It's not about the house.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Hum of the AssVac

Johnny and I are both comfortable enough doing electric work, but only under knowledgeable supervision. We need somebody to be in charge of the breaker box itself. Somebody to remind us again (and again and again) which wire is the ground. Somebody who owns one of those doohickeys you touch to things to find out if they’re live.

This sounds like a job for Super-Andy!

Poor Andy, we owe him so many favors. He bought a house of his own last year, and Johnny’s been trying to get down there to help him out a bit and start paying him back, but things just keep conspiring against it. Johnny goes while Andy isn’t there, and discovers the room he’s supposed to paint is full of moving boxes. Or they go down together, but Andy’s just finished a double shift and falls asleep as soon as they arrive.

So we tried not to complain when he flaked out on us a couple times. Andy gets out of work at 7:00 a.m.; if he hadn’t arrived by 8:00, we’d know he was on a tear and we were better off without him. The only time we got annoyed was when he showed up with a couple pops in him and wanted to get to work. We may not know how to play breaker box ourselves, but we do assume it’s not a game best tackled with a load on.

Finally, Sunday, he showed up only two sheets to the wind. Johnny allowed as how they could at least make a shopping list with him in that condition. Monday he was one sheet gone, so they went shopping, and came home from Home Depot with a plan.

The only way we’d get Andy here stone-cold sober, they insisted, was if I agreed to play the part of Mother Hen. I was instructed to wake up at 6:30 on Tuesday morning (ha! by then I’ve already been up for an hour, boys) and dial Andy’s cell phone every couple minutes until he picked up. That way, I’d catch him as soon as he stepped out of work, and he wouldn’t have the balls to tell me he was on his way and then go on the piss, as he’d done to Johnny a time or two before.

So I did, and he came, and we (meaning he and Johnny) put the new electrics in the kitchen. It’s not finished-finished yet, but all the wires are run up to all new boxes. See?

Except I lied. There aren’t all new boxes. The ugly old switch that controls the ugly old light is still ugly old there. No sense replacing that until we get the new light/ceiling fan, which I hope to do tomorrow afternoon. But all the other ancient, burn-the-house-down crap got taken out, including the mystery do-nothing switch – which Andy said was so frayed and otherwise disintegrated, we were good and goddamn lucky that we hadn’t managed to conflagrate the AssVac yet. Phew to that, I say!

Andy had said the job would take two hours, and two hours is exactly what it took. They were done by 10:00 on Tuesday morning. Johnny took Andy down the corner for a drink, and I went off to work.

Just like Ozzie and Harriet, we are.

I came home from work later that afternoon to find Johnny – shirtless, freshly shaven, and smelling like an Old Spice factory – running in a tiz around the house. “I just called L—!” he announced, without saying hello.

L— is our actual electrician. We hadn’t called her (yeah, that’s right, she’s a her) in on this because we haven’t got the cash. We did intend to call her for the last, important bits – the range hood, the ceiling fan – but we knew we could get to that point on our own. And, did I mention, we really (honestly, genuinely, I swear to god) have got no freakin’ cash?

So why’d Johnny call L—?

“None of the overheard lights work! Not one of them! None! Every single outlet is okay – well, all the ones that worked before are still okay – but not one of the overheads. I just spent two hours plugging a lamp into every outlet, up and downstairs throwing breakers. Something’s wrong. We did something. It’s not Andy’s fault. I don’t know what we did, but it can’t be good, so I called L—…”

I see. And then you shaved for her?

No, no, I kid. He’d showered and shaved before discovering the situation – in fact, he first noticed it when trying to turn on the exhaust fan when he was done. Why he can’t turn on the exhaust fan before he’s had his shower, I don’t know, but that’s an issue to be dealt with another time. For now, holy crap, there’s a live, frayed, shorted wire somewhere in our attic insulation!

L—’s advice had been to make sure everything was switched to “off.” She said as long as we didn’t flip the switches, it would be okay, and she would be here first thing in the morning. Okay. Phew. Good old grounded L—.

I ran around the house scotch-taping all the switches, because I didn’t trust us not to flip them out of habit, and I didn’t know which toggle might be the one that burned the house down. Then, since the plugs still worked, we brought a table-lamp into the kitchen and cooked dinner by its odd, romantic light:

Yeah, okay, maybe I had my own load on by this time. Can you blame me?

Anyway, in the morning, guess who never showed? Guess who never so much as returned our frantic calls? Guess who still has not even checked in to make sure we didn’t get char-broiled in the night? That's right: good old L—.

But guess who did show up, sober, and who figured out the biz?


You will never guess where the short turned out to be.

Mystery, do-nothing switch.

Apparently, the switch was so old and frayed that it hadn’t actually been functional in years. When we toggled it and it did nothing, that was because it was broken (and, incidentally, dangerous), not because it didn't connect to anything. It did – or was supposed to – connect to something, and when Andy (and Johnny) disconnected it, that circuit was cut off.

And what did that circuit connect to?

Every single overhead light in the whole house!

All the ceiling lights – porch, exaust fan, everything – are run off a single wire in the attic, and that wire goes (or went) up to the attic through that switch. Andy connected a new plug where the old one used to be, so the juice from the breaker box can once more get upstairs, and we’re back in business. For some reason, looking at that new plug makes me laugh:

Okay! We’re all finished now!

I don’t know if it was just a fluke of execution that made the wiring like that, or if there was a reason why somebody’d want to control all the overheads from one kitchen switch. It would make a heck of a neat party trick, I tell you what.

“Last call, folks! You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats. The curtain will rise in one minute.”

“If you are here, Spirits, please give us a sign…”

And last but not least, my favorite:


That's my favorite so far, anyway. Anyone got any more ideas?

P.S. Johnny's down at Andy's as I type this, painting or spackling or doing lord-knows-what. He'll spend the night down there and work again all day tomorrow. At which point we will only owe Andy a million minus two.


Anonymous said...

The revenge of "Earth Hour"!!!


donnastaf said...

How about: "Has anyone seen the boa, I went in to feed her and she wasn't in her cage"

Green Fairy said...

We've started mapping out the wiring in The Box House, and just found out that we've been powering the entire basement (with all our computer goodies) and half the first floor--including the TVs and another computer setup--off a single line. And it's so random, too. An overhead light here, one of three sockets in another room, and skipping a third room before powering half the lights at the other end of the house. Oh those crazy, crazy previous owners!

EGE said...

Hey, Anonymous Jean, maybe you're right. We didn't do Earth Hour around here, but we've been forced dark for about twelve times that lately.

Donna -- Oh my god, my friend Marie (of Roumania) once had an albino boa slither up from the radiator-hole in her apartment floor. I shit you not. GAH!

Green Fairy -- We also have one plug that works even when the main breaker to the entire house is off. When the End Times come, that's where I'm plugging in the coffee maker. (P.S.I'm sending your prize to you today, I swear to god)

su said...

Hey in Maine we did Earth hour! Or maybe I was face down in the snow!

EGE said...

No, I mean WE didn't do it, around HERE. We "forgot."