Friday, November 9, 2012

"I am INVINCIBLE!" In which I learn, pride comes before... a fire truck.

You recall that character in Golden Eye, Boris the Computer Programmer, played by the incomparable Scottish pixie, Alan Cummings; who, thinking himself the master brain, the King of Computer Code, raises his fists in victory and shouts in his rolling Russian accent, “I am invincible!”  RRRRemember?  Yeah, I was feeling like that: a Smug-Face, a Cock-Sure, a Chest-Puffer.  

In spite of my inability to read the instruction pamphlets for new appliances; in spite of the fact I have not replaced the blown light bulb that died oh… two months ago; I felt so sure of my abilities, I took on the… plumbing.  And I thought I won.  I thought I was, indeed, invincible.  But pride comes before a fall, or before a small drama involving a fire truck, five disgruntled firemen, one Scranton cop and a British bird in furry boots.  But I am getting ahead of myself…

Since moving, Home Ownership has been fairly uneventful—thank God—because I am not the kind of girl at home in overalls.  Please don’t misunderstand me here, dear Reader, I was not brought up to be a princess—I believe I have told you of that sad hospital mix-up in which I was not born to Lord and Lady Fortescue-Asquith-Smythe-Smythe-Featherbottom—the sibling and I were always made to help.  I'd be forced to collect the grass cuttings, fling the dog poo on the compost, weed the garden, iron the linens—oh yes, I was a regular little Cinders.  

Dad could and would fix anything, whether building walls, plastering, wiring, installing bathrooms and kitchens, making dressers, vanity units… you name it, my Dad put the ‘D’ in D.I.Y.  There was no electrician, builder or plumber, he was just known as “Dad.”  This was my paternal parental example.

My mum had a Singer sewing machine.  She was a post war baby—she would want me to make that very clear—but still the attitude of "make do and mend" was instilled in her upbringing.  She was hands on.  A do-er and a fixer of material things.  This was my maternal example.

But a little confidence, and no skill, should not a newly home-owning instant plumber make.

When I walked into my home yesterday, I expected the bone-chilling freeze of the outside to quickly  dissipate and my breath to disappear in front of my eyes again.  It didn’t.  I sat attending to my emails and kept my coat on, clouds of carbon dioxide puffing from my mouth.

 “By heck, it’s chilly!” I texted to a friend, which prompted me to inspect the thermostat.  It was 54 degrees of chilly.  It was then, dressed like a Christmas Carol reject, in pink fingerless mittens, I realized that the reason I was cold was that there was no heat dans le maison.  Quelle horreur!  Sacre bleu!  Mon Dieu!  MERDE!

I twiddled the thermostat.  I cranked it all the way to the right, beyond the 80 degrees.  Nothing.  Not a sound from the usually vocal old radiators, not a bump, thump or hiss. 

And so, with phone in hand, I made my way down the narrow, darkened stairs to the underbelly of 1111.  There it sat: the mighty, sleeping metal monster, surprising silent. 

Clutching the phone, a friend text-structed me to light the pilot light.  Sounded easy enough, thought I.  But as I removed the cover, the flame was clearly there, snoring away.  What followed was a comedy, a farce, an hour of feverish texting of photographs of every tap, faucet, lever, spigot; twisting, turning, with eyes half-closed, squatting in cream woolen mini-dress, furry boots, fluffy hat and fingerless mittens.   Finally a reluctant yank of the yellow lever and an oily black liquid gushed into an existing and—fortunately for my plumbing-inappropriate fluffy footwear—well placed pitcher.  The water line in the tube bobbed.  Things were happening! 

And then my dear, dear friend hit on the motherload… “How to flush out your American Standard furnace” courtesy of Youtube.  Because, guess what, Reader?  Furnaces, boilers, whatever the hell they are, GO OUT WHEN THE WATER LEVEL IS TOO LOW!  Duh!  Why did no one tell me this?  Do Americans learn this at school, because we Brits don’t!  Because every single smug son-of-a-goat has nodded sagely when I have retold this part of the story and said, “Oh yes, didn’t you know that?  You need to flush the old water through.”  NO!  No, I did not know that.   Had I known that I would not have spent the best part of an hour dancing like a constipated gazelle fannying around with phone in hand, twiddling knobs and pledging sacrifices to the Heating Gods.

However, Youtube-enlightened, I was able to half-fill the water, as instructed!  And the whoosh!  The roar!  The beast was awake.  I DID IT!  I WOKE THE BEAST!  AND I STILL HAVE EYEBROWS!  YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!  And there, in the depths of 1111 I partied for one with the hoots and hollers of a match-winning Superbowl touchdown.  It was ridiculous.  I WAS INVINCIBLE!

Or so I thought...

I grabbed my bag, reapplied my lip gloss, and sallied forth into the cold, breathy night.  I shan’t discuss the who’s, and where’s, but I enjoyed the bar banter, reenacting the story of my plumbing victory and crowing about my new skillz!

Hours passed.  Wine was sipped, pool was played, topics were traversed, finger tips touched, lusty looks exchanged.  And high on this elixir of surprise success and hungry hormones, I toddled off home excited, content and looking forward to a well-deserved one-to-one with my pillow.  It was nearly 2 am after all.  But it was not to be. 

As I closed the garage door and stepped ever closer to the house, I could hear something.  A sound I had not heard before in this obnoxiously loud, rattle-and-thump house.  It was a beeping.  A constant, pro longed beeping.

Gingerly, I twisted the door handle and pushed.  The house was warm now and I could feel the wall of newly-encouraged heat greet me.  I breezed through each room, trying to find the source of the beeping, the constant, tinny alarm.  Finally, I found it, the First Alert smoke and carbon monoxide detector, right at the top of the landing.  I rushed back down the stairs, nose in the air, inhaling deep yoga nostril-fulls.  (Okay, in hindsight, not smart, but I had to eliminate smoke as the cause.)  

I pressed the basement door handle tentatively, alert to the temperature of it; wondering if behind it, the woken beast was hungry for more than just water, and was burning up the underbelly of my house.  But the handle was cool.  I opened the door just a crack, then wider until I was assured I would not be flash fried by back draft.  I clipped down the stairs, the furnace greeting me with it’s familiar heat-producing growl.  Nothing a foot.  And yet the alarm still beeped.

I ran back up the stairs, texting frantically,
 “Are you awake?”
“Houston, I think we have a problem.”
“My alarm is going off.  No smoke.  Perhaps carbon monoxide?”

I pulled off my boots and started leaping for the alarm.  I jumped, stretching, reaching high, but precariously placed above the top stairs, I could not touch it.  I brandished the screwdriver neatly stashed in the bathroom—don’t ask—and leapt with it aloft to hit the alarm off.   Still it would not stop, in spite of my stabbing.  Finally, I neatly hauled Self up on the wobbly banisters and plucked the battery from the alarm. 
Ah!  Silence.

By this time my phone was blowing up.  Concerned replies, pleas to “GET OUT NOW!” suggestions to open windows, call the fire department, to bed down elsewhere.

I replaced the battery.  It continued to beep.  I removed it, sighed, and dialed the emergency number.   The voice on Dispatch was kind and courteous.  He said it was probably nothing, but I shouldn’t risk it with carbon monoxide, you know, being a silent killer and all.

My!  What a big hose you have!
So there I stood on my porch, in the early hours of Thursday morning, hopping from one foot to the other, trying to keep warm, welcoming the disgruntled, ruddy faces of five middle-aged firemen.  Slowly, they alighted from the huge fire truck.  A policeman arrived separately in his car and they converged on the porch, the first two firefighters and the cop trudged into my house.  FD calendar models, they were not. 

It was like a weird, late night, home tour.  “So, this is the reception room.  Please excuse the lack of furniture, I haven’t committed to any yet.”
“And this is my yoga mat…”

I filled the smokeless air with rapid, embarrassed explanations, as they led me straight to the furnace. 
“So, you …err… you did this yourself?”
“Yes,” I replied, with far less enthusiasm and chest-swelling than a few hours previously.  “There was a video on YouTube…” even I thought I sounded ridiculous.
“Well, no carbon monoxide down here.  Looks like you did it right.”  Thank God!  Thank God!  Thank God!
“Looks good to me,” the other fireman chirped in.
“Take me to the alarm,” demanded the first, still all business.

At the top of the stairs the 300 lb fireman balanced daintily on his tip toes and reached high, plucking the whole alarm down from its attachment. 
“Ah!  1999.  See that?  1999.  It was made in 1999.  It’s old.  You need to get a new one.”
“But… but… you are saying it was beeping because it is old?  That’s it?  I find it very hard to believe that it would go off just hours after I have flushed the furnace, it’s too co-incidental!”
“Yeah, coincidence, that’s all.  So, what’s your name?”
He raised his brows, “Is there more?”
“You’re Welsh?”  His eyes lit up.  “My family was from Wales…”

And so it was, that the cop stood down and peeled off in his car; the troop of tired firefighters slumped back to their truck, one of them a little less irked by this B.S. alarm after sharing his memories of his Welsh grandma; and I, exhausted, but happily not suffocated to death, closed the door and switched off the porch light. 

And as I wiggled my toes between my sheets, replaying the eventful evening, I thought that life truly had become a cliché: for pride does come before a fall; but it is better to be safe than sorry.  


  1. Aaaaabsolutely high-larious! I have no well articulated monologues to rant on. Just a good old, atta girl for taking things into your own hands. Mazeltav!

  2. Well thank you, mon cher! I do believe you have seen the only item in my wardrobe that might pass as overalls... the denim romper! Next time I have to get my plumb-on, I'm donning that.

  3. Don't flush the water in the furnace to often eleanor, tap water contains mineral deposits which lead to wear on the inside of your furnace (rust)... you're best bet is to flush the water no more than once a year. Find a good furnace specialist and have him service it annually. As for the water level, sounds like you have steam heat, which likely means while the pilot light will remain lit, the furnace will not kick on if the water level drops below a certain level. Most newer setups have an auto-fill (which has it's own pros/cons) but if you're doesn't, you'll want to put a reminder on your phone to check it regularly, and top it off to ideally between 1/2 and 3/4 of the clear tube full. And whatever you do, don't touch the flu ductwork heading to your chimney.. it may have what looks like a hinged door which hangs partially open with a weight to counter balance it. That's intentional and regulates the draft... and make sure to get yourself a good carbon monoxide tester!! fbw

  4. damn phone autocorrect.

  5. FBW! Thank you for your kind advice. It's been toasty warm at the 1's, so hopefully I won't need to flush it for a while. I didn't know that about the duct work. Eek. Forewarned is forearmed. THANK YOU!