It was unquestionably broken. No doubt about it. Looking away then looking back hadn’t improved the situation, nor had closing my eyes and wishing really hard. The basement floor where I stood was still covered in splotches of a black viscous substance secreted from the depths of a furnace that was still conspicuously missing a very large and very important-looking part. Assorted spanners and wrenches lay strewn on the floor; beached in the tarry secretion, they looked like misshapen fish caught in an oil slick. Two things went through my mind: there was the question of why I had decided to move into a house which relied entirely on a diesel-burning furnace in the basement for heat, but there was something more than that. Why couldn’t I fix it? How I had somehow turned a routine repair job into my own personal Deepwater Horizon?
The furnace had an exhaust that was responsible for funneling fumes out of the basement into the environmentally compromised streets of West Philadelphia. If it fell off, there was apparently no need to panic. I had been assured via email that it happened with sufficient regularity that my desperate early-morning scramble to find the fuel cut-off switch had been unnecessary. According to the email, the exhaust wasn’t secured as well as it should be, but a full-on repair job was too costly and it worked just fine the way it was. Lifting it back into place would be pretty simple. There were a few bolts to tighten here and there and since a tarry goop tended to build up on the inside, emptying that out wouldn’t hurt. Aside from that, I should be able to get everything back into working order and be out the door quicker than you could say ‘carbon monoxide poisoning’. This was to prove hopelessly optimistic. (more...)