I noticed water dribbling from a line in the basement one day. After listening to my description of the problem, the gas company sent over a technician to inspect our air conditioner, but the unit was fine. I had simply forgotten one all-important task: to change the furnace filter right after we had sanded our wood floors the previous week. Because of my oversight, the filter had clogged, forming condensation on the line, and water had dripped and pooled on the basement floor. Now I stood outside—the technician next to me—staring at the side of our house.
“See? You’re gonna have to do a patch job right there,” he said with a sniff, pointing at a small area on the stucco near the foundation.
I furrowed my brow. “Does this have anything to do with our air conditioner?”
“Naw. I’m just letting you know what you’ve gotta fix at some point.”
He moved on to the next item—a new furnace—on his for-us-to-do list.
“That thing’s gonna conk out soon,” he said, bobbing his head in a series of nods, maybe hoping his steely eye contact would break me. “Better replace it now.”
“We’ll see,” I said, brushing away his intensity. My mind flitted back to a different technician from just a few months earlier who had checked our furnace and pronounced it good. “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Don’t replace it until it totally dies,” he had said.
The current technician’s words pelted me, and before he left, I agreed to a duct cleaning. Even though it had first been my idea, his face grew the smug look of a successful hawker.
Not all of the repair people visiting our home were so crafty. Over the years, I noted the differences in technicians. There were those who got the job done in little time with minimal small talk, and then those who wove stories into their work, their visits leaking into my day.
“You wouldn’t believe the stuff I see in people’s basements,” said one technician as she swapped out our old water meter for an updated one.
“Oh? Like what?” I said, not sure I wanted to know.
“A lady I met had shelves lining her basement walls. Kennels of dogs on those shelves. Sometimes even a couple of dogs per kennel.” She pried off a bolt.
I cringed. “That makes me sick.”
“At least forty of them, I’d guess. Maybe more.” She rigged the new equipment in place and tightened the bolts again. “I told her she’d better let them go. Give them away to good homes and all that.” She swiped her arm across her forehead. “I reported her to Animal Control as soon as I left her house.”
The repair woman finished the job, leaving me with a shiny, new meter. But I also had a bad taste in my mouth. Sometimes it’s better not hearing stories from strangers.
Husband and I had evaded window washing for eight years, and in 2010, we decided to replace the windows altogether. The installation guys were efficient and meticulous. Along the way, they pointed out the miniscule details of their work—the hidden nooks and crannies no one would ever see. And at every turn, they tidied up after themselves.
Spurred on by the call of hospitality, eleven-year-old Flicka whipped up a baked treat for the workmen, since they were doing such a good job. I was out plucking weeds in the garden when she later emerged from the house and delivered a small plate of fresh goodies to one of the men. She stood there—awkwardly fiddling with the edge of her shirt—eyeing him as he chewed.
“Wow,” he said, smacking his lips. “These are good.”
I smiled and ducked into the house to taste one of her treats. The hot, fresh mounds looked like muffins, but they tasted so bland I skimmed through her recipe, wondering if she had forgotten the vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar too.
But all around, it was a job well-done. The windows were beautiful and clean, the fastidious workers were gracious about the baking, and Flicka honed her hostess skills.
Four years after the new windows, we eagerly awaited the installation of a new metal roof. Early-morning pounding on the house—the perfect pairing with my French Roast—had never sounded so sweet. I spoke with the workmen, but my questions were met with only smiles and shrugs. I soon learned the only English-speaker on the job was the supervisor.
My mind skipped back to the roofers of my childhood. Their overly-tanned skin—slick with sweat and oil—melded with the hard rock, Hair Band anthems thrumming from their boom boxes. But the workmen on our roof in 2014 kept their shirts on—a lesson or two learned about the ozone since the 1980s, I suppose—and blasted Vivaldi, Corelli, and Handel.
While I scratched my head at the choice of music, Ricka and Dicka were focused elsewhere and saw the chance for some entertainment. They scrambled upstairs to their bedroom, slid open their window, and peeked out at the workmen tearing off the old roof.
“Yoo hoo!” they called, then ducked under the window when the workmen looked their way. After repeated teasing from the girls, one of the men at last threw a tarp over their window. The girls inched it aside to again chirp at the workers before crumbling to the floor in laughter.
“Oh, girls,” I said, shaking my head. “You might be getting on their nerves.”
But just then, one roofer lifted the tarp and warbled back at the girls.
No one watched any television during that three-day job. And I heard more classical music than I had since my childhood piano recital days.
Interesting people are tucked away everywhere. We venture out and see them in stores or on the streets. We learn from them in different settings. But sometimes fascinating strangers come right into our homes and add spice to our lives. And if we’re lucky, they’ll fix the air conditioner while they’re at it.
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.