.
Mary opened up Star magazine. I cracked Radio Free Albemuth, a Philip K. Dick novel I had always meant to read, his last before he died.
What we didn't count on was that our eight cats would be stunned we would be sleeping upstairs, and would feel the need to explore the upstairs bedroom with an extraordinary thoroughness while we were trying to sleep, and in fact trying to sleep in a bed narrower than our own, so that there was a real elbows and knees issue.
While I read, I tried to ignore the scrambling sounds under the bed. At one point, getting into Dick's novel, I noticed out of the corner of my eye my upside-down cardboard box was moving steadily away from me, the Deja Blue bottle wobbling.
It turned out one of the kittens had somehow gotten under the box, was steadily marching towards the foot of the bed, in her cardboard tank, surrounded on both ends by kittens with uplifted tails and lowered sniffings.
That whole night reminded me of when Mary and I lived in apartments when we first got together, the smallness of the room, the mattress shiftings, the feeling you could slide the bedroom's one window up, reach out, and press five-fingered onto the moon.
Monday I called Ellis Air Conditioning around eight, just before we left for Mary's speech therapy at Baylor Hospital, arranging for them to come out that early afternoon. As it turns out, we didn't go into the city anyway, because we got a call a few minutes later saying Mary's therapist was out sick.
Around one o'clock, the Ellis air-conditioner repairman called from the road to say he was on the way.
Our doorbell rang fifteen minutes later. I recognized him from past problems. He checked the thermostat, clanged through our back kitchen door to where the outside, sucking-in-air units are located. Ten minutes later he was back in our kitchen. "The [something-or-other] within the outside unit is pitted. It'll cost $178 to fix it." I waved my right hand. "It's worth it." He grinned, clanked through our downstairs rooms, bent back receding, to go out through the tall front door to his truck and get the crucial part.
Normally, once a household repair is made, the check torn off its top perforations and handed over, there's a sense of relief, but in our case, as soon as the Ellis repairman drove away, we opened the freezer half of our side-by-side, deciding what we would eat that night, and noticed a steady, diabolical drip from our ice maker.
Our ice maker has not made ice in about five years. We've had it fixed a couple of times over the past decade, talking about weather and TV shows with the repair guy each time, but since the repair to the ice maker costs a couple of hundred dollars a shot, and the fix, like so much in life, is not permanent, and the side-by-side itself is only worth about fourteen hundred dollars, we decided not to get the ice-maker re-re-re-repaired, but instead to just call someone out to turn off the water supply to the fridge, a copper tube spiraling from the rear of the fridge to the wall behind.
There was a shut-off valve in a square recess in that wall, which we found by pulling the tall white bulk of the side-by-side forward, into the kitchen, against the door to our pantry, like one Easter Island nose against another Easter Island nose, but the valve was upside-down in the alcove, which confused me. What is clockwise in a horizontal, rather than a vertical plane?
I called an appliance repair place, the one with the biggest ad in the yellow pages.
They'd come out tomorrow morning, before noon.
The next morning, I toddled out to the kitchen to make coffee, feed the cats. Of course, I swung open the freezer half of the side-by-side, and was stunned, at this early hour, me in my pajamas, at the beauty of the dripped ice sculptures inside the freezer. It was like the ice palace from Dr. Zhivago, if that palace had steel-rod shelves, and a big red and white bag of onion-flavored tater tots.
After Mary woke and took her morning pills, I escorted her out to the kitchen, swung open the door.
It was beautiful. I've never seen any malfunction of an appliance, that would cost us a lot of money to fix, that so took our breath away. The drips had fattened to extravagantly long stalactites hanging down through the stories of steel-rod shelves to the very bottom bin of the freezer. Each stalactite was encased in the silver of pure freeze, pure white threaded through its center. The hardness, the coldness, the wildness of the lengths made me think of a diamond's plumbing.