slippery slope into shit work
Wednesday, November 10 2004
I always enjoy the tinkering I do around the house with its systems, surfaces, and structures, and it's easy to delude myself into thinking I can enjoy doing such work for other people. Such is the delusion of the cowboy electrician or cowboy plumber, lacking both certification and broad experience but making up for it with responsiveness at an affordable price. But I'm discovering that cowboy tradesmanship is a slippery slope into shit work. For some reason I agreed to take another cowboy plumbing job on Eagle's Nest Road with still another client referred through the Eagle's Nest neighbor network. Today's mission was to perform a pre-winter drain of the plumbing system at a cabin perched on the edge of a cliff above the Esopus Valley (just above the intersection where Wynkoop meets Hurley Mountain Road). Since I drive for a half mile directly toward (but beneath) this cabin every time I leave central Hurley on my way home, I've often wondered about the people living there. At night it seems to hover like a stationary UFO. Well, today I discovered that it was nothing more than a summer cabin, and a somewhat ramshackled one at that. Provisions have been made to make it habitable in the winter time, but (according to the owner) the last year-round resident skipped town owing months of back rent.
I'd brought both dogs with me to this job and the cold weather was making them extra frisky. The client, who'd just driven up from the city, also had his dog, a goopy-eyed pocket poodle, the kind no straight man would have unless his granny had just died. The inside of the house was filled with the bitter pungency of dead mice decomposing in mousetraps. It's the kind of smell that makes you immediately dubious about the habitability of any place where you detect it. Had there been nothing else wrong with this job, that alone would have been enough to make it miserable.
But there were other things: the cold, the wind, the dampness, the fact that Eleanor and Sally kept dashing around like psychos and going into places even after I insisted that they stay out. But worst of all was the grumpy attitude of the client. He was a man in his fifties who had the annoying habit of asking "what?" as though he hadn't heard whenever I said something that he didn't believe to be true. No matter what I said about his plumbing and the physical laws it obeyed, he had other ideas. Or else he was just in the way. He spent a long time in a crawl space blocking my access to the crucial spigots at the lowest point in the plumbing system, and his arthritis was such that even when he did begin to emerge, his action didn't complete for another ten minutes. The guy had told me this job would only take a half hour, but it took a lot longer. Both he and I became cranky as the light faded prematurely behind the overcast under the ruthless paradigm of still-unfamiliar Standard Time. As I filled bucket after bucket of water from a slowly draining hot water heater, I found myself demanding of myself, "I'm 36 years old and I'm doing this for money? What happened to my dreams?" At the end the bastard only gave me the thirty dollars I'd quoted him back when he'd told me it would only be a half hour job. I could have kicked myself for having ever quoted a price. Never again!
It was great to be in my truck driving away from that horrible cabin, but somehow its awfulness lingered. I could still smell it. It turned out that either Sally or Eleanor had been rolling in one of the rotten Deer Mice that the grumpy client had tossed into his yard.
Back at the house, I connected an insulated duct to the PVC-lined perforation in the boiler room wall and routed the fresh air down beneath the boiler. I would have preferred to seal the duct against the boiler's air intake, which is a pair of small adjustable holes each about a half inch square in size. But I couldn't find any documentation on the web of anyone doing such a thing, so I just let the cold fresh air pool itself on the floor beneath the boiler. I'm crazy like an assassin, but I'm not going to get experimental with my house's boiler.
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