Monday, June 21, 2010

A Dream Within a Dream, Within an Air Conditioner

I have a tradition of lying to myself every year around this time.

Although the exact date is a moving target (like Easter, or Chinese New Year), this lie always coincides our first sustained wave of summer swelter, when our house finally becomes so unbearable for sleeping that I’m forced to haul our unholy trio of 70-pound window air conditioners down from the attic.

And I recognize that, to the untrained eye, this operation might appear a tad haphazard, almost as if the AC units and I are actually falling down the steep attic stairs together, but rest assured that every knuckle-bashing breath of profanity has been carefully scripted, and it's all part of a time-honored technique passed down over the generations (provided that none of the previous generations have actually killed themselves executing it).

Oh, and here’s the lie, the angry little mantra I mutter over and over throughout the process. I tell myself: "This is the last [flunking] time I will ever do this. Before next summer, we're [flunking] getting central [flunking] air."

It's a lovely little daydream, and I cling to it while dead-lifting the AC units into our house's decaying window frames, a step that spawns a new "replace all the [flunking] windows" daydream within the original...

Imagine having windows that go up and down like they’re supposed to? That actually keep the cold outside in the winter?

...And really, if you’re already having the "replace the windows" daydream, you might as well save yourself a few bucks and have the "replace our rotting shingles daydream" at the same time. So I do...

And with my attention thus divided during the job's most dangerous maneuver—steadying the AC unit in the window with one hand while lowering the balky sash with the other—there’s always at least one moment when I nearly lose my grip on everything and drop the air conditioner directly onto my car, sitting defenseless in the driveway ten feet below. (Alex, from downstairs: Need any help up there? Me: No, I've got it—thanks!)

But of course the car wouldn’t even be there if we could just rip down our dilapidated tin can of a garage and replace it with something sturdy enough to house a vehicle. Maybe a nice two-car garage with a finished second floor that we could use as an office? With enough room for a ping-pong table perhaps?

But by the time I’ve got the AC unit shimmed, wedged, and duct-taped into place, with that first sour blast of cool-ish air hitting my face, I'm already regaining the ability to distinguish between my daydreams and the facts, which are these: our house is old and ductless, and so retrofitting it for central air would be prohibitively expensive, although not quite as expensive as new windows, new siding, or new garages with second-floor offices.

Regardless, we don't have thousands of dollars sitting around for any of these projects, and even if we did, we’d probably just blow it all on fine wine, Twinkies and Silly Bandz.

I’m proud to say that this year was different though—I turned 40 recently, and I'm already seeing the benefits of my increased wisdom and maturity. This year, I even installed our air conditioners before the heat became totally unbearable. Sure, I still worked up a sweat, I still bloodied my knuckles, and I nearly lost two units right out the window. But I didn’t say [flunking] once, and I didn’t tell myself any lies.

No, we're not getting central air next year. Just the garage and the ping-pong table.


  1. Great story. I just put in our air conditioner this morning. Fortunately I don’t have to lug it down any attic stairs – nope, I thought ahead on that one and instead keep it in the cellar. This way, if I happen to fall, my body will cushion the impact of the air conditioner slamming into the concrete floor.

    By the way, if you’re looking for an extra reason for a Ping-Pong table, they make great desks.

  2. Yes, EXCELLENT call on the basement, Steve--I bet it's easier to clean up the blood down there too.

  3. I just picked myself up off the floor after laughing uncontrollably about your AC, etc. story! Yes, I have similar daydreams (since I can't exist without AC when the temperature goes over 60...and it's making so much noise right now that I can barely think to type), but since I live in a teeny apt, I just call the landlord...but then I start dreaming about job (soon, maybe...), bigger apt (really big, with a nice space for office and for chamber music soirees), but it wasn't too long ago that I lugged ACs up and down stairs, swore (probably worse than you) and also bloodied knuckles, and, yes, another important law of the universe: one cannot exist without duct (or duck....both are OK linguistically...I know this because I researched it, of course) tape.
    Cheers, Laura Finkelstein