Do you remember the car I had in the 90’s, not the metallic baby poop brown VW Rabbit, which was a great color because you could never tell if it was dirty, or the Subaru, the one we named the “Enterprise” because of its glowing digital dashboard, (that was the one where I had to pretend I was an idiot when I needed the oil checked. The front hood was rusted closed and required a mechanic to open it. “Could you check the oil please?” “Sure, pull the release lever.” “Oh. I am. I think it is stuck…Let me try from a different angle.” And so on. Every other month. A different gas station every time. I miss full service gas stations) but the teal green VW Golf? Do you remember that car? Maybe I had it when we went through that really long period of just missing each other every time one of us moved: me to SF, you to Telluride, me to St. Louis, you to SF, you to New England and me back to SF.
The Golf was a great car, my first new car. My dad bought it for me when I moved back home after graduating from college. I think he got tired of sharing. I drove it across the country three times and once up to Seattle. It even came with a Mexican tarantula which peeked out of the air vent one day while I was cruising down the freeway. It meandered across the dashboard and crawled back into the vent on the other side. I never saw it again, but always assumed it was there, at least in spirit. The car embodied the old VW slogan, “Farfegnugen,” and it had a solid sound system for blasting “Blues Traveler” while driving up and down Rte. 280. So much fun. Especially with the sunroof open. By the time I donated it to NPR, it was fifteen years old and so noisy that the neighbors on our quiet street did not bother setting morning alarms. They knew the Golf would wake them up when Christian commuted to his early meetings.
I took really good care of that car. I had too. Very early on, I realized that if I did not give it the attention it thought it deserved, it would break. Something would go wrong. I am not talking about ignoring services or dealing with the warning lights that came up occasionally. I did all of that. It needed emotional support, or it would react. Once driving from Virginia to South Carolina, our plans got all twisted and rather than doing the trip in two days we had to do it in one. Half way to Beaufort, the Golf dropped its muffler. We had to find a replacement in a junk yard just outside of Hilton Head. As the mechanic said when he lit his torch and went to work, “You don’t see many of them VW’s in these parts.” Or if there was a place for it to park inside overnight and it did not make it there because I was rushing, or the space was full of projects (like curing salami on a huge drying rack or constructing an enormous model for an architecture studio class) it would break down. Timing belts would snap, oil caps would leak, tires would go flat. This really happened. Every single time. When we moved to the East Bay, we did not have a garage. I was a little worried. But as long as the car was washed on a regular basis, it seemed happy.
Thinking about it now, maybe the Mexican tarantula was the car’s spirit animal. I know spiders work hard, but I am sure that they would not want to do a two-day drive in one day or be left outside overnight in the cold. Sometimes I had vivid dreams about opening the car’s hood. Huge hairy spider legs of would push out from underneath the metal plate as eight hundred eyes gleamed and twinkled from the darkness of the engine. It certainly made me a little edgy when I had to check the fluid levels.
I think our house is the same way. We have always worked on it. You know – the constant flow of projects that is our life. I can’t help it. “Imagine how much better the lay out would be if we just move this wall.” That is my mantra. However, this fall, we took house project vacation. We knew the medical stuff was going to be a lot. As the season got busier and busier with surgeries, appointments, follow-ups and phone calls the house started falling apart, one thing after another. Seriously, it seems to be emotionally needy too.
I am just going to list all the items that broke and required repair this fall. It is more efficient that way. I hope, that by acknowledging them, the house will feel loved, or at least paid attention to, and start functioning on a “normal” level, with only one thing breaking every quarter or so. I could live with that.
First, the weed wacker’s clutch worked itself loose around the time of Emlen’s sinus surgery. Christian rebuilt it. I was not really affected, other than trying to figure out if we could live without one. Christian said no. It was necessary. Actually, he looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested we just throw it out and move on. (It cost $0 to take it apart and put back together.)
Shortly after, the backpack leaf blower started acting up. This was also around the time of Emlen’s sinus surgery. I am not really sure what was wrong with it. Christian took it apart, repaired it and got it running again. I spent the two weeks it was down contemplating raking an acre’s worth of leaves and going over our budgets to see if we could afford to replace it. (It cost $0 to fix it.)
Then the refrigerator door closer spring snapped at about the same time I was coordinating Emlen’s post-surgery IV antibiotic regime. I ordered the part and Christian replaced it. It took two seconds to put it back together after waiting ten days for the part to be delivered. With no spring to sync the timing of the doors closing, we had to shut the panels in a certain order or the fridge would beep. Loudly. Really loudly. And angrily. But it is fixed and better than ever. (This repair cost $14 and we have an extra spring, just in case. They come in packs of two.)
On the day we were told that Emlen’s latest throat culture had grown pseudomonas and we would have to embark on a yearlong course of inhaled antibiotics coupled with a few rounds of hospital stays and more IV antibiotics, the dishwasher wouldn’t stop running. Yes, you read it right. It would not stop. I had set it for the Speed Wash Cycle which usually finishes up in an hour. It was still humming away after four hours. It took a while to notice because I was busy wrapping my head around the pseudomonas in Emlen’s lungs. It is one of the bacteria that is really hard eradicate. Sometimes it can’t be done. I called the service people and booked the next available appointment. They came eight days later. They cleaned the pump and declared it fixed. (They charge $150 to walk in the door.)
A couple of weeks later, at about the time Emlen’s new meds arrived and I was explaining to him that he would have to increase his nebulizer therapies by an hour a day, the dishwasher broke again. The same thing on the same cycle. It just washed the dishes forever. I called the repair people. They said the next appointment was twelve days out. When they finally arrived, they declared that we needed a new pump and it would take another week to order. I do not mind washing dishes by hand. Once you figure out a system it is pretty easy. The organizing of the calendar to accommodate the repair people’s schedule – well, need I say more? (Since the company had already charged us for the earlier visit and their repair was unsuccessful, all we had to pay for was the part. It was $186.)
Christian absent mindedly ran the dishwasher on the Speed Wash Cycle last week. I held my breath. It worked. I think I might relax about that, just a bit.
The kitchen faucet started dripping just as we were gearing up for Henry’s sinus surgery. Christian replaced some of the o-rings in the cartridge and tightened it. It dripped more. After some brainstorming, he decided that the entire cartridge needed to be cleaned. “Just an afternoon. Got to get these gritty bits out,” he explained. While he was dismantling the faucet the flexible hose under the sink hose blew. Water leaked everywhere. He thought the hose was still under warranty, dug up the paperwork and made plans to call Moen on Monday morning. But, in the meantime, we needed a kitchen faucet. Christian drove to ACE and bought a cheap but tolerable one. While he was installing the cheap but tolerable one, he discovered that the hot water valve for ALL the kitchen plumbing had disintegrated. This is explained where the gritty bits came from, the ones that had caused the original drips. Christian went back to ACE for new gaskets. He rebuilt the valve.
When the new hose arrived from Moen a week and a half later, Christian quickly and easily replaced the original faucet. It is so nice to have it back and working. It is like new. BTW, everyone has plumber butt when they are crouched under the kitchen sink, even eleven-year-olds. Except maybe if you are into the fashion of the moment and wear high waisted mom jeans. That would work. No chance of plumber butt with high waisted mom jeans. (The temporary faucet was $76. The parts to rebuild the valve cost $5.62. And the replacement hose was covered under warranty, as suspected.)
The week Henry was home recovering from his sinus surgery the lock on the door that we use ALL THE TIME to exit the garage and enter the shed finally gave up the ghost. Stuck. Frozen. Solid. It would not budge. Christian took it apart and rebuilt it, but in the process almost lost all the springs when it exploded over the pea gravel paths of the courtyard. Locks have a lot of springs in them. Emlen managed to find all the pieces. I was out of town for this. Maybe that is why it happened, because I left.
And finally, the microwave went dark the day after Thanksgiving. It just stopped working. No lights. Nothing. There was no medical drama at this time, but I think it felt that it was its turn. The fuse blew. Not the house fuse, but the fuse deep inside the microwave. MeMee, who is an electrical engineer, the wife of Kurt and our house guest for the holiday, and Christian took it apart. Metal housing, colorful parts and tiny pieces of microwave guts were spread all over the kitchen. After finding the new fuse at ACE, they had it running and reinstalled by the end of the afternoon. Woohoo! I had pretty much resigned myself to being without a microwave for a couple of weeks. I could have handled it, but Henry was going to have trouble. I have never seen him look so confused as he did when I told him he could not heat up his T-Day leftovers in the microwave. He would have to make a sandwich, a cold sandwich. Or use the toaster. (The new fuse cost $2.32.)
I just realized that we go to ACE a lot. Almost as often as we go to doctor appointments.
We had a great Thanksgiving. Good friends, a field trip into the city to see Christian’s office and a visit to the ICA. Lots of eating and lots of sleeping. Wow – a lot of sleeping. All of us. I had not realized how much the last few months had taken their toll. Even Emlen slept twelve hours a night and sometimes napped during the day.
Both Henry and Emlen are well. Emlen has resigned himself to his fate of an hour more of nebbies* each day. Henry has recovered from his surgery. He does not have CF. He is probably a carrier of Christian’s nonfunctioning CFTR gene. We didn’t go that far into it. He is glad he had the sinus surgery. After three hours under the knife which included a surprise adenoidectomy, his chronic sinusitis is gone. He can breathe. His face feels lighter and food tastes better, even pizza crust. He was surprised that pizza crust has a taste. He just used to eat it. And he is glad the microwave works. He started high school swimming this week. He is already hungry.
I seem to be set for the Christmas Crazies that are about to ensue. The autumn decorations are put away. (Henry and his friends played baseball with the left-over pumpkins this weekend. Pumpkin pieces litter the woods.) I spent an afternoon putting out the Christmas decorations, ordering gift cards and organizing presents. We are slated to get the tree tomorrow. And I think the Thanksgiving snow will be gone by Saturday, so we can finish the fall clean up.
My sister-in law Karen manages to get all of her holiday shopping, shipping, gifting and dispensing finished by her birthday on the 11th. It is an admirable goal. I hope to do the same this year, get Christmas wrapped up early. Then I can relax. (Ha!)
Oh. I forgot one. My eleven-year-old Toyota went in for its 80,000 mile well check (Yes, I know. I do not drive long distances.) while I was gearing up for my first ever colonoscopy. The Toyota passed with flying colors, because I have learned from the Golf that you have to take care of your cars. (I passed my procedure too in case you were curious. All clean.) However, on the way home from service, the oxygen sensor warning light came on. Christian had to drive it back to garage to have the part replaced. (The service was $315, and the new oxygen sensor part was $162. Replacing the oxygen sensor usually costs about $300, but, because the service department missed it, they gave it to us for wholesale and did not charge for labor.)
I should cut the Toyota some slack. It is an eleven-year-old car. But I was annoyed at this inconvenience. I take really good care of it. It is even clean, because it is not baby poop brown like the Rabbit from ages ago. You can tell when it is dirty. I now worry it is in cahoots with the house and becoming emotionally needy. Or maybe the Golf’s spirit spider has found me again. I will know if a tarantula crawls out of the heating vent while we are schlepping into Boston for more doctor appointments.
Say hi to Miranda, Iris and Tim,
P.S. I am so glad that Christian is able to repair tools and appliances. I know it takes a lot of time, but the money we save on service repairs calls makes it worth the effort. We have to feed Henry after all.
P.P.S. I just noticed that there is a crack in the microwave door handle. Henry is big and pulls on the door pretty hard. It is only a matter of time…or we can try to just stay healthy.
*British slang for inhaling medications via a nebulizer. “Time to do your nebbies!”