Monday, August 11, 2008


I’m just easing into a Tom Robbins’ tome entitled Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. This is my first Tom Robbins book, best known for Momma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowgirls. Or maybe it was Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

Recumbent biking at the gym the other day, I came across one of those passages worthy of a dog-ear. Robbins’ lead character, Switters, was lamenting about the daily drudgery of showering, shaving, and brushing, wondering why someone couldn’t invent self-cleaning teeth. This character must have channeled me. Switters then said, “There’s birth, there’s death, and in between there’s maintenance.” It reminded me of one of my favorite sayings, “Life is one long, endless, forced march into enemy territory.” I’m more upbeat than that – but there are days…

Minimally the Robbins’ truism is a perfect metaphor for houses. They’re built and everything after that is maintenance, or they will implode. Properly maintained, houses out-live us. What’s that other relevant saying? Oh yes, “Life is not fair.” – author unknown.

I hand over much of our household maintenance to men-with-cracks. It has something to do with competence, theirs versus mine. Even so, domestic engineer guys should protect their live-in ATMs from having to deal with such eyesores.

Last week, one of the companies who had done some prior maintenance called to tweak us about an annual checkup. Not the plumbing checkup, but heating and air. For free, of course. I almost said “No thanks”. Then I remembered – we’re hosting our daughter’s wedding reception at the end of September. A household audit might lessen the possibility of the house imploding that weekend.

But in this play you know the outcome before the first act. The serviceman spotted six things that needed maintenance before I finished saying, “There’s the heater, and the air conditioner is around back.”

He frowned a lot, frequently reminding me that he was just giving me the facts (and figures he referenced from his fees-for-services corporate-rate-bible). His estimate for the “necessary” maintenance was over $850. After he added the discount. Where is the equivalent of an HMO for households?

I thanked him for his cheery prognostication and said I’d be in touch. It’s not that his frowning had no merit – it did. The heater is original with the house, now 25 years young. The air conditioner is a babe comparatively – 18 years old, barely out of puberty.

I called a good friend who is a stickler for due diligence of such services. He had earlier recommended a plumber who charged 40-50% less than the branded boys. Sure enough, he had a referral. They showed up and did the identical maintenance for $95.00.

I’m wondering if they do weddings.