mouthful of kerosene
Wednesday, February 26 2003
I woke up at around 5pm this morning because I was cold. Then I realized that the only explanation for the room being this cold was that the tank had run out of oil for the boiler. We'd scheduled more oil to be delivered for Thursday, but with temperatures dipping into the single digits and otherwise staying below 20, that wouldn't be soon enough. In the meantime, I started up a fire in the wood stove and plugged in an electric space heater. In a house of this size, these were feeble measures at best. Perhaps they'd buy me enough time to get some sleep.
But with this now hanging over my head, I couldn't sleep at all. I saw the sun rise gradually over the distant Berkshires to the east. As it did so, it illuminating the far wall in ever-brightening shades of first orange and then yellow. "At least we'll get a little solar heat out of this," I thought. This was the one consolation that gave me the peace of mind necessary to drift back to sleep.
But at around 7:30 am I was awake again and told Gretchen of the unpleasant news. She suggested I immediately call some oil companies and get one to make an emergency delivery.
I had no luck in this effort. Oil delivery companies are very particular about their delivery schedules, apparently to the point of rudeness. From the curt way the woman at KOSCO responded to my pleas, I could have sworn I'd accidentally reached a phone across the river in Rhinebeck.
I eventually did get some advice for what to do, and this sent me into Kingston on a mission to get large fuel containers and fill them with kerosene. Evidently this is the "oil" that is burned in an oil burner, or something close enough to it. By the way, kerosene costs $1.71 a gallon these days.
I poured all the kerosene in our 275 gallon oil tank and then went downstairs to restart the boiler. It huffed and puffed but, after its cold electronic eye had looked for the programmed amount of time and had seen no fire, it gave up. I tried several more times, hoping maybe the oil was delayed in arrival, but still no luck. So I disassembled the oil filter mechanism and looked to see if oil was flowing. It wasn't, and furthermore, the filter was all gummed up with all sorts of rubbish ranging in size from 1 mm boulders of rust to an extremely fine silt, perhaps pulverized Iraqi bedrock. At this point my troubles really started budding off of each other. For some reason the oil filter housing refused to be reassembled, acting as if the axis bolt (holding the two halves of its drum together) had grown three fifths of an inch too long. So there I was, out in the garage with an increasingly dull hacksaw sawing that mysterious extra length off its tip.
Even then, though, the oil wasn't getting through. Perhaps some water in the tank had frozen into a ice plug in the line. So I heated it with steaming-hot rags. Still no good. So I shimmed up the tank slightly on one side, hoping to force more oil to the side being tapped by the fuel line. That didn't help either. So in desperation Gretchen called the oil delivery people and asked them for suggestions. They said that liability issues prevented from telling us anything, but added that perhaps sludge was blocking the fuel filter or air was blocking the line (we should have had a tape recorder running just in case there's ever a court case).
Since the fuel wasn't even making it to the filter, my problem had to be the air, which, though nice to have around when one sets out to draw a breath, is too much like a little Dutch boy's finger when found within a narrow copper pipe. The only tool I had available for getting that air out of there was a length of plastic hose and the vacuum system everyone is equipped with at birth, a mouth. I slurped on one end of the hose while pressing the other firmly against against the copper fuel line. That wasn't working, so I had to suck the fuel line directly. Getting a mouthfull of sludgy kerosene isn't as unpleasant an experience as I'd expected it to be, but it wasn't exactly recreational either.
After I had the furnace running again, the oil burned in fits and starts as the sludge and air bubbles passed into the inferno. Meanwhile, puddles of leaking kerosene formed under the filter, which I was having difficulty keeping leak-free. If I added up all the time I spend fixing leaks, it probably exceeds the amount of time I spend watching paint dry.
I was doing some Google searches tonight on subjects that I've written about just to see how much other people have also written about them. One of the most alienating experiences of my pre-pubescent childhood had to do with the existence of Bible trailers at my public elementary school. Once each week I had to do something else with the token Jew and Catholic while our classmates learned about the Protestant Jesus just off public property. I know that my school wasn't the only one with a Bible trailer - there's one outside every public school in the Shenandoah Valley and probably throughout the entire Bush-backing Bible belt. But when I do a search for the phrase "Bible trailer" in Google, I find I'm the only person who has ever written about this phenomenon online. This is astounding. Is it really so easy to become the de facto expert in such a widespread instance of public religious coercion?
If anyone doesn't think public school is an instrument of indoctrination and conformity, one need only look at the occasions when children do try to wiggle out from beneath the boot to express themselves. I recently read about a case where a kid wore a teeshirt to school featuring a picture of George W. Bush with the caption "international terrorist." Authorities at the school, concerned about the "disrupting effect" of his unorthodox message, ordered him to wear the teeshirt inside out for the rest of the day. The kid refused, and took his case to the ACLU.
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