January 11, 2009

The Buzzing II:  This Time It’s Broken


For nearly two months now, my apartment building has been undergoing some massive renovations. Things are being replaced and installed and painted and drilled and pounded and sawed. This is ultimately a good thing I’m told, but it’s meant two months of paint fumes, ladders, sawdust and the incessant grinding of power tools. It’s also meant living without a front door for a couple of weeks, and being trapped in my apartment.

            Things seem to be winding down, though. There are doors with fancy new locks, new mailboxes, new floors and freshly painted walls. The only things left to take care of are the front door buzzers.

            I have a long and unpleasant history with door buzzers. When I first moved in here, my buzzer was an electric metal bell mounted near the ceiling in the kitchen. It was, essentially, an old school bell, and every time it rang I jumped and screamed.

            Soon growing tired of this, I climbed up on a chair one day and stuffed the bell with cotton balls, effectively disabling it.

            Not long after that, my landlord decided to install new buzzers. The new one didn’t make me jump and scream. In fact the electronic chirping was almost pleasant. A gentle tap on the shoulder announcing that someone was downstairs. The problem was that too many people were stopping by unannounced at all hours of the day and night. Old friends, drunks, mailmen, angry neighbors, Jehovah’s Witnesses. At first I thought simply ignoring a buzz I wasn’t expecting would do the trick, but some people are persistent bastards. It reached the point where the buzzer was going off five or ten times a day.

            I soon came to hate this buzzer even more than the old school bell, so one day it “mysteriously stopped working.” I never bothered to report this to my landlord. That was maybe twelve or thirteen years ago, and I haven’t had a working buzzer since.

            Now, while there are definite advantages to not having a buzzer (no unwanted guests, no Jehovah’s Witnesses), there are undeniable disadvantages as well. I could work undisturbed, but I also couldn’t receive packages from UPS, FedEx, or anyplace else that required a signature. No drunken hooligans rang my buzzer at one in the morning just for yuks, but it also meant I had to go wait outside no matter the weather—sometimes for an hour or more—if I wanted to have dinner delivered.

            Still, I got used to all those things. If someone wanted to stop by, they had to call from outside is all. And for awhile anyway I had an agreement with the laundromat next door to accept my packages.

            Everything was fine.

            Then one afternoon in the midst of all these recent renovations, a handyman knocked on my apartment door and informed me he was there to install the new buzzer.

            “Oh,” I said.

            After the initial flash of horror, something in my head whispered that with the weather getting colder and my bones getting older, I was becoming less tickled at the prospect of sitting out on the front stoop to wait for a Chinese delivery guy.

            I took a step back to let the handyman inside. “All right.”

            I returned to the kitchen table to continue working on whatever I was working on, and he unpacked his power drill and power screwdriver.

            Ten minutes later he said something, but I wasn’t paying attention.

            Then he repeated himself, a little louder.

            “Hm?” I said, looking up.

            He said whatever he said a third time, and I couldn’t understand him.


            “Come . . . here,” he growled slowly.

            “Oh.” He seemed to be in a cranky mood, and I wasn’t helping any.

            Now, one of the subtexts to this entire renovation ordeal has been my landlord’s unstated effort to make the building more blind friendly. She’s a sweetheart that way. If ever I was entering or leaving the building, she made sure the handymen stopped what they were doing to clear a path for me. She dropped extra money to get an old fashioned stove with knobs, instead of the new-fangled kind with a smooth touch panel and digital readout (which would’ve been useless to me). The lighting was improved and things were just made generally easier (I didn’t—and wouldn’t— ask for any of these things, but it was awfully nice for her to consider them).

            When I walked over to the handyman and the new buzzer, he grabbed my hand, extended my index finger, and thrust it to the new box.

            First, he dragged my fingertip across the three buttons. Then, just above the buttons, he jammed my fingertip against the Braille panel and began scraping it against the raised dots, which is not unlike scraping your fingertip across a cheese grater.

            “Ow,” I said.

            “See?” he replied. “See?”

            “Uh-huh,” I winced, as he continued scraping my fingertip across the raised dots. “That’s swell.”

            There were two things I didn’t want to tell him, given that he was in a mood as it was. First, I don’t know Braille, and second, even if I did he was dragging my finger across the panel backwards (which is just confusing).

            The scraping went on for a very long time, until I finally said, “Umm . . . why don’t you just tell me what the buttons do?” For godsakes, there were only three of them, after all. It wouldn’t be that hard to remember without having to learn Braille to do it.

            It took some coaxing, but he finally just told me. I think I got them straight, but you know, even if I don’t, all I need to do is hit another button.

            Then he went away, and I went back to work with my raw finger.

            Half an hour later he returned to make sure it worked. He had another handyman posted down at the front door, who tried to buzz my apartment. I heard the buzzer go off in the apartment upstairs. One of the kids who lives up there answered it.



            “What do you want?”

            “I’m just testing the buzzer.”

            “It works.”

            “Very good then, thank you.”

            “You’re welcome.”

            Meanwhile, the guy who was waiting for the buzzer to go off in my apartment shouted downstairs that the guy at the front door should try again. Again the buzzer went off upstairs.


            Eventually they gave up and went away. Since then I’ve had three different handymen up here trying to get the problem straightened out and make my buzzer work. They have yet to succeed. Last I heard, there would be some major rewiring involved.

            “I think you’re destined to be buzzerless,” Morgan said.

            I’m getting the idea that she may be right. And maybe it’s not such a bad thing, after all.


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