The Furnace.

This is the sort of writing I like doing best, and this is one of my favorite posts I wrote.

Lucky Otters Haven

My post The Mystery Ship was one of my most popular posts. Here’s another childhood memoir from over two years ago I wrote in the same spirit as that essay.

Originally posted on June 15, 2015

pipes-front.freeimage

In 1968 our family moved to a Dutch Colonial three-story house built in the 1920s. We only lived there for five years, but the memory of that house is etched into my mind like veins of quartz in granite. Some other time I’ll write about how cool the entire house was, but right now my concern is the old oil furnace that lived in the basement.

Yes, it lived there. It wasn’t hard to imagine that furnace was alive. It had a personality.

Its squat rotund body stood in the sooty gray-concrete corner like a Russian sentinel from a lost age. Its concrete exterior had been painted what appeared to have been white in…

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The Furnace.

My post The Mystery Ship was one of my most popular posts. Here’s another childhood memoir from over two years ago I wrote in the same spirit as that essay.

Originally posted on June 15, 2015

pipes-front.freeimage

In 1968 our family moved to a Dutch Colonial three-story house built in the 1920s. We only lived there for five years, but the memory of that house is etched into my mind like veins of quartz in granite. Some other time I’ll write about how cool the entire house was, but right now my concern is the old oil furnace that lived in the basement.

Yes, it lived there. It wasn’t hard to imagine that furnace was alive. It had a personality.

Its squat rotund body stood in the sooty gray-concrete corner like a Russian sentinel from a lost age. Its concrete exterior had been painted what appeared to have been white in the distant past, but had turned a dirty tan with age. Rust stains snaked along it like varicose veins. Tumors of soot embedded themselves here and there and filled its crevices. The furnace was covered with guages and meters relating information about the furnace’s internal state my young mind couldn’t understand.

Snaking from the furnace were too many old iron pipes to count. Some were painted what had once been white but were now pock-marked with rust the color of old blood, others were unpainted and rusted over completely, and a few had been replaced with more modern steel pipes that looked out of place. All these pipes stuck out of the furnace like limbs, and converged along the ceiling, delivering their payload of heat to the house that was home to the inhabitants that that served it so lovingly.

The furnace chugged along in the cold months, clanking and blatting and hissing in its corner. Sometimes it leaked hot water all over the peeling painted cement floor around it. Other times it farted black smoke. There were a few times the entire basement was filled with its sooty miasma, and you couldn’t go down there. It was probably dangerous. I used to wonder sometimes if the old furnace might explode when it did that. I was assured it was safe but I never was sure.

Sometimes the furnace scared me when it did that. It also scared me when it made more hissing and clanking sounds than normal. I used to think it was angry that it had to live in the ugly damp unfinished basement and the only light it ever saw was the dim gray light that filtered through the filthy slit-like windows that dotted the white painted brick wall near the ceiling. Those windows were veiled with spider webs and caked with soot. Even my clean freak mother, who had a meltdown if she saw so much as a gum wrapper anywhere else in the house, never did anything with the basement windows. The basement was the one place she allowed to get dirty, except for the laundry room, which had been partially modernized with a carpet, fluorescent lights, and acoustic tile ceiling. The rest of the basement was lit–barely–with bare incandescent bulbs screwed in between the ceiling rafters and operated by metal pull-chains. An old rusted (but working) toilet sat in a tiny closet with only one bare bulb screwed overhead, and no sink.

I used a tiny room that at one time had been used for canning as my escape from the dysfunction that regularly went on up above. My bedroom was too close to the master bedroom, and offered little refuge from the oppressive tension and constant arguing. My basement room was outfitted with a metal desk with wood grain Formica where I did all my homework, and an old piece of salvaged carpet. The canning shelves housed my Barbie dolls and all their accoutrements. The cinder block walls were painted mint-green. A small painted shelf sat above the desk, and my favorite books made their home there. I loved my books. They opened parallel universes in which I could escape from my painful reality.

I’d stay in my little room for hours at a time, barely aware of anything except the world of my books and Barbies. Although I had a probably healthy caution of the furnace and didn’t like to get too close to it because it was so unpredictable, its clanking and hissing noises, when they weren’t too loud, were comforting to me. Its grumpiness and isolated loneliness reflected my own state of mind most of the time. I could relate to it.

Occasionally after one of its sooty temper tantrums, a serviceman would come and minister to it like a doctor on house-call, and then the furnace would be happy again. If a psychiatrist could have given the furnace a diagnosis, I bet it would be Borderline Personality Disorder.

I remember taking a picture of it shortly before my parents’ divorce. I kept that picture for years, but somewhere amidst my many moves, it was lost. I know the house is still standing and was updated at some point (my family never updated anything in that house), but I would be shocked if that old furnace is still there, and even more shocked if it still works. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened to it. I hope it was treated well.

Plumbing nightmare.

I’ve avoided posting about this because it’s been both so infuriating and so depressing I don’t want to “contaminate” my blogging pleasure just to write about it.  But write about it I will,  because the situation has reached a point of ludicrousness that would be funny if it wasn’t making me feel all ragey and insane.  Right now I just feel like screaming and I feel helpless too, because there’s really not a damn thing I can do to get it resolved.

Most of you know I rent my duplex.   The house I live in is over 100 years old (it was built in 1908) and has lots of charm and many of its original features.  However, old houses (that haven’t been kept up with and brought up to code) have their dark side.   The darkest and most irritating thing about this house is the atrocious plumbing.

I don’t think the plumbing was ever modernized or brought up to code.   There is no water pressure valve, at least not one that’s easily accessible.  There is no accessible crawlspace to access the plumbing, which means if anything goes wrong, the only way to tell what the problem is is to dig up the kitchen floor and get under the house that way.

The water pressure has always been terrible.  But over the past two weeks, it’s gotten really bad.   So bad you cannot take a shower at all, and it takes me 45 minutes to fill the tub.  By the time the tub is sufficiently full to actually get in it to take a bath (about halfway) the water has already turned cold.   If you are running any faucet in the house (there are three — the tub, the bathroom sink, and the kitchen sink), you cannot run another one at the same time.

I have been texting and calling my landlord and at first all he did was ignore me.  (I do not have a lease; it is month to month–so technically I have no rights as a renter).   I’ve been saving all the text messages in case I need them later.     I finally lost my patience. After an angry text from me, in which I threatened to not pay the rent until the problem was fixed (and let him know I’d have to buy a gym membership just so I could take showers), he told me to find a plumber myself, one who would do a “cheap” estimate.

I do not know any plumbers, and know zilch about what they charge or who is any good, so I had a friend of my daughter’s who is an unlicensed plumber look at the situation.  He said he couldn’t even do an estimate because there is no access to even look and see where the problem would be.   He also told me that fixing it would involve several things, including carpentry since the kitchen floor would need to be torn up and replaced.

I texted back my landlord explaining that the problem involved a lot more than just snaking a sink, and contracting would be involved. I also reminded him that as the tenant, researching plumbers and contracting was not something I knew how to do and was not my responsibility anyway.    He answered back, saying he’d send his “guy” (a drunk handyman named Roger with a bad attitude) out to assess the situation.  Fine.  I didn’t care.  Let his drunk jimmy-rig something.  As long as I got water, I didn’t care if he had to use drinking straws and duct tape them together. And put a piece of plywood or something over the huge hole he’d have to dig in my kitchen floor to access the pipes.

He said Roger would be out yesterday or today.  Well, he didn’t show up either day.    I called my landlord (Roger refuses to speak directly to tenants) to ask about this.  I was told that Roger had arranged to send out the electric company to look at the wiring for the house, since he’d have to use a backhoe to dig up part of the yard to get to the plumbing.  They were supposed to be here this afternoon. I informed my landlord that hadn’t happened.

He told me to call them myself.   I called Duke Energy, and was told they didn’t take care of “underground services.”  I was given the phone # to a government agency that supposedly takes care of “underground” matters.    I only got a menu of options, and finally was asked to submit a “ticket number” to get help.

Huh? A ticket number? I didn’t have a ticket number!  I called back my landlord and asked him what the hell I was supposed to do.   I couldn’t call Roger either since I don’t have his number and he doesn’t want tenants calling.  My landlord assured me Roger was “taking care of it” and he would be in touch with me when he has more information. He also told me that he could evict me if I don’t pay my rent, regardless of the fact I am getting practically no water.  Because I don’t have a lease, he could probably actually do this, so I agreed to pay the rent, but told him I’d like it reduced. He said he would consider this.

Meanwhile I have no real solution to my plumbing issue, and tomorrow night is supposed to go down to 17 degrees and the pipes (which are much thinner than standard and are also not insulated) are very likely to freeze.  Last winter I was able to avoid that nightmare (I’ve had my pipes freeze before and then burst when it got warm again) by keeping all the faucets dripping when it got cold, but now I don’t even have enough water pressure to run more than one faucet at a time, even at a drip.   So I have no idea what I am going to do.

Please don’t suggest moving, because I don’t have enough money to do that. I don’t expect any advice anyway; I just needed to vent.

The furnace.

pipes-front.freeimage

In 1968 our family moved to a Dutch Colonial three-story house built in the 1920s. We only lived there for five years, but the memory of that house is etched into my mind like veins of quartz in granite. Some other time I’ll write about how cool the entire house was, but right now my concern is the old oil furnace that lived in the basement.

Yes, it lived there. It wasn’t hard to imagine that furnace was alive. It had a personality.

Its squat rotund body stood in the sooty gray-concrete corner like a Russian sentinel from a lost age. Its concrete exterior had been painted what appeared to have been white in the distant past, but had turned a dirty tan with age. Rust stains snaked along it like varicose veins. Tumors of soot embedded themselves here and there and filled its crevices. The furnace was covered with guages and meters relating information about the furnace’s internal state my young mind couldn’t understand.

Snaking from the furnace were too many old iron pipes to count. Some were painted what had once been white but were now pock-marked with rust the color of old blood, others were unpainted and rusted over completely, and a few had been replaced with more modern steel pipes that looked out of place. All these pipes stuck out of the furnace like limbs, and converged along the ceiling, delivering their payload of heat to the house that was home to the inhabitants that that served it so lovingly.

The furnace chugged along in the cold months, clanking and blatting and hissing in its corner. Sometimes it leaked hot water all over the peeling painted cement floor around it. Other times it farted black smoke. There were a few times the entire basement was filled with its sooty miasma, and you couldn’t go down there. It was probably dangerous. I used to wonder sometimes if the old furnace might explode when it did that. I was assured it was safe but I never was sure.

Sometimes the furnace scared me when it did that. It also scared me when it made more hissing and clanking sounds than normal. I used to think it was angry that it had to live in the ugly damp unfinished basement and the only light it ever saw was the dim gray light that filtered through the filthy slit-like windows that dotted the white painted brick wall near the ceiling. Those windows were veiled with spider webs and caked with soot. Even my clean freak mother, who had a meltdown if she saw so much as a gum wrapper anywhere else in the house, never did anything with the basement windows. The basement was the one place she allowed to get dirty, except for the laundry room, which had been partially modernized with a carpet, fluorescent lights, and acoustic tile ceiling. The rest of the basement was lit–barely–with bare incandescent bulbs screwed in between the ceiling rafters and operated by metal pull-chains. An old rusted (but working) toilet sat in a tiny closet with only one bare bulb screwed overhead, and no sink.

I used a tiny room that at one time had been used for canning as my escape from the dysfunction that regularly went on up above. My bedroom was too close to the master bedroom, and offered little refuge from the oppressive tension and constant arguing. My basement room was outfitted with a metal desk with wood grain Formica where I did all my homework, and an old piece of salvaged carpet. The canning shelves housed my Barbie dolls and all their accoutrements. The cinder block walls were painted mint-green. A small painted shelf sat above the desk, and my favorite books made their home there. I loved my books. They opened parallel universes in which I could escape from my painful reality.

I’d stay in my little room for hours at a time, barely aware of anything except the world of my books and Barbies. Although I had a probably healthy caution of the furnace and didn’t like to get too close to it because it was so unpredictable, its clanking and hissing noises, when they weren’t too loud, were comforting to me. Its grumpiness and isolated loneliness reflected my own state of mind most of the time. I could relate to it.

Occasionally after one of its sooty temper tantrums, a serviceman would come and minister to it like a doctor on house-call, and then the furnace would be happy again. If a psychiatrist could have given the furnace a diagnosis, I bet it would be Borderline Personality Disorder.

I remember taking a picture of it shortly before my parents’ divorce. I kept that picture for years, but somewhere amidst my many moves, it was lost. I know the house is still standing and was updated at some point (my family never updated anything in that house), but I would be shocked if that old furnace is still there, and even more shocked if it still works. Sometimes I wonder what might have happened to it. I hope it was treated well.