It's not about the house.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The "Plumber" Came

Well, let’s start by saying it’s a good thing we bought three cords of wood last fall, because it was 57 degrees in the house when we woke up this morning…

The “plumber” is in quotes because he wasn’t a plumber at all but a sales representative from a company affiliated with Keyspan. He had a briefcase and brochures and everything. I told him straight off that our furnace had expired so we definitely had to do this – or do something, anyway – but that we’d need some time to put the cash together. He said they offered financing but he couldn’t remember the percentages exactly. I said that was good to know, but we’d like a written estimate and time to think about it anyway. He said he didn’t have any paper with him on which to print a written estimate. I said had paper. He said no, this was special paper – with their letterhead on it and everything. Oh, well, letterhead. Yes, obviously I can see how my plain white sheets would be ass use to you.

He said he could just give me a price and mail the details later. Fine, I said, whatever. I don’t like you already but you’re here so let’s just do this.

I showed him the furnace. He gasped and said “What happened?” I started to explain about how the old lady never had it serviced, and how the company we’ve been paying had never really bothered either, but his eyes glazed over and started wandering around the basement, so I just let myself trail off.

Next he pointed to the pipes around the furnace and said “this” would have to go before he could let his guys do anything. Shit! I hadn’t even thought about asbestos! He more or less implied without actually saying that I could just go ahead and pull a few feet of it off myself, because he must have sensed somehow that I want to die just like my Grampy did of asbestosis.

He asked if we had gas in the house yet and I said yes, we cook with it – which I’d already told him on the phone. He found the gas line and followed it and said the meter must be outside here, by the kitchen.

No, I said, the meter’s right next to the chimney stack.

No, he said, here is where the pipe goes to the wall so the meter has to be right here.

I said no, I know for a fact the meter is right next to the chimney – that right there is where it goes up to the kitchen.

Well, he said.

Then he just let it go, in the manner of a person who knows he’s right but thinks the fight is not worth having. I went back upstairs to let him finish dorking around the basement on his own.

He did. Then he came up, measured all the radiators, and went out to his car to do the math, saying he’d be back in ten or fifteen minutes with a number. Just as he got back out of his car, though, Johnny came strolling in the yard.

This is odd. I drive Johnny to work in the morning and pick him up at night. It’s a half an hour from our house by car. How in hell was Johnny walking home?

Turns out he’d decided to be here to meet the plumber and had asked his boss to let him out early and to drop him home. But when they were nearly here, the bridge went up (I’d barely made it over myself – that freaking drawbridge is a whole other story on its own), so Johnny got out of the car to let his boss turn back, waited on the sidewalk and then walked the final mile. He effectively lost a half-day’s wages just to be here, and if he’d been two minutes later he’d’ve missed the guy.

He didn’t, though. Miss the guy. He met him coming out of his car – a car Johnny describes as “a brand-new shiny truck” – to present me with the price. First thing Johnny said to him was: “You’re dressed very clean for a contractor!”

The sales rep looked at him and said “You look like you’ve been working. I saw some tools in the basement – are you a plumber?”

“No,” Johnny explained, “we just have friends who are.”

Remember how I was saying the other day about how boys say things to each other that the rest of us can’t hear? Well, I suspect this whole exchange was Johnny’s way of saying he knew what was what and not to fuck him over. And it was the sales rep’s feeble attempt to convey a too-late measure of respect to a husband he had not expected to encounter.

After that, the rep spoke just to me.

Since we were outside anyway I pointed out the meter, exactly where I’d said it was, and the guy said yes indeed I surely did know that of which I spoke. So anyway, the number.

$4900. Not including actual equipment. So about six thousand bucks in all.

Two questions, I said: #1. How long from the time we call until you show up to do the work? And #2: How long will it take? A week, he said, and two days.

“Jaysus!” Johnny said. “Five grand for two days’ work? I’m in the wrong bleeding business!”

Much huffing then ensued, about permits and electricians and inspectors and materials, and Johnny saying he was only kidding, he was a working man himself and he understood these things.

The guy said – to me – that he would call on Monday and we could finance it and he’d order the parts and they’d get the ball good ahead and rolling.

You know what? I never thought I’d be annoyed when a contractor would choose to talk to me instead of to my husband.

So the guy left, and Johnny and I talked. The truth is that $6000 was not so terribly far off from what we had imagined, but maybe about half again what Johnny had (unbeknownst to me) already figured we could get it done for if we hired plumbers and electricians on our own. That’s a hassle I really hate to get into again, but I suppose we need to keep our $2000 more than I need to keep my peace of mined (that was a typo, but I’ve left it in because I like the implication).

But then, I was working out this morning (and let me tell you, there isn’t much greater motivation than a temperature of 59 and no hope of turning heat on) when suddenly I had a thought:

Why, exactly, are we doing this? Is gas heat really that much cheaper? We don’t plan on living here that long – certainly not past the time the fixed-rate runs out on our mortgage – can we actually expect to save that many thousand dollars in those few gambled years? Wouldn’t a new oil burner be more efficient than the old gunked-up one, anyway? What if we just didn’t bother with the whole changeover thing at all?

I don't know. But in the meantime, it is awfully cold in here, even with the fire going. Didn’t I once hear something about how drinking warms the blood…?


Georgetown House said...

Oh yes, definitely warms the blood. If you haven't already, you must have one now, to ensure your [mental] health.

Dealing with heat contractors just sucks. I think I would probably wipe up my sidewalk with a saleman's face though, especially if he chose to imply that I was too stupid [aka "female"] to know where my damn gas meter was located.


mp said...

When it is 57 degrees in the house.. just go outside and run 3 times around the house without a jacket, at top speed.. Then come inside and you will feel toasty warm inside. Remember?