Monday, January 24, 2011

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I was going to title this post "Ashes Are Burning," after the song by the British band Renaissance, but decided that it sounded more defeatist than I felt. Instead, I'm going with the book by Judith Viorst. Just substitute me for Alexander.

The agenda (get out to the old house and keep on with Operation Clean Sweep) was bad enough. But I left the house without my wallet or checkbook and was unwilling to go back and get them. It was good of whomever is doing it that they had plowed the driveway again. From there, things went as well as could be expected, though there were tears. I finished in the kitchen, the pantry, the supplies closet, and my mother's bedroom, headed upstairs and started in on the long hallway with its many drawers and the equally long closet that runs its length. This seemed to take forever, but I found some treasures, including several pieces that my mother made. I swept through the guest room -- nothing much there -- and started on the attic. But by then it was three PM and time to load the car.

I had parked too close to a snowbank on the passenger side. When I started up the car to move it, I heard a POP, thought What the hell is that? and knew the answer immediately: I had no power steering. Fluid all over the snowy ground.

No wallet meant no Triple A card, which meant I would have to drive it home that way and risk breaking the whole column. What to do? I finished loading, though the frustration level had ramped up a notch or two, and was not helped by the extreme cold.

By 3:30 I had finished, and went inside to grab a shower. One of the few things I dislike about the new house are the bathrooms and the water pressure in the upstairs shower. I'm paying to heat the water at the old house anyway, so I might as well use it when I can, right?

I suspected nothing because I had hot water for the duration. Still, it had been a few weeks since the oil tanks were filled, so I went down to take a look at them. And my jaw flopped open. They were bone dry, on the coldest Sunday of winter.

I called the oil company (which has the worst name that an oil company could ever hope to have: Dead River). got their emergency line, and the woman I spoke to put the call out. Then I realized there was three feet of snow in the front yard, closer to five feet beside the road where the town plow had piled it up.

I started talking to myself, and what I said, over and over, was "You're in a hell of a mess!" I went out and started shoveling.

This ramped the frustration up several more notches, and made me tired in the bargain.

By the time I finished, no one had called back. I walked down the hall to the attic just long enough to carry out one box, and by the time I got back there was a message on the phone from a very dull-sounding man, saying "Ayuh, I god a call from dispatch to call you." [Pause] "Guess I'll call back laytah."

A far cry from "We'll send a truck out right away."

I called Dead River again and got a different person. I was getting somewhat frantic by this time. I said "I just missed his call" and the man said he'd call again and tell them I was available now, but that I should stay by the phone.

The phone was in my bedroom. My stripped, dirty, empty, sad bedroom. The sun was going down. I don't even have a light in there now. I waited on my knees by the phone and nobody called. When my legs started to hurt I got up and started pacing in the darkening room. I was still talking to myself, asking that bastard in the clouds the Oliver Hardy question, "Why don't you help me?". I waited for what must have been ten or fifteen minutes. By the end of that time I was shouting and screaming at the phone, "Why don't you fucking CALL?!"

That must have done the trick. The man at the other end of the line was much more lackadaisical than what I thought the situation required. I said that the house was out of oil and he repeated after me and said nothing more. I said that I needed oil delivered and a person who could bleed the line and get the furnace and water heater going. He said "I've got someone who can do both of those things."


"How much d'you want?"

I thought that this was a ridiculous question. Enough. As much as you've got. Before I could think of an answer, he said, "Be sure that someone's there to pay the driver."

I said, "Pay the driver?"


"I don't have my wallet or checkbook with me, I don't live here anymore, we normally pay on account, this happened once before a couple of years back and we didn't have to pay the driver!?" When I get frantic I tend to run on a bit.

He said, "You don't have an account?"

"I d-DO h-have an account we've been a customer for thirty five years!" I was beginning to stutter.

"How much d'you want?"

"W-w-well, h-how about five hundred gallons?"

"Five hundred gallons?"

"W-we h-have two five hundred gallon tanks, that should be about half. . ."

Honestly, I don't remember where the conversation went from there. But it ended soon after, and the wait began. I went out to the attic and decided that this was it: I wanted so much to be finished with this ordeal that I made a very quick run through there, packed a few things, carried the boxes down and called it done.

Done. I still have the basement, with laundry on the line and dirty laundry in the sinks, and the workshop and generator room, where I don't expect to find much. But in the main part of the house, I am done.

Done. Maybe one more day of packing, maybe three or four more loads in the car, get the auction house out there to take what they want of what's left, and then I can take the keys down to R___ B______ next door and tell him I am out, the responsibility will be his and his son-in-law's. I'll still have things outside and in the two barns, or course -- that's maybe two or three more additional trips. But --

Done. I pulled the phone out of my bedroom and brought it to the kitchen, so that I would never have to go beyond the living room, ever again.

As the darkness closed in on the house, it became even more horrible. I packed up the last clothes in my bag that I'd found in the attic, and started piling boxes in the kitchen hall. I began sobbing, then wailing and screaming. The tears were literally dripping off my face, snot was running from my nose, I tried very hard to stop but every time a wretched shriek climbed up out of my gut and I was off to the races again. The level of frustrations and the stress and tiredness, and the relief and sorrow of knowing that I was "done" had all built up to the point where I couldn't control it anymore. It was a total meltdown that went on for half an hour or more.

The oil truck arrived just after five. He spent an hour filling the tanks and starting the machines (it turns out that the house has two 275 gallon tanks, not two five hundreds. We settled on 250 gallons). He told me the most horrible story.

It came about because he asked why I was so out of breath. I couldn't tell him that I had been behaving like a crybaby and had only just stopped. I told him the rest of the truth.

He was a young man. He seemed very much at peace. He said, "Once you get past this, I bet you'll see that things all turned out for the best. I really believe that there's a plan for everyone." Then he told me that his younger brother had died of leukemia five years ago, and that he had recently lost his father.

He said, "We took him into the hospital to have his big toe amputated. It got infected and they had to take his whole foot. Then that got infected, and they took his leg up to the knee. Then that got infected and they took it up to the groin.

"When that got infected again, they said they were going to have to cut off everything below his navel.

"Well, it was just my sister, my older brother and me. He was already in a medically induced coma. I said, 'He would never forgive us if he woke up to that.' And they all agreed.

"We told the doctor no. He said, 'In that case, he's probably going to die within a month.' We told him our thoughts, that dad was a very active outdoorsy man who would not want to live like that. And he said, 'In that case, you're probably making the right decision."

He said, "Someday, you're going to reach a place where you'll be able to just put your head back. . ." And here he put his head back, spread his arms, sucked in some air and smiled widely. ". . . and say, 'Everything's great!' Just try to focus on the good things in life."

Both the furnace and the water heater were roaring away by this time. He said, "My friend, you're all set," and we shook hands.

It was six-fifteen when I finally pulled out of the drive. And I do mean pulled. On the highway, the gentle curves were easy to manage, but on the side roads and in town the turns required quite a lot of muscle.

I was so glad to finally get home. I hugged and kissed the quats until they were quite sick of it.

This morning I drove over to the dealership and left the car with them, so that's in progress. I called Fairpoint from work. They said that my phones had gone online on Friday as expected. I said, "No they didn't." She put me on hold and after a bit came back to tell me that the lines tested fine right up to the house, which means that a service appointment is needed: $95 for the first half-hour, $45 for every half hour beyond. The earliest they could schedule me for was the second of February. I took it.

When I told my boss, she basically said, "Nuh-ah!" That Tuesday is the first day of book rush, and she wants me here every day, extended hours. I had to call Fairpoint back and push the date forward to the 8th.

As Mr. Vonnegut so aptly put it, "And so on." Me, I'm just looking forward to that day when I can put my head back, spread my arms wide, and say, "Everything's great!"

-- Freder

1 comment:

  1. I have always been a heavy believer in things happening for a reason. Sounds like your reason for being out of oil and the bull shit of the day was all designed so you could meet this person who could inspire you. Hooray for fate!


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