Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Fix is In

I'm afraid that this year, the holidays have been somewhat delayed chez nous.

Our lives haven't been upended quite as drastically as that of the poor couple above, but some days, for the past three weeks, it's felt like it. Our Ford-administration era condo, you see, at long last this past summer realized that the original HVAC units in each apartment - devices that probably seemed space-age in 1975 - had simply reached the end of the road and of their increasingly attenuated life span. Time to swap them out.

It'll be easy, they said. Two days of repair work per unit, they said, three days max. No fuss, no muss (but do have your $12,000 ready, please, up front), they said.

If I used that sort of thing here in this august little literary redoubt, here is where I would insert that animated GIF of Kathy Bates in American Horror Story (a program I know almost in its entirety only from animated GIFs), histrionically mouthing "LIEEEEEEEEESSSSS!" Because, oh, are the members of our condo board perfect little pinocchios.

It started Thanksgiving weekend with an innocuous note telling us that the work was starting, and please therefore move all furnishings no less than four feet from each of your HVAC units. Now, as I think you might not be surprised to learn, we're not exactly minimalists hereabouts, so that presented some challenges. Nonetheless, I went ahead and emptied a china cupboard and we duly moved assorted bits and bobs large and small in both the living room and our bedroom.

Oh, by the bye, said the next letter from the board, be ready to move all small items and breakables anywhere in the rooms affected, and with sinking hearts we realized that this was going to be no picnic.

Then, on schedule (and believe me, that's the last time you'll hear that phrase out of me in regard to this project), the doughty workmen arrived and ripped open the walls in both rooms. And then they left. And for days... nothing.

Finally, a note from the actual HVAC company noting that the first installations in the building had proved "problematic" (and is it just me, or is that a word one sees more and more nowadays?) and each apartment was likely to fall back in the schedule for "some days." With the dining room table shoved up against the other china cupboards and piled high with the contents of the living room one, and with the balance of that room's furniture huddled up around the sofa on the far wall as if for warmth (something in short supply, by the way, as the first thing that happened was cutting the heat), Mr. Muscato and I perched in the chill, eating our dinners off our knees in the back sitting room, staring miserably at one another waiting for the next letter.

Eventually - a mere week and a half or so after the scheduled date - the next round of repairmen came, and wonder of wonders it did indeed take them only a day to swap out both the old units for shiny new ones. In the process, however, they discovered that the massive amounts of insulation foam that had been installed back when Betty Ford ruled the earth was apt to disintegrate at the least touch into a fine and floating residue that in short order made the whole place look as if the two of us had taken up as an unconventional hobby eighteenth-century wig-powdering, albeit with an excess of enthusiasm and a severe debit of aim.

Then, after a lapse of several more days (as it seems that by this point the two firms carrying out the project, one for the heating/cooling units and one for the wall issues, were no longer on speaking terms), the carpenters returned and immediately laid down their tools, announcing that the living room unit was larger than the old one, meaning that they couldn't simply use the drywall panels they'd planned on or reuse the old lengths of woodwork, and on top of that the bedroom unit had been installed with a lighthearted disregard for both geometry and geography, and so was considerably askew and set back a good two inches two far.

The foreman offered to work around this as best he good, but as this would have resulted in an unanticipated and oddly angled sort of devotional niche of some kind smack in the middle of a wall far better suited for its actual use (to have in front of it a dresser), this seemed untenable. Cue another several-day delay while the two firms worked through their relationship issues.

Then it turned out that the unit repair people had gone ahead and thrown out all the woodwork bits that actually could have been replaced. Another day or two of wrangling. It now felt as if our building HVAC repair project was being carried out by the dueling households of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, or perhaps the Hatfields and McCoys, so fierce was the enmity between the two companies involved.

At the start of last weekend, the kind and merciful HVAC firm did go so far as to finish the rewiring of the two units, allowing us once again to re-enter the first world at least insofar as it was possible to bring the sitting room temperature up from one more suitable to a morgue. That was the good news. 

The bad news was that in the process, they had managed somehow to blow several circuits on the far side of the apartment, something I discovered at about 9:00 o'clock on Friday evening when it suddenly occurred to me that when you opened it, the refrigerator wasn't supposed to remain as dark as the tomb (speaking of morgues). There are many ways I might describe the process of finding an electrician willing to appear on no notice at all at that hour on a Friday night, but "amusing" is simply not one of them and so we'll move on. Suffice it to say that I did, at long last, and that he was very nice, although when he noted in passing that gee, that unit in the back room sure is crooked I nearly decked him.

At length, however, we found ourselves with both functioning heat and a working refrigerator, albeit still with the walls wide open. This week has been marked by a daily series of calls to Bob, the taciturn supervisor of the carpenters, checking in on the glacial pace of carrying out the apparently rocket-science level work of putting up drywall panels, painting, and tapping into place crown molding and baseboards. One day the guys forgot their paintbrushes; the next, they didn't have a plane to sand down the molding. Death by a thousand paper cuts.

And none of this takes into account the trauma of two little dogs banished to the sitting room while unknown persons bang and crash and generally invade their space, day after day. Let's just say they're not happy, and they're very good at expressing that, the little... dears.

But now - and I almost hold my breath as I type - it's done. I came home last evening to see the crown molding glittering in the distance at the far end of the living room as I came home from the office, and I went into the bedroom to see once more a smooth expanse of wall, punctuated only with a grate and, I must admit, a very snazzy new thermostat, in the bedroom.

Last night, as an early Christmas present (to me, if not to the downstairs neighbors), after I went to bed Mr. Muscato even moved most of the living room furniture back into place.

It may well be that our long national (well, residential) nightmare is over. It does seem rather luxurious, I do admit.

Our old units were powered by motors that after four decades of service sounded rather like those of DC-10s at full throttle, while the new ones whisper quietly in the background. The old ones had two temperature settings, hot or cold, and two levels of functioning, on or off. The new ones come with a digital panel only slightly less complex than the space shuttle's, allowing us to raise or lower the temperature by any degree of our choosing and even to vary the climate by time of day (no more chilly 5:00 a.m. breakfasts, as the unit whooshes into life at 4:45 to prepare for my rising).

So now, at long last - as long, you're probably thinking, as it's taken you to read this screed, presuming you've gotten this far - I can restock the china cupboard, return the bibelots to their accustomed places, and finally haul out the Christmas decorations.

God bless us every one. Except, possibly, Bob and his confederates on both sides of the Great HVAC War of 2015.


  1. I have noticed as you have also that home improvements projects expand overnight and it takes at least 3 trips to the store to get the one more thing you need.

  2. When I say "been there, done that," please don't think I am being cheeky. There is nothing worse than having a contractor promise "x" and then not delivering it, but "y" and three weeks behind schedule. Worse still, they demand PROMPT, payment, despite lolly gaggery schedules on their part.

    At least with a stand alone house, you don't have to wrestle with the Co-Op board or the Condo Association.

  3. If it had gone on much longer, you probably would have ended up doing Queen Elsa impressions. Jx

  4. I think you showed great restraint, probably more than the dogs did, and certainly more than I would have.

    1. To add insult to injury, not a one of the workman was in even the vaguest way comely. It's bad enough to clutter up the joint for a couple of weeks; they might at least have done us the favor of being cute and shirtless.

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  6. What a story. Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end.