Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Heating up before cooling down

Louise says fuck maybe 20 times a year. She used 15 of them today. It's what happens when we install an air-conditioner. Today it was the bedroom one.

We moved into our apartment in January 2005 and the bedroom A.C. went in about four months later. It stayed there until this past January, through six summers and just as many winters. We knew we'd have to put the old gal out of her misery after last summer, when it seemed ready to die every time it powered on. It coughed and wheezed, rumbled and sputtered. Occasionally we had to adjust the power cord because if you held it...just...so, it would run.

The A.C. lasted as long as it did simply because we dreaded replacing it. We don't have a good history with air conditioners. More specifically, I don't have a good history with them.

Years ago - I think when they were still dreading their upcoming 50th birthdays instead of lamenting being on the other side of 60 - my parents bought a three-ton apparatus that still survives. It lives in the rear of the garage nine months of the year. Every year my mom fights to get the beast installed the first time the Janesville Bank announces a temperature of 80 degrees, and every year my dad fights it off until temperatures reach triple digits. You'd think the person who's melting would hold the upper-hand in the debate, but it's not always so. When I lived at home I carried it in with my dad, up the flimsy porch steps that verge on collapse even under the best of circumstances, through the sliding door and around the TV.

The curse words fly there too, usually in relation to a bad back, a wayward chair or crushed fingers. It never goes smoothly. Occasionally feelings are hurt, in addition to limbs. Legend has it my brother-in-law, or was it one of his friends, carried the damn thing by themselves one year but that might just be a Janesville myth. The A.C. goes in the living room, an old bucket sits on the porch underneath it collecting water. It's a monumental moment the first time someone flicks it on. A 747 on takeoff makes less sound than my parents' air conditioner but the thing keeps blasting out that cold air in the hot summer months. My nephew has taken over my role in the installation process. It's nearly a hundred in Minnesota now. I'm guessing there's some cursing and aching backs in the near-future for those in the Fury household.

During my time in Fargo, I never paid for utilities. I took this as a reason to abuse the environment. In the summer months my A.C. ran constantly, even if I was at work. When I lived in the infamous Universal Building, I had an A.C. that cost about as much as a supersized value meal at McDonald's. Remarkably it worked, and I got the most out of my purchase. It ran night and day, when I was at home and when I was away. To turn it off meant courting death, as the temperature and humidity in my upper-floor apartment rivaled anything found in the tropics. Eventually ice formed in the window. Big chunks. Large, white chunks. It looked like the inside of an unthawed refrigerator. It was time to turn it off.

In New York, we went without an A.C. in our living room for two years. My two oldest nephews visited in the summer of 2005, right when a suffocating, evil heat wave hit the city. As we relaxed in our cool bedroom, they slept on our living-room futon. I think there's probably still some bitterness there on their part. One morning I walked out and saw Brady sprawled out on the floor, a miniature fan - really miniature, like three inches high - pathetically blowing about three inches from his face. It was a sad sight. He's a teenager, I figured. He's in New York, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. He shouldn't be complaining. Actually I felt terrible but there was nothing I could do so I retreated back to the safety of the bedroom.

A few years later we put one in the living room. We fought and perspired. We wept and swore - at the machine, and each other. Finally we stuffed it into the window, convinced it'd eventually plummet six floors down to a vacant lot, killing our chances at a cool summer, if not an actual person. Louise plugged it in. She hit power.


If this had been a badly written sitcom, the credits would have rolled down the screen while I held the power cord, baffled. The crowd would cheer while someone said, "SHAWN AND LOUISE IS FILMED IN FRONT OF A LIVE STUDIO AUDIENCE." We tried a different socket and received the same result. Uninstalling it proved as difficult as installing. But soon enough I hailed a cab and hauled it back 40 blocks south to the electronics store that sold it. Ninety minutes later I found Louise in a puddle of a sweat - or were those tears? By that point, with our spirits broken, we had no time for anger or swearing or annoyance. We installed the new machine, hit the power button and relaxed, knowing we wouldn't have to do that for another two, three...four years.

Today was the day. Temperatures will reach into the upper 90s in NYC this week. For a week or so, Louise has left the bedroom in the middle of the night, surrendering to the heat, so she can sleep in the cool living room. So we gave it a go today. I did the heavy lifting, Louise did the heavy work, handling the drill, screws, fans, sides and swearing. I hovered on our fire escape at one point, six floors up, again imagining what would happen if something - an air conditioner or, say, a 35-year-old man who weighs about 215 pounds - fell six stories to the cement below.

Our security gate complicated the efforts, caging Louse in at one point, pinning her against the window while I went to the bathroom to find a Band-Aid and some NeoSporin for a cut, which came courtesy of some stray metal at the back of the air conditioner. While Louise helpfully told me I would likely die of tetanus, I climbed back onto the fire escape as she put the final screws in. We slammed the window shut and plugged it in. We hit power. And it came on without a problem.

Louise is relaxing in the bedroom now. I'd join her. But first I'm going to let her cool off.


Dad said...

It lasted only 6 years--not good!! The beast went in last nite after it was a hundred degees when Mom got home. It actually went pretty smoothly. Tonite we mentioned that we have had it 22 years now and God only knows how old it was when we got it. The beast is tough.

Brock said...

I say that the exact scene you described, which happens annually, happened yesterday. I witness and suffered. Also, no bitterness on the no ac summer.

Kevin Sheehan said...

Oh, I feel your pain. I've actually watched helplessly as one AC dropped right out of the window, becoming scrap metal in less time than it takes to say 'scrap metal'. In the past, my wife and I have had some special moments trying to get the damn thing in the window. Imagine my surprise when we got home from Disney late at night a couple of weeks ago, and I managed to get it in, by myself, in under a minute. Practice makes perfect.

Jerry said...

Probably a good move to let Louise use the power tools. Your high school shop teacher would be proud. I have had my battle with the beast as well in Janesville but I will admit that the Energizer Bunny would be proud of that sucker. It just keeps running and running and running....

Michelle said...

As you struggled with your beast, I was attempting to sleep in the airless attic of a Victorian house. I think I was actually cooking for a few hours. As a result, I have delayed moving into my house so that central air could be installed. You and the lovely Louise are welcome to my cooled air at any time ;-) xxx