|Lots of things start off simply but then go horribly awry: Archduke
Ferdinand wanted to take a little ride that started World War I, the Titanic tragedy
started as a boat trip to New York, I decided we needed electric garage door openers.
Who wants to put up with the bother of opening the garage doors by hand when Reddy Kilowatt will snatch those doors up by unleashing the power of the electron? An elemental force of the universe harnessed at the touch of a button. Think of the untold leisure provided by an automatic garage door opener.
The only prerequisite was electricity. My garage had none. But, that's why God made electricians. What? Do it myself? Hey, I'm the guy that thinks electrons are about the size of a pea. I put on galoshes and Playtex Living Gloves to change a light bulb [does anyone else think it's creepy to put your hand into something "living"?]. I turn on the microwave and leave the room. If I need electrical work done, I hire experts, so I went about getting estimates to run an electrical line from the house to the garage.
Everyone has favorite craftsmen and are more than willing to recommend them. My mother-in-law suggested her electrician.
"Is he good?"
"He's a little expensive, but he's very good looking."
That should have told me something.
Two days later a studly young gentleman arrived in a pick-up truck large enough to haul the Great Pyramid of Cheops. It was emblazoned with his company's name. He wore a satin baseball jacket with the company name on it. His running shoes had the company logo on them instead of a Nike swoosh.
He looked in my garage and basement and talked about romex, breaker boxes, and duplex switches. He could been informing me about special applications of quantum theory and speaking in cuneiform and for all I understood. I cocked my head and looked alert, trying to look like my dog when I ask her why my checkbook doesn't balance.
He listed a lot of interesting things for me on a piece of paper, then put a total on it: $1,000. A grand to run a fifty-foot wire from my basement to the garage seemed excessive. Satin team jackets must not come cheap. I thanked him very kindly and informed him I would let him know as soon as I discussed the estimate with my wife.
I always blame her for that kind of stuff when I have to tell these guys they're too expensive. I shrug and give them that knowing look we guys can do so well that says: "Wives, can't live without them, can't throw yourself under a bus."
It only works when she doesn't hear me do it.
I ask a friend for an electrician.
"Is he good?"
"He's just starting out and trying to establish his own company."
That's what I wanted to hear give me a lean and hungry guy willing to trade good will for cheap prices.
His estimate came in at $1,150.
This was nuts. The whole garage with everything in it wasn't worth $750.
"Is he good."
"He's out of work and will do it cheap."
Cheap, that's what I wanted to hear.
I'd learned this time. Before the chatter about breakers and boxes began I asked if the job could be done for $600. It could, but I had to do the dog work: dig a trench for the underground wires and drill a hole through the foundation.
That's didn't sound too tough. The trench only had to be 18 inches deep and only wide enough in which to drop a 1-inch pipe. The hole in the house sounded a little tougher since he wanted it through the foundation rather than the wood. But heck, I had a drill. It ran on electricity and everything.
I started on the trench the next day. Eighteen inches doesn't seem very long when you hold your hands that far apart, but in hole terms its about halfway to Tienemen Square.
The ground consisted of about a quarter-inch of topsoil and the rest was Pre-Cambrian clay the consistency of soggy bricks. Fifty-three feet of trench, 10 inches wide and 18 inches deep produces enough dirt to fill the Terminal Tower up to the 18th floor. At least that's how my back felt.
"I finished the trench," I told the electrician.
"Great. I'll be out on Thursday. Have you drilled the hole yet?"
"Not yet. I'll do it on Wednesday."
"Remember, the hole has to be big enough for one-inch conduit."
I went to the big box home center store and began searching for a drill bit at least a foot long capable of going through foundation tile and brick. A high-tech drill bit made of some alloy that was the result of the Manhattan Project set me back eight dollars. It wasn't an inch wide. They didn't even have anything half that width that would chew through brick. It was a quarter-inch wide.
That was fine. I'd drill perforations in the foundation around a one-inch outline and pop it out. Yeah, right.
Drilling the first hole wasn't that tough. No harder than pulling one's own molars. But, at least the screaming sound of metal on masonry comforted me while I sang "Sixteen Tons."
I was about to go into a chorus of "Big Bad John" when I discovered that 18-inch drill bits, like water from leaking pipes, seek the route of least resistance. When I started the second hole a half-inch from the first, the bit insisted on slipping from its nice straight path through the brick into the hole I'd first drilled. I tried compensating and the exit hole ended up three inches up and to the left of the starting point.
I know geometry. I'd start on the opposite side of the circle. It took six choruses of "Workin' in a Coal Mine" to finish the third hole. When I went outside the check the accuracy of the hole I found that an 18-inch masonry bit will wander a little going through a foot of foundation. The third hole exited about six inches away from where I'd started it. At this level of accuracy I wouldn't need a garage door opener. I'd be able to dive into the basement once I punched out the perforations I was drilling.
I came up from the basement covered cobwebs and red brick dust and told my wife about my progress. She wasn't listening. She couldn't take her eyes off of a point to the northwest of my left eye.
"There's something in your hair."
"Get it out."
"I'm scared to touch it it looks like it might be a bug."
"What?! It's too scary to touch, but it's fine to leave in my hair?"
She put on oven mittens before grabbing the mystery object with a pair of tongs. While she girding her proverbial loins for the task I had visions of an Alien about to lay its eggs in my scalp so its young could burst forth from my chest.
It was a wood shaving.
Eventually I got the hole drilled. It cost me $40 and a punch in the face: The man at the equipment rental store told me I needed an electrical rotary hammer. This piece of machinery weighed about thirty pounds and cost $10 an hour to rent with a four hour minimum rental time. I had to give the clerk a check for the deposit, my driver's license number, a number from a major credit card, my car license number, and stand in front of his camera while I was video taped. I'm not exaggerating. It was a good thing I didn't want to rent something really expensive, I hadn't brought along my personal genome.
I got it home, loaded the bit, and started drilling . . . excuse me, rotary-hammering. It zipped through the foundation tiles in about a 18 seconds. Except for the noise, and dust, and vibration, it was a wonder to behold. It was easy. Too easy. My grip relaxed just about the time the hammer encountered the outside brick layer. It seized for a moment; just long enough to spin the hammer in my hands and for my right hand on the hammer's cross grip to spin around and punch me in the face will just a little more force than Cassius Clay used to knock down Sonny Liston. It would have made a lesser man cry. I soldiered on with only a lone tear trickling down my cheek.
Even with the right jab, I had the hole drilled in less than five minutes. That left three hours and forty minutes. I called several friends and relatives, but none of them needed any holes in their foundations and even fewer needed a punch in the face.
I had the hammer back to the rental shop less than a half hour after I checked it out. "Sorry, no refunds. Hey, who gave you the black eye?"
The electrical work and garage door opener installation were anticlimactic. Three guys who knew that they were doing arrived, did mysterious things, and left me with electricity and two working garage door openers and lights in a formerly stygian garage.
It took three times as long to fill in the hole as it took to dig it.
"Why's it taking so long," my wife asked while she sipped lemonade from the back porch as I worked like a share cropper, "the dirt's going downhill?"
I explained how it was easier to create chaos throwing the dirt I extracted from the hole anywhere; than it was to create order placing the dirt back in the hole while trying not to uproot all the grass that lay underneath the dirt mound.
"If you're so careful Mr. Anti-Entropy, why do you have more dirt than hole?"
My backfilling had produced a mound of dirt that looked like the cowboy grave of a fifty-foot python.
I tried to explain the principles of the conservation of matter and energy to her with their special application to excavations, but she looked unconvinced.
"That sounds very interesting, but I have to go help my mother figure out where he lap goes when she stands up."
She grabbed her keys and pressed the button inside the back door. The garage door slid up without the touch of human hands. I would have felt a sense of accomplishment if not for the disappointment of not being the first one to push the button.
"Hey, I wanted to be the first."
"Of course you did, Sugarbritches."
She waved to me as she drove away and I stood in the garage flipping lights and raising and lowering the door. But it wasn't the same, knowing I was second.
© 2003, Pete Nofel