SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 27, 2011

Perini Scloroso Heating and Air-Conditioning

 

It first began in early January. I was as yet unattuned to the sorts of sounds the apartment makes, and so just thought things had gotten a little chillier. It wasn’t until the third or fourth day, when I found myself trying to curl up catlike under a halogen lamp and warming my hands over the stovetop that I finally asked my upstairs neighbors if they were freezing their asses off, too. That’s when I learned that there were problems with the heating system. This was not good news during a cold winter.

            There’s a small side room in the Bunker, and off the side room is the boiler room, which is located just on the other side of the wall from my bed. I don’t go in the boiler room much, as I would die there. It’s a dark, cluttered, filthy miasma of overheated early twentieth century machinery. It’s best I simply leave the door closed and not think about it.

            After the repairman showed up and got the heat radiating again that first time, the system shut down again about a week later. Then two weeks after that. Then ten days after that.

            Given that it’s on the other side of the wall from my bed, by the fourth time the heat went down, I had at last come to recognize what it sounded like. Instead of a smooth metallic click followed by ten or fifteen minutes of soft humming, every five minutes the boiler would click twice, then gag, then sputter out. Over and over again.

            When it happened the fifth time, a Greek plumber showed up instead of the regular maintenance man (whom I’d come to know quite well). He showed up on Thursday evening.

            Instead of knocking and waiting for me to answer the door, he jiggled the knob and tried pushing the door open. I heard him grunt on the other side. Why I opened the door, I can’t say.

            He grunted again. “Eh. You live here.” His accent was so heavy it took me a moment to decipher what he said.

            “Um, yes, I do.”

            He stepped around me, marched to the side room, and on to the boiler room. I followed a little tentatively, hoping he really was the plumber, and not just some guy who planned to move in. I stood near the door of the side room, in case I needed to make a break for it.

            He was back there for about ten minutes. I heard some splashing, a good deal of metal clanging on metal, and far too much laughter.

            When he stepped out of the boiler room again he seemed distraught in spite of all his earlier chuckling.

            “Two leak. Porkypig.”

            “Pardon?”

            He pointed at the floor. “Bookses look. Move off. Cigarette porkypig.” At least that’s what it sounded like. He seemed quite insistent.

            “Pardon?”

            “Two leak. Move off. I’ll ruin no move.”

            “Oh,’ I said. “I see,”

            “Bats leakses. Gray. I back tomorrow.”

            He walked past me again and out the front door. I followed him and locked it. Somehow from our exchange I was able to deduce the following: the boiler had two leaks, and he was suggesting that I move all the boxes of books I was storing in that room, as the room would soon be flooded.

            I think he told me the place was going to flood, but I honestly wasn’t sure. My Greek was as rusty as his English, and that “porkypig” was throwing me. Maybe he was telling me to move out so he could move in.

            As bad as both interpretations sounded, I had no interest in moving the books. I decided I’d take my chances instead, keep an eye on things, and if the boiler water started creeping under the door, well, then maybe I’d move a few boxes.

            Every hour or two I slipped into the side room, patted the floor, and listened to the water dripping and spilling onto the floor of the boiler room. Although my own floor was still dry, I was starting to get a little antsy about this. At least he was coming back the next day to fix it.

            Well, he never came back on Friday. He did, however, show up on Saturday.

            “Hallo. Pomegranate,” I think he said as he marched past me to the boiler room. He was only there for a few seconds. “Yah. Two leak. Back Monday. It’s about elves.”

            “Elves?”

            “Yah. Monday living.”

            “Okay.”

            Then he left again, and I kept checking, waiting for the flood waters to rise. It sounded like things were pretty bad in the boiler room, where the constant drip had now become a drip and a splash.

            It rained hard on Sunday, and out back I could hear the water collecting into an ever-deepening pool. All day long it sounded like someone was pissing non-stop back there. What worried me was that in geological terms my apartment was lower than the backyard. Given what I know of fluid mechanics (not much, but enough) it seemed inevitable I was going to be having trouble soon. I still didn’t move the books, but I did increase the frequency of my checks to every fifteen minutes. Things remained dry.

            As I waited for the elves to show up Monday morning, I was tired of all this. Elves or no, I just wanted to get on with things. I made another check of the side room. The floor was dry, but that’s when I heard the dripping.

            The bastards had pulled a fast one on me—instead of coming under the door, the water was coming down from the ceiling. Son of a bitch.

            It seemed fairly localized over a single stack of boxes, so while I finally did have to move a few things, I only moved a few. I grabbed some buckets, and positioned them on the floor as best I could. They seemed to catch everything.

            Only trouble now was that I had to deal with the incessant tap . . . tap . . . tap . . . tap . . . as each drop hit the bottom of the bucket. I tried closing the door but it was no good—I could still hear it in there, driving me slowly mad. Tap . . . tap . . . tap.

            Even worse than the tapping itself was the interval between the taps—the waiting, the trying to guess when the next drip was going to come.

            Before I began screaming the perplexing Greek plumber showed up. He didn’t seem to have any elves in tow, but he had a tool box. That was something.

            “Gah!” he erupted when he stepped into the side room and saw the buckets. “Darla Michaels!”

            “I’m not sure, I said. “It started about ten this morning.”

            “Gah,” he replied, stepping once again into the boiler room. “Crow pedicure””

            “Yeah, about ten,” I repeated.

            For the next twenty minutes there was a good deal of banging, splashing, and what I presumed to be Greek cursing. Then he vanished for a few minutes. When he walked through the front door again, I asked him how things were going.

            “Lighty-brighty.”

            “I see,” I told him. “Well, very good then.”

            He stared at a me a moment, as if waiting for something. Then he stepped around me, turned on one of the stove burners, and I heard him light a butane torch.

            He resumed his splashing, and clanging, and cursing—but now with a butane torch. It seemed like a positive step, I thought, unless of course he blew us both up.

            An hour later he disappeared again.

            “So how are things going?” I asked when he returned.

            “Cutie pie,” he said, and went back to it.

            At about four o’clock, he emerged soaking and sweating from the boiler room. “Finish,” he said.

            “That’s great,” I said, hoping he wasn’t expecting me to wrap up for him back there. “Thank you. Now . . . what about that leak in the ceiling?”

            He shook his head as he washed his hands in the sink. “No, no—half upstair system. Half worry airship. Upstair.”

            “Well all right, then.”

            After he left, I decided to leave the buckets where they were for a couple more days. Just in case I was mistranslating. Meanwhile I’m still wondering about “cutie pie.”

 

You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:

With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.