by Marvin Pinkis
lend themselves to repair problems, often
intimidating. An old clunker of a furnace in an
old house can be particularly intimidating.
We were proud
of our first home and conducted visitors on the
compulsory tour, concluding in the basement. All
commented on the Behemoth of the Basement.
Now, theres an old timer,
Have you had it checked?, Must
run a fortune to repair. The topper was,
Say, old man, do these suckers ever blow up?
The seeds were
planted. The poison ivy discovered behind the
garage, the broken window sash in one of the
bedrooms, faulty electrical outlets, dripping
faucets, creaky floors all became
subordinate to the furnace.
included frequent, very frequent, stops to sniff
for noxious odors emanating from below. The old
boys ominous rumblings and the raspy sounds
of the blower fan, responding to the
thermostats demands, added no small amount
to the anxiety.
trepidation we embarked on the Great American
Adventure of finding a furnace repair service
from no less a reference source than the Yellow
Pages. The first company reached pronounced us
fools to expect that a service man could be
spared to diagnose Ol Vesuvius sooner than
after summer vacations had ended and the busy
winter season was over. Similar replies to our
importunate inquiries were met with responses
close to derision. I should have been suspicious
when a cheery receptionist, untypically civil and
congenial, succumbed to my whiny cajoling
compassionately and said an expert would be out
that very day. No personal checks.
In less than
thirty minutes a panel truck emblazoned with the
companys name, Acme Furnace Service, with
slogans and cartoon figures, pulled into our
driveway. Its operator, pad in hand, resplendent
in a snappy uniform, cap, bow-tie, smart shiny
shoes, presented himself at our door. We saw no
halo above his head but it was an overcast day.
He appeared too impeccable to be poking around in
the bowels of dirty furnaces, but in a crisis,
who could be critical?
about his firm and listened attentively to
accounts of the miseries of customers taken in by
disreputable competitors. We warmed to this man,
this saint whose timely arrival would deliver us
from the fury of heating plants gone berserk.
respectful tone, I asked evenly if he should now
be directed to the lower depths. I escorted him
down the stairs followed timidly by the missus
who had chewed her nails to the quick. Better
times were near.
immediate environs of the monster he wished to be
with it alone. As we ascended the stairs the
furnace belched, an obvious objection to its
majesty being challenged. But in the din, we
heard the man say, There, there, big fella.
Its going to be all right. My wife
and I exchanged smiles and glances of optimism.
eternity, he emerged ascended into the light of
the kitchen, rubbing his eyes as he adjusted to
the brightness. He seemed calm as a benefactor
should. He commented how nice and big the house
was, what kind of work I did, how everything cost
more today including the upkeep of a place like
ours, a sickly child at home needing expensive
treatment, his aged parents to whom he was the
sole provider, and, his chronic backaches.
truth is, he stated, that your
furnace is reasonably functional, for now that is,
but it has symptoms that spell trouble. Maybe not
for a while. On the other hand
doc- , I mean
telling. With this generation furnace Ive
seen em go as quick as a week after I
looked at them. Youll be lucky if it lasts
Wh-what can go wrong? What should the
contorted into a grim, demonic mask and he
pronounced with no uncertain forefoding as his
voice dropped several octaves. What will
likely happen is the blower motor will go bad.
Its on its last legs. A pause as he
checked his audience. And, thats when
the white smoke will begin.
woman and I shrieked as one, White smoke!
white smoke, thick white smoke. Usually happens
at two a.m. If you should wake up and your
bedroom is filled with white smoke, dont
panic. Quietly,get out of bed, WALK to the closet,
get your robes, valuables, then calmly go down
the stairs to the basement.
thoughts raced through my mind, critical
questions related to his narration begged to be
answered. Like, dont panic. Who
panics when awakened at two a.m. in a smoke-filled
room? Get up quietly, so as not to
disturb the smoke? Go down the stairs,
through the smoke?
to the basement, me in a trance and a persistent
cough and teary eyes. He showed me which fuse to
turn off to stop the furnace blower, but to me
all fuses looked alike. I hesitated to ask how to
dispense with all the smoke until he or the fire
department responded to my desperate summons in
the middle of the night. I mustered the audacity
and he deigned to reply.
outside, he said, but be sure
youre at least several hundred feet from
the house. And, wear a hardhat. Do you happen to
have gas masks? I have some used ones in the van.
an estimate of replacing the motor, (they had a
special until the end of the month), his
summation evoked visions of personal financial
collapse. It made the leak in the toilet and the
need to fix the garage door small potatoes.
Leaving the furnace in dubious health had to be
On his way out
he suggested, Call your insurance agent to
be sure youre covered for smoke damage.
Most policies dont cover it. I know folks
who have had over ten thousand bucks worth of
So far, white
smoke hasnt been a problem. However,
insomnia has been. Every night I anticipate the
white smoke. Ever prepared, I set the alarm for a
quarter to two and wait.