Prologue

At 9:00 on Christmas morning, I figured the last thing to go kaput for the year was Dave’s shoulder. His surgery to repair the rotator cuff was scheduled for January 5. I suppose I figured too soon. We’re so thankful that our 2014 trail of breakdowns featured mainly household or driving apparatus, with just a few human chinks thrown in.

The Breakdowns Began

I blame the whole trail of 2014 equipment failures on the coffee pot. We got the most wonderful shiny red Cuisinart, what, three years ago. Two months ago, it quit. We got that pot because our friends, The Grillos of Santa Cruz, had one and it made the best pot of coffee we’d ever tasted, and the pot didn’t drip while pouring. So it was natural that we wanted another just like it, only not red. (I have this plan to re-decorate the red kitchen.)

I went online and found the same pot on Amazon.com and read the reviews. There were several that said the machine just didn’t last long enough. After three years, it’s just done.  Most of these negative comments were followed by, But it makes the best pot of coffee we’ve ever had, so we ordered another one just like it. One mechanically-inclined guy said he took his failed machine apart and noticed some wires that needed to be re-sautered and after five hours of working on this machine, all that would work is that silly little clock on the front. He said he bought another one just like it only in a different color.

We did, too. Our new Cuisinart coffee machine is just like the first, only matte stainless.

About two weeks after setting up the new Cuisinart, cleaning it, and “ahhhh-ing” over the first pot of java, the microwave went all wonky, making a pounding roar when I turned it on. “Definitely in the motor,” Dave said. I chucked the bag of popcorn.

Now, to get the microwave out of the cabinet, we had to take a piece of molding off one side of the cabinet. Dave took the offender to the garage, a place we store anything that anybody within half a day’s driving distance doesn’t know what to do with. We headed out to shop, measuring tape in my hand. The new one had to fit in the old space, less the removed cabinet molding.

When I walked in to Lowe’s, I felt an overwhelming presence of deja vu. I remembered one day, about a week before we moved in this house, I bought and returned three microwave ovens before I got one to fit in that same space–and it only fit because the handy little fellow finishing up small details of remodeling took a saw to the molding. He glued it back once he got the microwave in the little hole. I was determined not to repeat that first marathon shopping experience, so I measured…and measured. Out of the sixteen models on display, I measured twelve and eyeballed the rest.

There were three suitable ones to choose from. I read and re-read the specs for each model and knew that only one was what I would even have. And then I went searching for the boxed item. Aisle 12, Row A, Bin J. I found all the items around that J bin but not my microwave. I called for an associate. A rotund, white-bearded older gentleman with readers straddling his nose looked down at me where I squated on the floor and inched my way across Row A again. He offered me a hand and I took it.

I wanted to ask, “Are you Santa Claus?”, but instead I gave a plain thank you and walked over to my choice on display.

“I want this microwave,” I said.

“That very one?” he asked.

“No, I mean I want one like that but I can’t find it.”

“That’s because we don’t have more of those.”

“No,” I said, “no.”

“I think that model is closing out. How about this one?” He patted an oversized oven that I would have loved if it would fit. It was one of the four I only had to eyeball to know it wouldn’t go in my cabinet.

“It won’t fit,” I said.

“What’s the size of the space?” he asked. “Sometimes you can fudge those things a little.”

“I’ve already fudged. We took out of piece of the cabinet. You’ve only got three models that would fit.”

He grinned. “Well, let’s get you one of those.”

“I would only buy that one. The other two are just not substantial enough.”

He rubbed the tip of his beard. “Sometimes they let us sell the floor model.”

“Well?”

“Well, I need to ask somebody first.” He looked first to one side and then to the other. “Hang on, I’ll be right back.”

He was–right back. “The big guy says I can let you have it at a ten percent discount, original warranty intact.”

“How nice! Ten percent pays more than the sales tax.”

He laid a finger aside his nose. (I swear, he did.) “Don’t tell anybody,” he whispered, “but I’m going to give you twenty percent.”

I let my mouth fly open in mock surprise while he wrote the price and the manager’s initials on a sticker.

“It’s almost Christmas,” he said. “I’m in the spirit.”

I wanted to say, “Ho, ho, ho,” but I just told him how much I appreciated it.

 

Dave works on a toilet, it seems, about once a quarter. He started replacing parts on the one in my bathroom the first of November. He declared it fixed sometime before his birthday on Thanksgiving, and we all know “Mission accomplished” doesn’t necessarily mean thinks are okay. I waited about a week to tell him that one flush wouldn’t do it. He explained something about having to get “new guts” because of something in the other box that wasn’t right. I think he started to work on it again the first of December. That was just about the time I noticed the mess under the lid of Mom’s automatic kitchen trash can.

Now the woman is the supreme example of feminism, except when it comes to her co-dependence on this metal can that she can open with a wave over the sensor in the top. She can’t live without it since she got it for Christmas three years ago.

When she came in the kitchen and saw me and the lid under water, I hurried to say, “I had to clean it. I never noticed what was collecting in there.” Under my breath, I added, “I hope I don’t ruin it.”

“Me, too,” she answered. I noted a tad of indignation, maybe even a threat.

I scrubbed and disinfected, scrubbed some more, sprayed with the Odo-ban again, and wiped it dry. The thing wouldn’t open. “Oh, poop,” wasn’t exactly the language I used.

From the den, I heard her say, “She’s broken it.”

“Broken what?” my half-deaf daddy answered.

“The garbage can,” she yelled.

“What?” he yelled back.

I stuck my head in the door. “Hey, y’all, I’m going to work on it. Maybe when it dries a bit, it’ll be okay.”

“What if it’s not?” Mom asked. This time she sounded, well, pitiful.

“Then I’ll get you another one.” I rushed out of the room, through the kitchen, through her bedroom, through the sewing room pass-through to my house.

I went back over in a couple hours to try again.

“Mom,” I called into the den, “I’ll take this home with me. Just use the can without the lid until the new one comes.”

She seemed happy again.

I was happy, too. If things really do happen in threes, here was the end of the era of brokenness. Then Dave said, “You can’t count something that happens to your mom.”

I laid the top on my downstairs work table, never to automatically open itself again–until the arrival of the new replacement can I ordered. It’s just like the old one.

She was thrilled.

“So what are you going to do with the old one?” Dave asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t think I want it upstairs. Maybe I’ll put it downstairs in The Cellar.”

I installed it in the perfect spot, at the end of my six-foot counter, its permanent location until Dave announced, “You’ve got to move that think. It scares the hell out of me every time I start out the door of the basement.”

 

Number 3

On the Friday morning after Thanksgiving (and Dave’s 2014 birthday), I ran a load of clothes. (You don’t pry us out of the house on Black Friday.) When I returned downstairs to put the load in the dryer, my Isotoner ballet slippers got wet crossing the laundry floor. (So did my feet.)

When we moved into The Compound here on the ravine, I claimed The Cellar for my own. It’s a 700-square foot walkout basement, complete with kitchen, bath, and laundry room. You might say I inherited the laundry itself. The Cellar needed some serious fixing-up. It still has the same cheap wood-look paneling in the large room and bath, and thin cabinetry installed used, I’m sure, and the ceiling is still wampus and uneven and the drop down tiles need to be replaced. But the myriad ragged layers of dirty linoleum, cracked tile, and bare concrete forced us to cover the floors. I chose a taupe, navy, and black tweedy-looking carpet for two reasons: 1), Carpet would add some warmth on the concrete slab, and 2), No one wanted to even guess at what kind of funds it would take to remove all the old materials and level the floor. I’ve been happy with this flat, tightly woven carpet, even in the laundry and bathroom.

On that Friday, I still liked my carpet but the water seemed to be spreading fast. I checked the hose connections to the washing machine. Nothing there. Then the drain. No problem. I called for my best buddy. He was at the gym. “Dave, Dave, something’s leaking in the laundry room and it’s leaking a lot.”

“The washing machine?”

“No, I guess it could be under the machine, but it seems more like in the front of the machine.” I paused. “Except it’s still moving. The wet is moving toward the bathroom.”

“Better call a plumber,” he said.

“Which one?” I asked.

“Probably whoever you can get here. We used His and Hers a couple of times when we had the home warranty. I think they were okay.”

“Okay, I’ll try them first.”

The phone rang and rang and rang…no answer at all. I googled plumbers in Nashville and started down the list. I decided if I had to leave a message, I’d hang up. After all, I really needed fast. The third number answered on the first try.

“Yes,” the nice lady said. “Now, it will probably be late when they get there, but I’ll dispatch them now. I’ll call you as soon as I know what time they’re coming.”

When Dave walked in the door, I could tell him, “They’re coming. She said late afternoon.”

We gathered towels, rugs, old sheets…anything that would sop up water. I sat at my computer until I decided to take a nap, and after that it was time to go upstairs. I checked the rags. They were all soaked except the two at the edge of the bathroom. I threw the wet ones into the garage and found more dry ones.

A few minutes before 5:00, I called.

“No,” the nice lady said, only this time the nice lady sounded a little, uh, frazzled. “They won’t be there today. They had some big jobs today. We’ll just have to work you in tomorrow.”

“Do you have any idea when I should expect them?”

“Not until mid-morning, I’d say.”

I thanked her, and even told her I hoped tomorrow would be better than today. She said she hoped to high heaven it would be, too.

Saturday morning came. I woke up feeling really down, forgot for a minute that I had a reason to be down. I went downstairs in my pajamas, slipped on my rubber garden clogs, and squished across the floor. All the rags were wet and heavy.

At 10:30, I made a call.

“Do you think they’ll get here today?” I asked.

“I don’t know. They’ve all gone home with strep throat. I’m trying to juggle them around to get to the appointments.”

“All of them? Nobody’s working?” I wanted to be sure.

“Enough to throw off the schedule and back us up. They won’t even get finished tonight with yesterday’s schedule.”

“Uhhh,” I began, “They won’t get here, will they?”

“Well, you’re on the schedule and we’ll do our best to see anybody that was on the schedule yesterday.”

“Okay, I think what I’ll do is to try to find somebody who will come on now. I don’t think this can wait until Monday. Just leave us on the schedule and I’ll call you if I get somebody.”

“Sure will. I’m sorry.”

“Strep throat,” I muttered. “You can’t  help that.”

I don’t remember where Dave was but he was not at home.

I hung up and called the place neither he nor I really love. It’s a regional plumbing and electric company is a three-letter acronym. If you pronounced the word instead of the spelled-out acronym, you’d be talking about one’s nether-region, perhaps in Old English. I’ll use a pseudonym here. CON. You don’t really have to pronounce the word, but I feel proud to have chosen such an appropriate substitute for the real name. You just say it however you want. I’ll be spelling it out. C-O-N.

Now CON does good work, there’s no doubt. But they’re always trying to sell extra service. We’ve never bought into that, but I can imagine some little old lady whose kitchen sink trap is leaking and they sell her a new faucet. And maybe even a sink. She wouldn’t know she’d been fleeced.

Dave walked through the door of The Cellar.

“CON is coming,” I said.

“I thought we weren’t going to call them,” he answered.

“I got who I could get. That other place isn’t coming. They’ve all got strep throat.”

CON’s project manager/sales rep was out in an hour! His name was (let’s rename him, too) Rabbit. After he waded around a bit in the wet carpet, he called Dave and me together so he could tell us the bad news. We met him in the upstairs kitchen. “Your leak is under the slab. When they built these houses sixty years ago, they used cast iron pipe. It corrodes eventually and that’s what’s happened here. I just bet it’s right here in front of this washing machine. See, what happens is, maybe several days ago, the corroded pipe begins to leak. Then the ground absorbs all the moisture it can and when it’s got more than it can handle, that’s when your drain overflows. You’ve got both in here. It did overflow, but the real problem is somewhere in the line–the sewer line.”

Dave spoke up. “So to get in there and fix it, you have to jackhammer this foundation.”

“Yep. That’s really the only thing we can do.” Rabbit smiled. “This is going to be a big job but we’ll take care of you.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “We gotta do what we gotta do.”

Rabbit looked at his notepad and continued. “We’ll take up the carpet in the bath and laundry room, and then about eight feet out into the kitchen/den.”

“I didn’t know it was already in the den,” Dave said.

“I did. I went down there this morning,” I said.

“I’m going to work you up an estimate–if you agree,” Rabbit said. ” I always get approval from the big boss first.” He winked.

“I’ll bring it back this evening. Somebody going to be here?”

I nodded. Dave said, “One of us will.”

“I’ve got the water cut off down there. Don’t use the kitchen sink upstairs, and don’t use the kitchen nor the bathroom downstairs. You won’t get any more water down there than is already there.”

After he left, Dave and I took turns silently shaking our heads at each other.

Dave finally spoke. “If he gets here and I’m not here, be sure to ask him how long it’s going to take to get this done.”

Three. This is the third disaster. This is a big one. Oh, the things we never thought about.

 

True to his word, Rabbit came about five o’clock to give us the boss-approved estimate. It was close to $14,000.

“How did you arrive at the $14,000?” I asked.

“This is a big job. You’re probably going to need three men on the job, and it’ll take us two weeks, counting the drying time for the concrete. We have to let that stuff cure for two or three days, depending.”

Dave walked in just then. “How long is this going to take?”

“Two weeks. Fourteen days. Now sometimes we can make it in ten days, but we like you to count on fourteen. Then, if we’re early….” He smiled.

“Kinda like a restaurant. They always add on fifteen to twenty minutes for the wait time, then everybody’s happy when it’s, quote, early.”

Neither man even pretended to chuckle at my half-joke.

Rabbit launched into his parting words. “We can take a check today, or a credit card, or we have this really nice option for this type of situation where you can actually fill out a credit request with our bank, and we can go ahead and get started.”

“Like today?” I asked.

Rabbit wobbled his head up and down.

Dave said, “I suppose we better do that. It’ll take me more than a day to transfer funds from the internet bank. How long does it take for the bank to approve?”

“It’s almost instantaneous if there’s no problem.”

When he left, with papers in hand, Dave and I performed our head-shaking routine again.

Two of CON’s guys arrived an hour after Rabbit left, moved appliances, ripped up carpet, and set up dryers, blowers, and dehumidifiers.

“We’re going to leave these going over the weekend, and if you notice any trouble with them, just call in to the office and we’ll come out. We’ll probably be able to start on Monday morning.”

(Not) The End. There’s more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements