My home repair skills have always been modest, limited to such tasks as dish washing and replacing light bulbs. Most people wouldn’t consider dishwashing and light-bulb replacing as true home repair, but over my lifetime I’ve learned to take solace in humble around-the-house triumphs, including things like hanging a shade, planting a geranium, or mowing the lawn without it ending up in a trip to the emergency room.
Truth is, I’ve had only one lawn-to-ER episode. Not bad. A ground wasp, or whatever evil buzzing thing it was, stung me on the knee. Not two minutes later, my knee about the size of a holiday ham, we were off to the ER, my wife at the wheel.
I swore a ton on the way to the hospital. Not just because of the sting and swelling and prickly burn, but also my wife’s objection that a “silly bee sting’’ would mean a $100 ER copay. I was dying. She was bookkeeping.
Years later, we’re still married. I just don’t mow as much. When I do mow, I always have an EpiPen in immediate reach. I’m just not sure I’d have the courage to stick myself with it.
Our Christmas/New Year’s break took us out of town for a week. I was the first to arrive home, early-afternoon on Jan. 1, only to find much of the house had gone stone cold. We have two furnaces. They burn gas, or are meant to burn gas. The attic unit purred along just fine, leaving the second floor suitably warm. The furnace in the basement, which heats cellar and first floor, was silent, and cold, and I could all but hear it whisper, “Gotcha! New Year’s Day, this is really gonna cost ya.’’
The first-floor thermostat showed it was 40 degrees. The basement was even colder. As I stared at the silent furnace, I could see my breath.
I did what I usually do when a repair calls for more than, say, Windex and paper towels. I called the guy. The furnace guy. Which led to, as expected, the recorded message wishing me a happy holiday (more swearing by me), noting the repair shop was closed for the holiday, and the suggestion to “Press 2’’ for emergencies.
I stabbed the “2’’ button on the phone with the force one might use to spear a barracuda, fully resigned to more commands, more frustration, more maddening automated phone nothingness. These phone prompts drive me nuts. I called a Globe in-house automated line last week to inquire about subscription rates for home delivery and online digital. It switched me directly to a recorded message to order the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
No lie. My own paper’s automated in-house line launched me about 50 miles west. So I’m not the only one with fix-it issues.
But on New Year’s Day, I pressed “2’’ on the furnace repair line and my whole Mr. Fix-it life changed.
First, a real person picked up, telling me he was the repair guy’s answering service. I gave him the basics and he said someone would ring me back. Someone did, in less than 10 minutes, a world record in the holiday-emergency-furnace-on-the-blink annals. People were talking to me. On a holiday. With my house at 40 degrees, my nose Rudolph-red.
Rick was at the other end of the line, the same Rick who visited our house six weeks earlier to repair the attic furnace. The problem then was something called an igniter, a little gizmo that fires up red-hot and ultimately sets ablaze the gas that heats the house. That’s how I understand it. If you are an HVAC guy, and I haven’t explained that properly, I respectfully refer you to the first paragraph.
“What do you think the problem is?’’ asked Rick.
Really. He asked me for a diagnosis. So I hit him with everything I had.
“Rick,’’ I said, “I gotta think it’s the igniter.’’
I’ve learned, don’t hold back. Skilled repair guys don’t want to deal with rubes. I could tell he was impressed.
“But, Rick,’’ I added, “what’s an igniter?’’
To my dismay, he remained on the line.
Here was the deal, Rick explained. He could be at the house in short order — a miracle in itself — but because it was a holiday, the house call alone would be $190. Then who knows what on top of that? Parts. Extra time. Maybe it was just the igniter. Maybe it was something bigger, like, who knows, the atom splitter or plutonium reset bar. What did I know?
Honestly, after just driving eight hours from the in-laws, with no food in the house, with the thermostat at 40 degrees, I was about to say, “Rick, look, whatever you gotta do. . .’’ It’s my standard line for all repair guys.
But he interrupted.
“So,’’ he said, “you’re talking $190-plus, or. . .’’
OK, or. . .??
“Or,’’ he said, “there’s a chance I can talk you through it.’’Continued...