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Friday, January 25, 2002

With the newspapers full of stories of homeless people freezing on the streets, I tried not to whine when I had to call my landlord this morning to tell him my furnace wasn't working. It's been the coldest week of the year, but for maybe the first time ever I was glad to see the clouds roll in today. Sure, that means rain for the weekend, but it also means it'll be a little warmer. Not enough to make the street people comfortable, but enough so I wouldn't be frozen in my own house.

The first time I noticed that I wasn't getting any heat was late last night. I was still up watching Nightline (and this week's series about the eastern Congo is another reason not to complain about my life). I paused the show (thank you, TiVo, you are my friend) and took my flashlight upstairs (because they still haven't fixed the loft light). I read and reread the instructions for relighting the pilot light, then followed them precisely, but when I turned the thermostat back up, nothing happened. I flicked it a couple of times, and the forced air started to blow, so I assumed I'd solved my problem.

Hah! Like anything was going to be that easy. I went to bed (eventually), and noticed that the furnace was coming on, blowing unheated air for a minute or so, and then going off again. It did that a few times, but I wasn't about to get out from under the electric blanket to try anything else. I relit the pilot light again the first thing this morning, but nothing happened. No air, no heat. So I called the landlord and woke up his wife. I tried not to whine when I asked her to give him the message, and then I got through the day the best I could.

I'm no fan of space heaters, except when I really need one. I have a little one that I bought last year, during my first winter in this high-ceilinged, hard-to-heat house. I rarely used it then, but I was glad to have it today, even if it did mean plugging it in and unplugging it as I moved from one work station to another. (And who am I kidding? I moved it back and forth between the computer and the couch a few times.) It was on all day, which should send my electric bill through the (very high, peaked) roof.

When the landlord hadn't called me back by six thirty, I did finally start to panic. I don't like making phone calls in the first place, and having to make a follow-up call, and having to do it during the dinner hour, intimidated me. I decided if he wanted me to freeze all night, I would. If he wanted to take care of it in the morning, he'd have to deal with me in my sleep clothes (not that I was going to wear anything but sweats to sleep in a house with no heat). I made up several conversations in my head in which I was highly indignant over having to put up with his callous attitude.

He showed up at my door about seven, and I explained the symptoms. He immediately suspected the thermostat and checked the wiring. Then he went out and bought me a new thermostat, came back and installed it, and left me in a much warmer mood. It took him ten minutes to take care of a problem I could have obsessed over for months.

It's quite cozy in here when I'm not freezing. I peeled off a couple of layers of sweatshirts and settled in for the night.

The landlord asked if I had any other problems to report, and of course I couldn't think of them on the spot. So it's a good thing he had to go out and buy a new part. That gave me time to make my list. It's a short list, but each item has some personal meaning. Two light switches don't work at all — the one in the loft and the one in my bedroom. And the hot water in the kitchen leaks. Plus, there's that rotting fence I keep pointing out to him and he keeps forgetting about.

That's it. I told him I'd put the list in with next month's rent check. He lives just next door, so I don't have to go far to complain. Maybe that's why I don't complain much, because he's right next door. It's easy to be a good tenant and a good neighbor, as long as you don't expect your neighbor to be a very good landlord.

There are plenty of other things I could complain about, like the rutted, muddy driveway, and the garden sprinkler system he promised to fix before I moved in. But it's not worth it to me to make a big deal out of things that aren't critical to my comfort. I'd rather have a good relationship with him than give him a reason to want to raise my rent. I like the fact that most of the time he forgets I'm back here.

The muddy driveway played a role in another low point in my day. As I was driving out on my errands this morning, I saw an empty yogurt carton on the ground next to the recycle container. It had obviously fallen out when the truck came by to pick up. So much for my neighbors not knowing what I'm throwing out (although it's hard to be embarrassed about yogurt; it could have been much worse).

So I diligently stopped the car and stepped out to put the yogurt carton back into the container. That was a good idea, but the execution was faulty. I stepped down hard into the last mud puddle left over from the most recent storm. I hadn't looked to see where I stopped the car, and I definitely didn't look down to see where I was stepping. My shoes were gross and my socks wet until I got back home an hour later.


Clouds on the eastern horizon.

Okay, one more thing. This wasn't that horrible a day, really, but it just seemed that I couldn't get from morning to night without having as many things as possible go wrong. I finally got around to hanging a wall calendar behind the computer desk. I didn't bother to hang one all last year, but I had a call from the workers' compensation auditor, and I wanted to mark the date she was coming. (February 8, if you're scoring at home.)

If you guessed I hit my thumb with the hammer, you'd be absolutely right, and you know me too well. I'm useless with tools, and my eyesight isn't that great either. Put it all together and you get a black thumbnail. Calendar's up, though. It's still January, and the full moon isn't until Monday.

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Latest recommendation:

Jon Carroll's column, January 24, Fever all through the night

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Broken pipes, broken tools, people bending broken rules.