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Brief Re-Cap: We have been waiting endless days for a contractor to show up and repair the death-potential factor of the damaged electrical wiring in our house, with said damage courtesy of an aggressive, ice-laden, big-ass neighbor tree limb that made a break for freedom during a freak snowstorm. At this particular point in the interminable interim, our snow-laden carport has just collapsed, mere seconds after some innate survival instinct prompted us to move the family vehicles to a more secure location…
Once Partner and I get tired of staring at the erectile dysfunction of the depressingly-ruined carport, we wander back into the house. I’m extremely fed up by this stage in our doomed saga, done with Mother Nature and the rude happenstance of things I can’t control and, well, life in general. Our little contractor guy still hasn’t called back, so it’s time to pull out the phonebooks (did that just date our story?), scour websites (okay, not so dated), and attempt to locate someone who actually cares about our situation (a constant yearning throughout recorded history).
I can’t stand trying to find service people to work on the house. Let me make that very clear: I’d rather shove my face in a vat of boiling acid than spend time on the phone with people I need who know I need them and therefore they have the upper hand, cruelly toying with my emotions as I whimper and beg. (“I will do anything to have you love me and move me to the top of your list. Anything.”)
After an extended period of page-flipping and screen-scrolling and pointless bickering and dissatisfied grimacing, we settle on a company that seems to have the least irritating combination of crappy yellow-pages layout and sappy websites crammed with obviously-fake client testimonials from people that probably don’t exist. (Seriously, what real person would say “ABC Company saved my life! I’m naming my next child after them!” Girl, please.)
Luckily, Partner takes the reins and calls this company. Sure, we can come out today. No problem, your satisfaction is our yearning desire. But since this is Saturday, it’s going to cost you three times the normal rate because it’s the weekend. That okay?
Partner and I have a quick sidebar and decide that it’s most definitely not okay. Yes, I want this done, and I would prefer that it be done now. But if that damn power line hasn’t snapped after two days of pressure, it just might make it another two days. After a bit of negotiation, Partner makes the appointment for Monday morning, while I sit beside him all tragic and pale, a single tear sliding down my anguished cheek whilst mournful violins play in the background.
The next 48 hours are something of a blur. The constant tension of waiting for the house to explode has taken its toll. My nerves are more frayed than something Miley Cyrus would barely wear to an awards ceremony wherein she hasn’t even been nominated. After mere hours, I am no longer capable of uttering complete sentences. I just grunt and point and hope that somebody, somewhere understands my needs.
Finally, Monday morning arrives. Partner has departed for his place of employment, crunching through the now-dirty snow, leaving me to deal with the electrician who will peruse our domicile and then most likely proffer a cost estimate that exceeds the entire budget in one of the less-memorable countries. I drink a gallon of coffee to fortify myself for the challenge ahead.
Surprisingly, there’s a knock on the front door right at the given appointment time. Automatically, I feel the first stirrings of emotional attachment to this company, because nobody ever shows up when they swear that they will. Opening said portal, I find a very well-groomed, admirably-clean, professional-appearing, middle-aged man, instead of the standard-issue, shifty-eyed guy or gal in rumpled and stained attire, reeking of questionable activities from the previous night. (“Why do you smell like desperation and lies?”)
I might possibly be in love with him and we’ve only known each other for 7 seconds.
We chit-chat for a bit at the door, getting the preliminaries out of the way, and then we tromp around the side of the house, fighting through the snow to the backyard. As we trudge along, conversing, it’s clear that this man is actually intelligent and has a great personality. It’s so refreshing after some of the Neanderthals we have dealt with in the past. I’m actually feeling a little inspired that there might be light at the end of the tunnel. (I’m even contemplating updating my Facebook relationship status to include him in some way.) Sadly, my ray of sunshine is cruelly extinguished as we arrive at the impact point.
He takes a quick survey, and then turns to me in astonishment: “You guys actually still have power?”
“Um, yes, we do. It’s a bit sketchy, but it’s working.”
He turns back around for another review. “Your ground has been pulled.” Then he points at this metal thing that is hanging forlornly from the roof of the storage shed situated between the house and the pole in the alley. I gather from the startled sparkle in his eyes that said metal thing is not anywhere near where it would normally be.
I know that electrical wires should be grounded, but that’s all I know. “What does this mean?”
He turns back to me. “The house is alive. There’s a secondary ground that they attach to your plumbing, but that doesn’t take care of all of it.”
Okay, wait. This is too much information. Let’s break it down. “What do you mean, the plumbing? It’s in the pipes?”
“Yeah. The pipes.”
“Soooo…. that would explain why I got shocked in the shower?”
He laughs, finding this very entertaining. “Yeah, man. You’re gonna get a zap.”
Our budding relationship is over. I no longer love him. It’s not funny that I almost died. “And you said the secondary ground doesn’t take care of all of it?”
“Yeah, with the main ground gone, the only thing slowing the current are all the grounds that should be in all your sockets and switches, but you probably don’t have that in a house this old. The current is circling the house in a loop, hitting these grounds, but it’s not enough to stop it.”
I think I may have wet myself at that point. “So, any time we turn on a light…”
“You could get shocked. Or when you touch things attached to the plumbing. Or when you-”
Hold up, that’s enough. “What needs to be done? How do we fix this?”
He surveys a bit more, then “Well, we’ve got to replace your meter, and the weather guard, and the grounding network, and-”
I don’t even know what all that means, so I focus on the important thing. “How much?
Part of me dies inside. But he’s not done.
“And because of the age of the house, we’re required to put in a shut-off valve on this wall here. You don’t have one. That’s another thousand.”
Three thousand dollars. Because some stupid tree branch fell. And it’s not even our tree. It’s the neighbor’s tree. And he hasn’t been home this whole time, and therefore has not shared in the misery. I hate him and his stupid trees and his stupid house.
The electrician looks at me. “So, you want us to do the work? We have to pull a permit, which means I can’t do it until tomorrow, but then it should only take a couple hours.”
What the hell do you do in situations like this? We could maybe find somebody else to do it without such a financial wallop. But that means at least another day for an estimate, and another day to get it fixed. I’m so done with this. I just want to be able to pee without getting bucked off the toilet. I want my life back. I’ll find the three thousand somewhere, even if I have to whore out what’s left of my aging body. Or maybe Partner could whore his. He’s better with social interaction than I am.
“Okay, let’s do it.”
He grins. “Great. I’ll need half up front.”
We crunch our way through the snow and back into the house so I can get my checkbook. While I’m painfully filling out the check (it actually hurts to be writing so many numbers), the electrician is fiddling with an XBOX game that I had left on the kitchen table. He appears to be very stoked about the discovery, and he is trying to bond even further by babbling about video games. “What’s the best one you played?”
I ignore that. We are no longer compatible, and the love is gone. We didn’t have a May-December romance. We barely had an 8am to 9am romance. I feel cheap and used. “Here’s your check.”
He pockets the piece of paper quickly, lest I have second thoughts. “So, I’ll see you in the morning. Do I need to call first?”
“Not unless you aren’t going to be here on time.” See, I’m already the bitter ex-girlfriend, full of venom and spite. Relationships are complicated, yes?
I immediately call Partner at his work. “Three. Thousand. DOLLARS!”
“Well, we have to do it. We really don’t have a choice.”
I’m not impressed with this response. I’m wanting outrage and a shared desire to riot in the streets and demand an end to the autocracy in this country that allows Big Business to crush the dreams of the little people like swatting flies at a summer picnic. Partner’s aims are just a little bit less lofty. (“It sounds like you might need to take one of your special pills and watch something meaningless on TV.”)
Hmm. I find myself not being really appreciative of Partner at this moment, even though he’s right. (What else can we do? Apparently, when a tree falls in a forest, somebody does hear it, and the falling costs a lot of money.) I contemplate a number of bitchy responses, but I realize that none of them will get us anywhere respectable and I try to end the call with “Fine. Pick up some beer on your way home.”
“Do you really think it’s a good idea to-”
“Beer. Bring it. Bye.”
So, the next morning, moderately hung-over, I greet my ex-boyfriend at the door, glaring at him with puffy eyes. He couldn’t care less, as he’s just here to do a job. But he does have some cautionary words. “The power is going to be off while I do this. And it will take a while.”
Whatever. Just go.
Two minutes later, everything shuts off in the house.
I drag my ass into the bedroom, where there are lots of windows and the most natural light, and I pick up the latest book that I’m reading. Interestingly enough, this book is by Stephen King, entitled “Under the Dome”. It’s about people surviving in an unusual situation that they can’t control. How fitting. Stephen King gets me. Nobody else does. (Cue more violins on the soundtrack as I compose dark, self-involved, vengeful poetry in my head.)
Three hours later, as I’m nodding off in my sanctuary on the bed, the power snaps on. A few minutes after that, the heater kicks in as well, but it doesn’t dim the lights. Has the madness finally stopped?
The electrician knocks on the front door. All is well. Come take a look.
More trudging through the snow, back to the scene of the crime. We now have a shiny new weather guard standing proudly on the roof, there’s a couple fancy boxes on the side of the house, and the power line is high in the air where it belongs. Hurray. Impending death no longer lurks on the ground.
Back through the snow and into the house. I fill out a second painful check while the electrician fiddles with a box of Scentsy candles on the kitchen table. (“Your wife sell this?” Clearly, his gaydar is not functioning very well, despite the Madonna shrine in the corner of the den and the tasteful phallic art on the coffee table, but I don’t bother to correct him. “Uh, no, my sister does that.”) I hand him the check, there’s some more meaningless chatter, and then he’s gone.
As silence and the delicious lack of people who don’t belong here finally descends on my fortress of solitude, I wander around the house, basically turning on everything that requires electrical current. There are no surging explosions or contact injuries. Good. As a final test, I hop in the shower, let myself get soaked, and then I cautiously reach for one of the faucet knobs. Nothing. No sensation other than the hardness of innocent metal. Hallelujah.
I just stand there for a while, letting the hot, non-deadly water work its magic and sluice away the wretched residue of the last week. It’s going to be a long time before I feel clean again…
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” from 02/16/10 through 03/02/10. Considerably revised and extended for this new run here on Bonnywood. Thank you to the folks who had the grace and interest to absorb the entire saga, as I’m fully aware that lengthy, serialized scribblings don’t often succeed in our current sound-bite world. But I’m a firm believer that the story is in the telling, not in the packaging.
Categories: The Stories